Ostrich eggs to be used in treatment for deadly hospital infection

11 March 2017

Ostrich eggs are being tested as a means to treat a deadly hospital infection.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is contracted by sick patients whose immune systems have been affected by the likes of diabetes or cancer, and it kills around 1,600 people a year in the U.K. alone.

Scientists believe the eggs of an ostrich, the oldest-known bird on earth, are the best way to tackle this illness, through the form of a drug which contains antibodies. With their survival down to strong immune systems, female ostriches produce infection-fighting cells on a rapid basis, which can be found in large quantities in their eggs.

The cells are so tough they can survive the acidic environment of a human stomach, making them an ideal treatment for C. difficile. This bug can disrupt the normal balance of gut bacteria, resulting in bleeding, fever and diarrhoea. It can become potentially deadly if it triggers peritonitis, an infection of the abdomen lining.

Massachusetts-based firm OstriGen is planning a trial of ostrich eggs alongside doctors from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Female birds have been infected with ‘deactivated’ notes of the C. difficile bug, triggering the formation of antibodies without causing sickness. Over the next few months, patients suffering the illness will be treated with the antibodies through a one-off spoonful of medicine.

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Discussing this method, Professor Mark Wilcox of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “These approaches are theoretically a relatively cheap way of producing antibodies to fight infection.”

Previous research has praised the healing powers of ostrich eggs, such as a Brazilian study in 2012 linking them to preventing the growth of E. coli and staphylococcus aureus, two harmful bugs.

It is hoped this new treatment will be available for use within the next three to five years.

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