Pig Potential in Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

Pig Potential in Type 1 Diabetes Treatment: What do pigs; isolated Pacific islands and Type 1 diabetes have in common? A controversial new approach to a treatment for Juvenile diabetes.

Medical researchers in New Zealand are moving forward with a study that includes a science known as xenotransplantation – the use of animal cells and organs to develop medical approaches within humans.

In this most recent case scientists are extracting pig cells that produce insulin and injecting those cells into a human study participant. In previous trials there seems to have been some positive signs that this approach would work.

Neighboring Australia has a ban in place that prevents the study from taking place there.


The Controversy
Much of the discussion surrounding this type of scientific study has to do with the introduction of animal cells into humans. Theoretically speaking it could be possible for individuals who participate in this trial to develop viruses previously confined to swine. The most discussed virus is known as the retrovirus, which can create conditions for cancerous tumor growth.

The Pigs
Swine used in these trials were isolated for 150 years on at least one island off the coast of New Zealand. Doctors believe this pristine environment provides the best source of insulin producing swine cells available.

The Struggle Creating the Need
In Type 2 diabetes the body’s immune system misidentifies cells within the pancreas as invaders and sends destroyer cells to kill them. It isn’t that the body doesn’t do its job it just mistakes cells in the pancreas for an enemy and begins to work tirelessly to kill them.

This controversial therapy suggests it is possible to introduce insulin-creating cells from pigs and allow those cells to regenerate insulin creation within the human body.

The Potential
If pig cells could allow a Type 1 diabetic to begin the development of insulin it would minimize or even eliminate the need for insulin injections. Researchers have been quick to point out that even if everything goes the way they believe possible this therapy would still not eliminate all Type 1 diabetes symptoms.

Some scientists remain adamant that this type of study should be banned while others believe a ban needlessly narrows the field of potential therapies. At present New Zealand is the only country in the region that would allow this procedure. Australia may review their ban by year’s end.

Some research in xenotransplantation has taken place in the U.S., but according to WebMD, “Several obstacles to the success of xenotransplantation have been identified. These include, but are not limited to, (1) preventing hyperacute rejection, (2) preventing acute vascular rejection, (3) facilitating immune accommodation, (4) inducing immune tolerance, (5) preventing the transmission of viruses from xenografts into humans, and (6) addressing the ethical issues surrounding animal sources for xenografts and the appropriate selection of recipients (given that xenotransplantation remains experimental).”

WebMD Suggests, “Organs from pigs have been the focus of much of the research in xenotransplantation, in part because of the public acceptance of killing pigs and the physiologic similarities between pigs and human and nonhuman primates.”

SkyNews indicates the insulin producing pig cells used in the study will be, “Coated in a seaweed-derived membrane to discourage the volunteers’ immune systems from rejecting them.” There are eight patients in the trial and all have severe cases of Type 1 diabetes.