From the ?!!@$#$#!%$! File: Milking GE Bunnies for Pharmaceuticals »
Abusing cute fuzzy bunnies for medicine is bad enough. But genetically modifying rabbits and milking them to extract proteins for the pharmaceutical industry is fucking disgusting. Pharming, a Netherlands-based biotech firm, is doing just that.
Their goal is to treat people suffering from hereditary angioedema, by extracting a protein called C1 inhibitor—also known by its stage name, C1-INH—by fusing a human gene onto the rabbits and extracting the protein from the milk. National Geographic assures us that “like dairy cows, the rabbits stay relaxed and appear to suffer no discomfort during milking” which means it’s all okay because dairy cows have it easy.
Humans are animals too, and hereditary angioedema sounds awful. But why trade a life for a life, when medical technology is perfectly capable of developing alternatives? In this case, the non-animal “alternatives” are already out there, which makes this all seem a bit gratuitous.
I’m no medical expert but I’m going to drop some science anyway. The problem with producing C1-INH is that it’s too complex a protein to synthesize. It needs a biological process, and a modified bacteria like E. coli won’t do. Still with me?
Well, the yeast Pichia pastoris will do the job for us. In case you’re keeping score at home, yeast isn’t an animal. Nor is it fuzzy, or cute. Then there’s the drug Ecallantide (it’s a different protein made with the same yeast process) and it was just approved by the FDA yesterday. Yesterday! Apparently, Ecallantide isn’t perfect, but neither is the rabbit milk method, which has a short half-life and the possibility of triggering allergies. Not what you want in a drug to treat an allergic reaction. On the bright side, a different part of your windpipe might swell up instead.
And if all else fails, C1-INH from donated human blood treats angioedema attacks, in all cases, with no side effects. Think about that for a minute. Next time someone trots out the excuse that people will die if we don’t torture animals, ask them if they’ve donated blood recently. Because if they haven’t, then maybe they don’t care about people as much as they think they do. THAT’S RIGHT, I SAID IT.