Wednesday August 25 3:56 AM ET
By Rodney Joyce
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A New Zealand government research agency said Tuesday it planned to introduce a human protein gene into cattle as part of research into a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis, also known as MS.
AgResearch said it had applied to New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) for permission to undertake a series of experiments on transgenic cattle.
The authority is responsible for compliance with biosecurity and other environmental safety regulations.
AgResearch said it hoped the introduction of a copied human myelin basic protein (MBP) gene would lead to the production of large amounts of the protein in cows' milk.
Scientists believe MS, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, is caused by the patchy degeneration of the myelin sheath that coats nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
Retrieving the MBP from modified milk produced in the experiments would allow the protein to be used in tests of its efficacy as a treatment for MS sufferers, AgResearch said.
``In animals showing clinical signs of the disease, recovery can be helped by ingestion of myelin basic protein,'' AgResearch scientist Dr Phil L'Huillier said in a statement.
``Cattle are a good choice to help produce this protein since they produce large quantities of milk.''
If the MBP from genetically modified milk proved useful, it could potentially prove to be a breakthrough, he said.
The modification would be done by introducing a human gene to bovine cells in a laboratory and injecting them into bovine eggs.
Two other experiments being pursued separately by the same team of dairy researchers would involve the introduction of additional cattle casein genes, and the disruption of another gene to boost dairy production.
Both were hoping to establish whether there was any long-term value to the dairy industry in improving what they called ``the processing characteristics and nutritive value'' of milk.
AgResearch's five-year proposal involved the production of three small herds of up to 30 head of cattle each for the projects at a secure containment site in the Waikato region.
``The aim is to produce transgenic animals of the three types and raise them to sexual maturity so they can be bred and brought into lactation in order to evaluate the effect of the genetic modifications on protein production,'' L'Huillier said.
The application goes before the authority Wednesday.
Genetically modified mammals were first produced in 1996, when ``Dolly'' the sheep was cloned in a Scottish laboratory.
Earlier this year ERMA approved an application from Dolly's developers,
PPL Therapeutics, to breed a flock of sheep in New Zealand with another
human protein gene in a bid to fight the lung tissue disease cystic fibrosis.