27 March 2014. Source:

A herd of 60 genetically engineered cows in northwestern Iowa could help unlock the key to producing new medicines that could treat human diseases, even cancer.

The Jersey-Holstein cloned crosses, which project director Dr. Eddie Sullivan of Sanford Research Applied Biosciences in Sioux Falls said somewhat in jest receive the “best medical care anywhere,” have been genetically engineered to produce human antibodies that fight diseases.

The project is far enough along that his staff of 19, including an animal care and veterinary contingent of six people who take care of the cows at a farm between Hull and Sioux Center, Iowa, is “very excited” about possibly starting human clinical trials in the first part of next year.

Sullivan will be making a major presentation this month before the Federal Drug Administration and must gain its approval before the human trials can begin.

The project – started at the University of Massachusetts in 1998 – took almost 12 years of genetic engineering for the cows to produce the human antibodies.

What the researchers did, said Sullivan, is engineer the cows to turn off the cow antibody genes and then introduce a little piece of DNA that produces the human version of antibodies.

“We basically reprogrammed the software inside the cows where they look at the human antibody and they think it’s theirs and they don’t reject it,” he said.

The human antibodies also protect the cows from animal diseases.

The key to helping unlock new treatments for humans, however, is that these cows can be hyper-vaccinated against all sorts of human diseases – the flu, for example.

The cows then become “antibody factories” and can donate plasma with the disease-fighting antibodies two or three times a month.