Rethinking Healthcare

Malaria vaccine from the teats of genetically altered goats

Posting in Science

Texas A&M researchers see "pharm animals" as a less expensive way to produce millions of vaccines.

Most malaria vaccines require multi million dollar facilities for production. But most cases of malaria occur in heavily impoverished countries. And grant me one more generalization -- most third world countries have plenty of goats.

Where am I going with this? Co.Exist reports that Texas A&M researchers have engineered goats that can produce a malaria vaccine in their milk.

These genetically modified animals lactate the vaccine proteins. At this point the milk has to be treated to isolate the vaccine for injection, but the scientists hope to have drinkable milk vaccines within the next decade.

Head researcher Mark Westhusin tells Co.Exist's Ben Schiller:

"There is tremendous potential to produce malaria vaccines and other types of medicines, especially for Third World countries. If you produce these proteins in goats and other transgenic animals, it’s way more efficient, and cheaper, than the old-fashioned ways."

In another application of this technology, scientists at UC Davis have reared goats that produce milk with an anti-diarrheal disease enzyme.

If this "pharm animal" scenario sounds a little too dystopian sci fi novel to you, you're not alone. Westhusin acknowledges he has the F.D.A., the conventional drug industry, and the general American public against him. But based on this comment to Co.Exist's Ben Schiller, he's not too concerned with his work's image:

"These projects are great. But they run up against a lot of hurdles. One of the first are the animal welfare groups who jump on top of this, and say we shouldn’t be using animals for anything. You know, blah, blah, blah."

Westhusin's betting that impoverished countries will give more weight to their health and economic needs than their moral squeamishness and put the goat milk cures into widespread use in the near future.

[via Co.Exist]

Photo: Tom Thai/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure