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Treating Humans Using GM Goats

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 30 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Gm Genetically Modified Treating Humans

While genetically modified (GM) foods are typically associated with potentially improved crop yields and possibly enhanced nutritional content in foods, they aren't usually thought to have major health advantages.

We have already seen that foods can be engineered to have more of a nutrient that we know a specific population is deficient in – typically seen in developing countries where much of the population subsists on a small number of staple foods. But we now may have even more uses for GM foods in terms of health promotion.

New Advances in GM Foods

Treating disease with GM foods or finding an animal substitute for human milk seems unimaginable to many of us. This, however, may soon change with the introduction of GM milk that mimics human breast milk. Adding to this development is a slew of medical treatments that are created using specific constituents of lactoferrin, which is a protein found in human breast milk but can also be put in goat's milk through GM technology.

Mothers Who Don't Breastfeed

Some mothers cannot or choose not to breastfeed their babies. While the health benefits of breast milk are widely publicised and established, the reality is that public health campaigns still don't have women breastfeeding as much as the experts would like and hope.

Benefits of Breast Milk

Babies who are fed breast milk tend to enjoy more robust immune systems and a whole host of benefits. Yet despite knowing this, some mothers still struggle to breastfeed due to their working schedules or fear of breastfeeding as well.

How the Technology Works

To tackle this problem, researchers want to find a way to provide a substitute that far surpasses traditional formula milk. Instead, the ideal substitute would provide all or most of the benefits of human breast milk.

Now, it looks as though research is paving the way for the production of milk that provides the benefits of human breast milk while also allowing for the creation of valuable medicines.

Initially, the research began by implanting human genes in male mice, thereby leading to lactoferrin production in the female offspring. In fact, the production was far more significant than researchers could have anticipated. Now, researchers are raising goats to produce the milk that is plentiful in lactoferrin.

In terms of medicines, they hope to develop ones that will treat conditions of the gut and immune system as well as venturing into the field of oncology to treat cancer. Elsewhere in the world, similar research is being carried out although the results haven't been quite as significant.

Choosing Goats for Research

The reason that researchers decided to use goats rather than cows is because goats produce milk in greater quantities relative to their weight. They are also not as reliant on environmental factors such as temperature in the same way that cows are reliant on these other variables.

Improving Human Health and Treating Disease

The research is not without its opponents, however, who cite that it is unnatural and 'wrong' to meddle with science such that human genes are being introduced into other animals. Still, given the benefits that could come from the technology, we will hopefully at least explore it further and subject it to safety testing before it becomes a commercial reality.

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