Cancer drugs over easy

By • Published: April 9th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

How do you like your eggs?

Small, large or jumbo? White or brown? Over-easy or sunnyside-up? With cancer-fighting proteins or without?

Of course, you can’t fight cancer with an omelet.

But if anticancer agents can be easily refined from eggs, chickens could help produce more than just the incredible, edible egg.

Scientists at Scotland’s Roslin Institute say they have successfully raised five generations of chickens engineered to lay eggs that contain miR24, a potentially effective protein for treating skin cancer.

The birds secrete the protein into the whites of the eggs, where it is easily extracted for use in drug manufacturing.

Using animals to produce therapeutic agents is nothing new.

Bacteria have long been used to produce insulin.

More recently, scientists genetically modified goats to produce a human protein in milk that acts as a natural blood thinner for people who have problematic blood clots.

The resulting drug is currently in use in Europe and is being tested in the United States.

Roslin researchers caution it could take five years before an eggy anti-cancer agent is tested in patients and a full ten years before a medicine is developed.

But in addition to potentially producing a useful drug, scientists are excited because in an era where drug-manufacturing costs continue to rise, it will be inexpensive to make.

Imagine the prospect of a henhouse full of feathery “biofactories” producing the raw material for pharmaceutical agents for what amounts to little more than chicken feed.

Everyone will be clucking about it.