The Independent (London): PIG-TO-MONKEY TRANSPLANTS MAY HERALD CURE FOR DIABETES

Karen Dawn KarenDawn at DawnWatch.com
Wed Jun 4 09:06:18 EDT 2003


(The Independent takes letters at: letters at independent.co.uk )

The Independent (London)
June 4, 2003, Wednesday
NEWS; Pg. 5

 PIG-TO-MONKEY TRANSPLANTS MAY HERALD CURE FOR DIABETES

 STEVE CONNOR SCIENCE EDITOR


RESEARCHERS HAVE suppressed diabetes in laboratory monkeys by transplanting
pancreatic tissue from pigs, meaning pig transplants could eventually cure
childhood diabetes in humans. The monkeys have survived for more than two
months without the insulin that had kept them alive.

Tissue rejection - far more violent in transplants between species - was
controlled by drugs, which prevented the monkey immune system from attacking
the alien pig tissue. Professor Bernhard Hering, who led the study at the
University of Minnesota, said the pig's islets of Langerhans, the
insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, had kept making insulin for more
than 70 days. "We have been able to reverse diabetes in past islet studies,
but we had only seen two to three- week survival times before the graft was
lost due to the overwhelming rejection response," Professor Hering told the
American Transplant Con-gress in Washington DC yesterday. "The survival
times we are reporting on today should only increase as we further optimise
the immunosuppressive regimens."

Eleanor Kennedy, research manager for the charity Diabetes UK, said:
"Anything that overcomes the need for human islets is a big advance."

Childhood or type-1 diabetes affects 400,000 people in Britain alone and
typically is caused by the pancreas's inability to produce enough insulin,
the vital hormone controlling glucose sugar levels in the blood. Regular
injections of insulin can control the disorder but, apart from the
inconvenience and pain of using needles, there is always a risk of using too
much or too little of the hormone.

One per cent of diabetics overreact to the smallest change in levels of
glucose in the blood and insulin injections do not work well for them. They
would probably be the first candidates for pig-to-human transplants.

Scientists had proposed that pigs could be genetically engineered to produce
organs and tissues more compatible with the human immune system, and
pancreatic transplants are candidates for such research.

Professor Hering's research was sponsored by Immerge BioTherapeutics, a
company investigating ways of making xenotransplantation - the transfer of
organs and tissues from animals to humans - safe and effective

Julia Greenstein, president of BioTherapeutics, said experiments on
genetically modified pigs had already demonstrated the possibility of
producing porcine tissue and organs that in principle were well tolerated by
other animals, such as primates,




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