Four cloned calves genetically engineered with human DNA and currently grazing in Iowa could hold the key to creating herds of identical cows that produce medicines in their milk and blood.
“Cows are ideal factories,” said James Robl, president of Hematech LLC, which hopes to profit from drug-producing bovines. “Cows are big and have a lot of blood and produce a lot of milk.”
Hematech of Sioux Falls, S.D., and its partner on the project, Kirin Brewing Co., aim to harvest groups of disease-fighting human proteins — called “immunoglobulins” — in cows. The protein groups are produced daily when the body comes under attack from foreign agents, and they’re typically tailor-made to attack each invader.
The immunoglobulins hold great promise as medicines to treat a whole range of invaders from anthrax to earache-causing viruses in infants. Doctors already use them to treat such maladies as tetanus, rabies and even some cases of infertility.
Problem is, these proteins can’t be grown in labs and factories and are available only from humans donors, limiting their supply.
In many cases, it’s impossible to even get specific disease-fighters from human donors. For instance, the only way to obtain anthrax-fighting immunoglobulins is to infect people and provoke an immune response.
Hematech hopes to solve this problem by producing the proteins through purposely infected cows.
Other scientists have already spliced human genes into animals in the burgeoning field of molecular pharming. But those efforts have been limited to splicing a single human gene to produce a single protein to fight a specific disease.