Genetically modified hens can produce drugs in the whites of their eggs, scientists reported today.

The technology "signifies an important  advance in the use of farm animals for pharmaceutical production," the scientists said in a statement.

Traditional methods for producing therapeutic proteins such as antibodies used to treat cancer and arthritis are expensive. Farm animals could produce them faster and cheaper, the thinking goes.

Researchers led by Helen Sang of the Roslin BioCentre in Edinburgh,  Scotland created transgenic hens by inserting the genes for  desired pharmaceutical proteins into the hen’s gene for ovalbumin, a protein  that makes up 54 percent of egg whites.

All the egg whites from these hens contained miR24, an antibody with potential for treating malignant melanoma. The whites also packed human  interferon b-1a, an antiviral drug.

"With the demand for therapeutic protein drugs increasing, the efficient  generation of transgenic hens that produce functional protein drugs at high  levels in egg whites marks an important step in the development of this  technology," according to a statement released by the Proceedings of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, which published the research in its online edition.

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