Goat milk may soon save millions of lives

February 12, 2009 7:34:46 PM PST
A research team at UC Davis is hoping to save millions of lives with a product created from bioengineered animals. Just last, week the FDA approved the first drug for humans, created from a similar animal.

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But what the Davis team has created, would work in an even more basic way.

Being goats they don't get excited about much.

But these animals on the UC Davis campus could be on the forefront of a medical revolution -- preventing diseases that claim millions of lives.

"There are places where one in four kids die before the age of five because of diarrhea. It's a huge cost to the world," said James Murray, Ph.D. from UC Davis.

Murray is a professor of biotechnology. He believes many of those children could be saved by milk from these goats.

It contains lysozyme, a protein that fights bacteria. It's found in high concentrations in human breast milk -- but in only trace amounts in the milk of goats and cows.

So why are these animals different?

"We took a human gene and hooked it up to a switch that would make it express only when goat is in milk in the mammary gland, and we transferred into a one cell embryo and developed a line of goats that now express that human gene in milk when ever they're milking," said Murray, Ph.D.

In other words, they've been genetically altered. In animal studies, with samples like these, the goat's milk has demonstrated many of the same anti-bacterial benefits as human breast milk.

"And in one experiment, we've been able to reduce the ability of an infectious bacteria to colonize in the GI tract," said Murray, Ph.D.

Two recent moves by the FDA could signal better prospects the milk actually coming to market. Last month, the agency issued regulations requiring prior approval for the sale food products from bioengineered animals but no special labeling. Then a few weeks later, the FDA also approved the first human drug created from a bioengineered animal.

That drug prevents clotting of the blood, and it's also produced in the milk of goats.

Back in the lab at UC Davis, researcher Elizabeth Maga says projects in the works could soon produce everything from more nutritious milk to leaner meats.

"Any trait that's a one gene trait like composition of milk, trying to increase protein or decrease fat," said Maga.

The FDA will look at each project on a case by case basis. But researchers say they're hoping support from the new administration could accelerate the approval process.

"If we can't identify any side effects which we haven't, then the next step would be human trials Davis Goats," said Murray, Ph.D.

The Davis team has already submitted its application to the FDA, and the researchers are hoping to be one of the early candidates to be approved for human trials.

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