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No yoke! Eggs from genetically-modified chickens could be used to fight cancer and arthritis 

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No yoke! Eggs from genetically-modified chickens could be used to fight cancer and arthritis

  • Hens’ DNA was modified to contain a protein that cancer patients often lack
  • Proteins are already produced synthetically and added to cancer medication
  • Manufacturing the protein in chicken eggs would be 100 times cheaper 

A chicken’s eggs could be genetically modified to contain proteins used in arthritis and cancer drugs, research suggests.

A study found modifying the farm animal’s DNA causes their eggs to be rich in proteins that are often lacking in people suffering from common diseases. 

These proteins are already produced synthetically and used in drugs to ‘reset’ the body’s chemical balances.

But manufacturing proteins in eggs would be 100 times cheaper than making them in a factory.   

And just three eggs is enough to produce an adequate protein dose – with a typical hen laying 300 eggs a year. 

Chicken’s eggs could be genetically modified to contain proteins for cancer drugs (stock)

The research was carried out by the University of Edinburgh and led by Professor Helen Sang, from the department of vertebrate development. 

‘We are not yet producing medicines for people, but this study shows chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology,’ Professor Sang said. 

The team genetically modified hens to produce the human protein IFNalpha2a, which has powerful anti-viral and anti-cancer effects.

The animals were also made to contain human and pig versions of the protein macrophage-CSF. 

Macrophage-CSF makes up part of the immune system and is being investigated as a therapy that stimulates damaged tissue to repair itself. 

When the researchers cracked the eggs and separated the yolk from the whites, they found the latter had large quantities of both of these proteins.  

Results – published in the journal BMC Biotechnology – also found the proteins produced were just as effective as those created in the lab.

The biggest saving will come from chicken sheds being far cheaper to build and maintain that highly-sterile labs in a factory. 


Scientists have revealed how red wine may prevent cancer.

An antioxidant – called resveratrol – in the tipple stops the formation of protein clumps that are found in 50 per cent of tumours, a Brazilian study found.

It is unclear how much red wine people need to drink to reap the benefits of resveratrol, which is also found in cranberries, blueberries and peanuts.

Researchers hope the findings will lead to the development of a drug that prevents such protein clusters.

One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lives.

Some forms of the disease are rarer than others, with bladder cancer affecting one in 27 men and breast cancer one in 10 women in the US.

And eggs are already used to grow viruses for vaccines, like the flu jab. 

Dr Ceri Lyn-Adams – head of science strategy at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who was not involved in the study – added: ‘These recent findings provide a promising proof of concept for future drug discovery and potential for developing more economical protein-based drugs.’ 

Although it may be between 10 and 20 years before sufficient research has been collected to support drug production in eggs, the scientists are confident their study is a step in the right direction. 

Dr Lissa Herron – head of the avian biopharming business unit at Roslin Technologies, which is part of Edinburgh University – said: ‘We are excited to develop this technology to its full potential.

‘Not just for human therapeutics in the future but also in the fields of research and animal health.’  

Drugs that cure animal illnesses by boosting their immune systems may be a welcome alternative to antibiotics given the ongoing resistance crisis.

This sort of medication has already been used to help regenerate the liver or kidneys of pets, Dr Herron said. 

And the researchers stress animal welfare is not a concern, with the chickens being ‘pampered’ compared to their counterparts on the farm.

‘They are fed and watered and looked after on a daily basis by highly trained technicians, and live quite a comfortable life,’ Dr Herron told the BBC.

‘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.’  


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