Kiwi goat milk could play role in fighting cancer

The research was undertaken by Dr Goetz Laible and his colleagues.
The research was undertaken by Dr Goetz Laible and his colleagues. Photo credit: AgResearch.

New research has revealed milk produced by genetically modified goats could play a role in fighting cancer.

Scientists at AgResearch, a Kiwi agricultural technology organisation, found a specific antibody used in anti-cancer treatments could be successfully produced in the goats' milk, potentially giving doctors an upper hand in the battle to combat the disease.

"Antibodies are the main weapons of our immune system," said Dr Goetz Laible, a senior scientist at AgResearch.

In this latest research, published in preprint biology server bioRxiv, Dr Laible and his colleagues focused on a specific type of monoclonal antibody (mAb), called cetuximab.

Monoclonal antibodies are important in fighting cancer because they can recognise a single, specific target, Dr Laible told Newshub.

"Their therapeutic potential rests in their extraordinary target that, in the case of an anti-cancer therapeutic, can exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells."

Normally, producing mAbs is done in the lab and is expensive. By producing them in goats, those costs could be significantly lowered, Dr Laible said.

In an attempt to produce the mAb Cetuximab, which is approved for anti-cancer treatment and commercially used under the brand name Erbitux, the scientists inserted special genes into the genome of goat cells.

They then produced live goats from those cells, which were found to produce the antibody in their milk.

"Aside from this change in their milk, the goats involved are otherwise healthy, normal animals," said Dr Laible.

He said the study validated goats as an "excellent platform for the cost-effective, large scale production of functional, therapeutic mAbs".

The prospect of using goats to create the mAbs was "especially attractive for New Zealand", he added.

"Our animals have an excellent health status and are free of many harmful animal diseases that are common in many other countries. Adding New Zealand’s leading expertise in farm animal genetics and reproductive technologies, quality milk processing capabilities and efficient farming systems, this shows what an opportunity this could hold for New Zealand."