July 23, 2009

Lab Uses Implanted Pig Cells To Fight Diabetes In Humans

New Zealand-based biotech company Living Cell Technologies has launched an experiment that will place pig cells into eight volunteer participants.

Derived from piglets, the implanted cells create pig insulin, which contains similar properties to human insulin.

Researchers hope the trial will result in a noticeably lower blood sugar level and negate or delay the effects of Type 1 diabetes.

Professor Bob Elliott, medical director of LCT, said the cells were taken from pigs that lived in isolation on the Auckland Islands. The pigs have been bred in sterile locations in hopes of being free of diseases that could affect humans.

"LCT's pigs originate from the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands and are disease free. The new unit ensures that they remain free of viruses, bacteria and parasites," he said.

Elliott told the Associated Press that even in the best case scenario, the treatment may not halt the symptoms, though he remains optimistic.

Other experts are fearful that the trial cold pose a new risk of introducing new diseases to humans.

Elliott told the AP that the risk of a pig endogenous retrovirus is "theoretical."

"There is no evidence of a risk," he said.

"Nobody has developed a retrovirus."

Dr. Elliott has conducted two other trial procedures. One trial involved six volunteers in New Zealand during 1995 and 1996. The second trial involved Russian volunteers during July 2007.

Researchers noted that one of the volunteers from the New Zealand group began producing insulin 12 years after implantation. The other participants' bodies rejected the pig cells, or the cells stopped producing insulin.


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