Pig cells - would you do it?

For some time now researchers outside the EU & the US have been transplanting pig beta cells into humans. It’s all experimental still, but it’s been done in Mexico and New Zealand, plus in many trials with monkeys. The cells are coated with a substance made from seaweed that keeps the immune cells from attacking them, but allows the cells to release insulin into the bloodstream as needed. There are no immunosuppressive drugs needed, like in standard transplants. It’s very controversial, though, of course. Animal to human transplants carry the hypothetical (or very real?) risk of turning the host into a breeding ground for animal viruses to learn how to attack humans. Currently they’re arguing that the pigs used have been isolated on an island for around 200 years and are totally disease free, so it’s ok. Critics say that’s fine, but what happens when the pig-person is later exposed to a pig virus out in the world?

You can do a search and find many articles about this. Here’s just one from this week, about researchers from the University of Minnesota: http://www.newkerala.com/july.php?action=fullnews&id=59851

My question is, if it looks like it would be a total cure or even reduce your insulin needs by 60%, would you do it?

I can’t make up my mind yet. I’m very concerned about the animal to human aspect. However, not only would those cells make insulin (and during “honeymoon”, when I made a below-normal amount, it was so much easier to control sugars than now, when I have zero c-pep!), they would also make c-peptide, which some believe helps to keep blood vessels pliable and perhaps prevent nerve damage. They would also make amylin (which is now available in the US as Symlin, but it’s expensive and still not put into the body in a normal biological way.) Amylin slows stomach emptying, signals “hey, we’re eating, so all’s cool” to the specific receptors in the brain, tells the liver not to release unneccessary glycogen at mealtime and keeps the proper balance of osteoclasts and osteoplasts, keeping your bone from being broken down faster than it’s made (the lack of which is one reason diabetics are at higher risk of osteoporosis.) I have to admit I would be a bit tempted to do the pig thing. Tempted. Not saying for sure. It’s potentially so risky. Man, that’s a tough decision.

If it was a cure, I’d do it. But I’d never look at bacon the same way again.

“isolated on an island for 200 years and are totally disease free” ? Hmmm. That’s since 1807. It sure shows a lot of foresight on somebody’s part. Sounds too science-fiction to me.

No, really. There was a goup of sailors that actually left an entire… what do you call it… colony (?) of pigs on this island off the coast of New Zealand in the case that someone else wrecked there again they’d not starve. Crazy, huh? It sounds science fiction, but it’s not made up, lol. There are many many articles about this procedure online and in news searches. Here’s a quote from one I just ran across, about the pigs:

Living Cell Technologies has access to remarkably pristine pigs — a herd isolated in the remote, sub-Antarctic Auckland islands since 1852, that has not had contact with modern viruses. “They are free of any known transmissible disease, which is more than you can say about donated human organs,” said Elliot.

Pig cells may cure diabetes

Man’s pig-cell implants still active 10 years on

It was also done in Mexico a few years ago: Diabetic children injected with pig insulin cells


I’ve been reading off and on about xenotransplantation (the impressive sounding word for this type of thing) for quite a few years. Since I used to get my insulin from Pork, I don’t see getting islet cells from them as a huge concern. One can always come up with hypothetical risks (e.g. we may be invaded by pig eating aliens who confuse us pig cell recipients with real pigs), but I think I’d probably participate if the evidence indicated a good chance of a lasting cure.

I have to go along with you on that one. I would have to know it worked and have a good sucess rate on it… I had the pancres transplant done when it was still expermantal and went threw 7 different rejection episodes then totaly rejected looking for a cure for future generations. Got kinda let down after 2 years so I would just have to wait til they took it out of the experimental stage at least before I though too much about doing it. But then again that’s my own opionion on the process.

Ah, that’s too bad you had to go through all that for what turned out to be nothing. How frustrating. But they have to try to find out, right? Sigh. I’ve given blood and DNA to type 1 studies and ones for relatives of people with RA (my mom has that), hoping that somehow it will help in the long run too.

This pig cell thing at least sounds more promising than the Edmonton Protocol due to the coating of the cells that prevents the immune system from getting to them. In theory it should work. They could do this with human beta cells, too, but you know how they’re tougher to come by. Putting reservations about xenotransplantation aside, it would be great in my opinion to even get a 60% reduction in injected insulin requirements. We’d get some c-peptide back, some amylin back and post-meal spikes would be significantly reduced. Maybe even only need a bolus when pigging out on carbs. Also… the risk of DKA would be way down. But, as always, if it works it won’t be available for “5 to 10 years”. Why is everything always going to be available in a few years and yet nothing is. Well, except improved pumps and inhaled insulin (for those who like to risk their lungs).

The other worrisome thing is cost. I know some folks can afford $20,000 for a treatment, but I couldn’t even get a loan for that much if I promised my first born to the bank. If insurance companies aren’t convinced that it’s a total cure, will they pay for it? If it reduces insulin by half, would that be good enough for them? I’d guess not, because they’d argue that they still have to pay for syringes/pump supplies and insulin for you on top of this half-cure. But if I would no longer be a diabetic, man, I would hit up everyone I know for a loan and beg on the streetcorner to get the money!

Yes!! I would do it.It would be wonderful to be able to eat what you want and when.

A new article today. One of the women implanted with the New Zealand piggy cells in Russia is now completely injection-free. The other patient has had insulin needs reduced by 39%.

Pig-cell trial patient able to stop insulin

I would do it in a new york minute. The risks involved are going to be much smaller than the chances of the horror show we all know could be around the corner with diabetes.

Well, we use pigs for a million different other things, so why not this? I’m pretty sure with all the insulin and medicine that’s made from pigs, that if we’re going to get (cause?) a virus, than it’ll probably happen anyway.

I love trying odd things though, so i’d certainly try this if i had the chance.

Here in the US, they are transplanting donor islet cells in clinical trials and I just submitted my application to join the study. I have been a type 1 for 48 years and yes, I would try experimental treatments if it would lead to a cure or to help discover one, I have nothing to lose if it fails so why not?

Where’s the line? Honestly I’d do it in a heartbeat only if it offered Insulin Independence and was Gov’t funded. Obviously I couldn’t pay for it. At just a reduction of Insulin it would be a tough call. If still reliant on Insulin your not really cured. It would be like turning type 1 diabetes into type 2. Though it certainly is exciting what they are doing with the pig cell transplants my optimisim is much more in the potential of Smart Insulin which isn’t technically a cure but would offer huge benefits if works as anticipated. It’s also a therapy that would likely be available for everyone in need.