Breakthrough: Transgenic Cow Produces Human Insulin in Milk

Transgenic Cow Produces Human Insulin in Milk | The Lifesciences Magazine

Researchers have achieved a groundbreaking milestone in diabetes treatment with the creation of the world’s first transgenic cow capable of producing human insulin in her milk. Led by scientists from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Universidade de São Paulo, this breakthrough could revolutionize insulin production, potentially alleviating drug scarcity and reducing costs for millions of people living with diabetes.

Professor Matt Wheeler, affiliated with multiple academic institutions including the University of Illinois, spearheaded the project. In a study published in the Biotechnology Journal, Wheeler and his team described the development of the insulin-producing cow, showcasing its potential to be scaled up for widespread use pending further testing and FDA approval.

The transgenic cow was created by inserting a segment of human DNA coding for proinsulin into the nuclei of cow embryos. Through advanced genetic engineering techniques, the human DNA was targeted for expression specifically in mammary tissue, exploiting the mammary gland’s efficiency in protein production. Despite initial challenges with lactation induction, the cow successfully produced detectable levels of both proinsulin and insulin in her milk.

Promise of Mass Insulin Production

The production of human insulin in cow milk opens up possibilities for large-scale insulin production. While the current lactation yielded a smaller volume of milk than expected, the team estimates that each liter of milk could potentially yield a significant amount of insulin. With plans to re-clone the cow and optimize lactation cycles, researchers are optimistic about achieving greater success in future generations.

Looking ahead, the team envisions creating transgenic bulls to mate with the females, establishing a purpose-built herd capable of mass-producing insulin. Professor Wheeler anticipates that even a modest-sized herd could surpass existing methods of insulin production, such as transgenic yeast and bacteria, without requiring extensive technical infrastructure. With proper facilities and FDA approval, transgenic cows could become a viable source of insulin for diabetic populations worldwide.

Future Prospects and Collaboration

The successful development of the insulin-producing cow underscores the potential of biotechnology to address pressing healthcare challenges. Supported by grants from various institutions, including the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, this research represents a collaborative effort with far-reaching implications for diabetes management.

Professor Wheeler envisions a future where a relatively small herd of transgenic cows could meet the global demand for insulin, offering hope for improved accessibility and affordability of this life-saving medication. As the team continues to refine their methods and navigate regulatory pathways, the prospect of transgenic cows supplying insulin to diabetic populations worldwide grows increasingly promising.

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