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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 19:02 GMT
Pig cloning race hots up
Miniature swine clone (Science)
These pig clones are miniature ones (Image from Science)
A second team of scientists has produced a litter of pig clones with organs designed for human transplants.

It follows an announcement by Scottish-based PPL Therapeutics that genetically engineered clone piglets had been born on Christmas Day.

The second team of researchers, based at the University of Missouri-Colombia and Immerge BioTherapeutics Inc, claim they actually made the advance first.

The existence of the second litter was revealed in the journal Science. The Missouri-Columbia pigs were born about three months before those of their Scottish rivals.


We have been actively developing a line of miniature swine that offers many advantages as a potential donor for xenotransplantation

Dr Julia Greenstein, Immerge BioTherapeutics Inc
Both litters of pig clones have been genetically engineered to make their tissues more suitable for transplant into humans.

A key gene that causes the human body to reject pig tissue has been switched off.

Although the same gene has been "knocked out" in both sets of pigs, the animals used are not of the same breed.

The Immerge BioTherapeutics pigs are miniature ones.

Company President Dr Julia Greenstein said: "We have been actively developing a line of miniature swine that offers many advantages as a potential donor for xenotransplantation, including their organ size, which is appropriate for human recipients."

Ethical concerns

Pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop technology that might one day allow animal organs and tissues to be transplanted into humans.

Experts believe this controversial area, known as xenotransplantation, could address the shortage of human organs for transplant. But there are many ethical and safety concerns.

PPL's litter of cloned genetically engineered pigs (PPL Therapeutics)
These genetically engineered pig clones were born on Christmas Day
They include the theoretical risk that pig viruses might be passed to humans and cause new diseases.

An investigation by British scientists into the risks of animal transplants into humans has warned that a virus called porcine endogenous retrovirus can infect human cells in the laboratory.

Immerge BioTherapeutics says its pigs have been selectively bred to minimise the risk of such viruses being passed to humans.

Dr Greenstein said: "Preliminary research shows that cells from this line of pigs, in contrast to most other cells tested, don't have the capacity to spread porcine endogenous retrovirus to human cells in culture."

'Critical milestone'

The publication of the miniature pig clones study in the journal Science follows Wednesday's revelation by PPL Therapeutics.

The commercial offshoot of the Roslin Institute announced the birth of five female piglets in a press statement. The pigs, which were born at the company's research division in Virginia, US, have been named Noel, Angel, Star, Joy and Mary.

PPL says it intends to use the pigs as part of its programme to seek a cure for human suffering from diabetes.

Dr David Ayares, Vice-President of Research at PPL's US division, said the birth of the pigs was a "critical milestone" in the company's xenograft programme.


For the foreseeable future there remains an urgent need for human donors

National Kidney Research Fund
"This advance provides a near-term solution for overcoming the shortage of human organs for transplants as well as insulin-producing cells to cure diabetes," Dr Ayares said in a statement.

The National Kidney Research Fund in the UK welcomed the news. But it said the prospect of an abundant supply of animal organs for humans with failure of the kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, or pancreas was still "a long way off".

The fund said in a press statement: "For the foreseeable future, there remains an urgent need for human donors."

It urged everyone to join the NHS Organ Donor Register and to tell their family about their wishes.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Professor Prather, University of Missouri-Columbia,
says the research will have far reaching impacts
A discussion of the issues
Crispin Kirkman of the BioIndustry Association and Nick Partridge of the Terrence Higgins Trust
BUAV spokesperson Sarah Kite
"Rather than using animals just as spare parts we should be looking at other methods"
See also:

02 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
New pig clones born
03 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Animal transplants: A step closer?
09 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Australian researchers clone pig
11 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Pig cloning advance
14 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Scientists produce five pig clones
14 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Pig organ transplants much closer
14 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Cloned pigs: The reaction
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