Scientists from the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, have created the first ever genetically modified hen which is capable of laying eggs that could be used to fight cancer and other diseases. 

By adding human genes to the chicken’s DNA, the team has created a transgenic bird that lays eggs containing medicinal proteins in the whites of the egg.  The institute has created a number of different poultry lines, with each one producing different antibodies and proteins that could fight multiple sclerosis, cancer or arthritis. 

Working alongside two companies, Oxford Biomedica and Viragen, Helen Sang, the project’s leader, has now bred five generations of the genetically modified ISA Browns, successfully passing the human genes across each generation.  Up to this point, genes were lost after a generation or two.   

Dr Sang told Farmers Weekly: “Our long term vision is to have poultry units set up specifically to house transgenic hens laying eggs carrying therapeutic proteins.  It is likely that the hens would be housed under specific pathogen free conditions so they would be more sophisticated than standard units.”

The main benefit of this scientific development is that the flocks would allow the mass production of drugs at a fraction of the current cost.

A spokesperson for the Multiple Sclerosis Society said: “This is an intriguing development and anything that has the potential to cut drug costs will be welcome in the current NHS financial climate. The challenge for researchers will, however, be realising this potential and turning this work into properly trialled treatments that can be used in humans.”

While Herbie Newell, director of translational research at Cancer Research UK, added: “Anything that allows us to expedite the number of novel therapeutics that we can offer cancer patients must be welcomed.”

Scientists from the Roslin Institute, famous for the cloned sheep Dolly in 1997, published its research earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences