How chicken eggs are helping scientists research cancer

Researchers are using fertilized chicken eggs to evaluate how medications affect tumor samples in children.

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Serghei Platonov |

The University of British Columbia (UBC) scientists are testing cancer medications using fertilized chicken eggs to research how some medications could potentially affect children's tumor samples.

“In my research lab, we’re using chicken eggs as a host model to grow the child’s tumor in a petri dish,” said Dr. James Lim, UBC scientist and researcher with the Michael Cuccione Cancer Research Program.

“We’re able to test different drugs targeted to the unique properties and weaknesses of each tumor and see how the cancer cells will respond.”

According to Lim, eggs are a fantastic host for growing the tumors and can give faster and more accurate results compared to other hosts such as mice. It takes only one to two weeks to grow a tumor in a fertilized egg from the time of the first biopsy. Lim explained that the current standard is three to six months in other models.

Additionally, because fewer cancer drugs are considered safe for children, conventional treatment plans such as chemotherapy can fail. This is because childhood cancers are different from adult cancers, as they are not typically linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors. Lim believes that instead of child cancer patients relying on these kinds of treatments, the right medication can be matched to the right patient through this research.

“In conventional treatments, we are using a drug that is known to kill the cancer cells but also oftentimes produces a lot of toxicity that we hope to avoid," added Lim.

The research is part of a pediatric precision oncology initiative known as the Better Responses through Avatars and Evidence (or BRAvE).

It is encouraging to see that the poultry industry is not only able to provide inexpensive protein options to consumers and help feed the world but could potentially save lives and advance pediatric cancer treatment plans. 

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