Genetically modified chickens could soon lay eggs containing certain medications

In breakthrough research, a team of scientists from University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, have genetically modified chicken to lay eggs that contain medications for arthritis and some cancers.

Image Credit: Koonphoto / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Koonphoto / Shutterstock

The team explains that drugs when produced from these GM chicken could be one hundred times cheaper than those produced in factories. They add that this method of production of the medications could also be ranked up to meet the needs of the population and production could soon be in commercial quantities.

Dr Lissa Herron, lead researcher said that the chickens who are being genetically modified and used for production of eggs containing the drugs are not made to suffer in any way. She said, “They live in very large pens. They are fed and watered and looked after on a daily basis by highly trained technicians, and live quite a comfortable life. As far as the chicken knows, it's just laying a normal egg. It doesn't affect its health in any way, it's just chugging away, laying eggs as normal.”

There have been previous studies that reveal that genetically modified rabbits, goats and chickens could be used in the production of protein therapies in their eggs and milk. This new approach is more cost effective and is more viable say the researchers. Dr Herron said, “Production from chickens can cost anywhere from 10 to 100 times less than the factories. So hopefully we'll be looking at at-least 10 times lower overall manufacturing cost.”

These chickens would be modified to produce human proteins in their eggs. These high quality proteins could be used for immunotherapy in arthritis patients and in certain cancers. The team explains that only three eggs could contain the amount necessary for clinical dosing. The protein is found in the egg whites say the researchers. It can be isolated and purified. For example Herceptin and Avastin are anticancer drugs used for breast cancer and cervical, ovarian or bowel cancers. These are expensive and using the GM chickens they can be produced cheaply.

At the initial stage the proteins produced in the GM chickens would be used only for research purposes. Laboratory tests till now have found these proteins to be highly effective and similar to commercially available drugs. Professor Helen Sang of the Institute said that this method can scale up production at cost effective rates.

This new study comes from the collaborative efforts of the Institute as well as its spinout company Roslin Technologies.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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