A team of UK scientists proved that genetically modified chickens can produce efficient material that can be used in human medicine in their eggs.
The researchers published their findings on Thursday in the BMC Biotechnology journal.
They explained that these materials are composed of proteins that can be found in the egg white, and can be extracted later to be used in the development of medical drugs.
Although a German expert stressed the benefits of the study findings, she wasn’t sure if they can lead to a scientific breakthrough.
The researchers led by Professor Helen Sang from the University of Edinburgh, focused on two different proteins: the Interferon -2A, which has powerful antiviral and anti-cancer effects, and the macrophage-CSF, which is being developed as a therapy that stimulates damaged tissues to repair themselves.
The researchers found that the genetically modified chickens initially produced a large quantity of the Interferon -2A, as just three eggs were enough to produce a significant dose of the drug.
According to the German News Agency, the researchers said the materials extracted from the eggs are neat as much as the materials produced in cell cultures, and have the same efficiency as well.
They also asserted that they didn't notice any adverse effects on the chickens themselves.
"We are not yet producing medicines for people, but this study shows that chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology," said Sang in a statement.
The concept of making proteins that can be used in the pharmaceutical industry by using genetically modified animals is not new. According to researchers, the EU proved the selling of a drug derived from the milk of genetically modified goats in 2006.
The researchers said, however, that chickens are better than other animals in this field, as raising chickens is far cheaper, and can be rapidly produced in large numbers.
Commenting on the study's findings, Angelika Schnieke from the Munich University of Applied Sciences, said: "Highly active organic proteins cannot be produced from milk because the impacts on the animal are huge. However, it doesn’t affect eggs covered with a highly sterilized shell."
Schnieke sees that producing proteins that intervene in the pharmaceutical industry with the help of genetically modified animals can be a good alternative, as it can be cheaper than cell cultures.
Such proteins have so far been produced in large containers with genetically modified bacteria, yeast, or mammalian cells, she said.
However, Schnicke does not foresee a great future for genetically modified animals in the production of active materials.
The German expert attributed her skepticism to moral debates against these genetic modifications in animals, and said: "Although the production of effective materials using cell farms is more expensive, many people ask, 'Why do we use animals as long as there is an alternative?"
However, chickens are very important in the flu vaccine industry. The virus particles are usually injected into egg whites in the incubation period. In 10 to 11 days, these particles multiply to billions of copies of the virus. Then, the eggs white is sucked, and the virus molecules are paralyzed with the help of heat or chemical additives, to be used in the manufacture of harmless, but effective vaccines.