NZ researchers to implant pig cells in diabetics

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand biotech company began a trial Thursday of an experimental treatment for diabetes in which cells from newborn pigs will be implanted into eight human volunteers.

Living Cell Technologies hopes the cells may be able to delay the effects of Type 1 diabetes, including blindness, premature coronary illness and limb amputation resulting from poor blood circulation.

Prof. Bob Elliott, medical director of the company, acknowledged that, even in the best-case scenario, the treatment would not eliminate all symptoms.

Some scientists have warned that implanting pig cells has risks. Others say it is too soon to begin testing on humans because no animal trials were conducted.

One risk is that viruses that exist in animals but not in humans could jump species, potentially causing new illnesses and possible new pandemics. Scientists say there are more than 100 pig viruses that could potentially transfer to humans.

Elliott said Thursday that the possibility of a pig endogenous retrovirus — the virus thought to be most contagious for humans — infecting humans is largely “theoretical.”

“There is no evidence of a risk” of a pig retrovirus infection, he said.

He said the piglets being used, recovered from 150 years of isolation on islands south of New Zealand, carried no known agent that could infect humans and are held in a fully closed, sterile environment.

Prof. Martin Wilkinson, past chairman of the New Zealand Bioethics Council, said pig islet cells pose “a very small risk” that “is low enough to be managed in human recipients.”

“There is no conclusion that it (transplanting animal cells in humans) should be banned just because of the possibility of risk,” Wilkinson, who is not involved in the trials, told reporters Thursday.

Elliott has run two previous trials, the first with six patients in New Zealand in 1995-1996. The other, in Russia with 10 patients, began in July 2007. He said he has seen increased insulin production in some subjects, while others rejected the pig cells or the implanted cells stopped producing insulin after a year.

A scientific paper on the trial is to be produced by the end of 2009, he said.


Oh I think the benefits out weigh the risk!

HAHA, I am very curious about this. I know that they are not able to conduct the trials in the USA, but there was a letter writing campaign last year to convince the prime minister of New Zealand to allow it.

Sounds so strange to me-- I think that I would indeed feel “part pig”, but I agree that the benefits might outweigh the risks.

(where did you ever find that picture?!?!)

Egad, that’s a scary picture! I guess people have been using porcine/beef derived insulin for long while so maybe this won’t be too bad. If I recall correctly, the trials in Russia had maybe 2 successful transplants with one insulin dependant T2 off of insulin completely and one with a much reduced dose.
I think Novocell is going to begin clinical trials soon based on the same concept as LCT except they’ll be using encapsulated human islet cells. And Sernova in Canada are using cell pouch technology, but they’re still in (large) animal trials at the moment.

oh I think it is a scary thought, but with the advace of medicine, even in the past 20 years (I am just getting over a bout of Lyme Disease that still goes un detected in hundreds of people every year)it will no doubt lead to something good… hopefully.

That is a picture of Pigman I searched on the internet. Scary