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‘Pig’ Islets Coming Soon From the Pig Palace

Jan 20, 2009

Xenotransplants may soon be a reality. A $2.5 million “pig palace”, housing and breeding facility in Australia to be completed in April.

Living Cell Technologies company got the go-ahead in October to do trials in New Zealand, subject to conditions, where cells from the pigs’ offspring will be used to treat type 1 diabetics.

The company was given approval to implant islet cells from the pancreas of piglets in the abdomen of type-1 (juvenile onset) diabetes patients to help manufacture insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

The company has claimed that by wrapping the cells in a seaweed gel, it can allow the cells to obtain nutrient from the human body without being recognised by the immune system as porcine invaders.

The concept of the cells, branded DiabecellB, was the work of Mr Elliott, who actually implanted cells in half a dozen Aucklanders over a decade ago, before being shut down by health officials who were concerned about the potential for pig retroviruses to move into the human population.

Mr Elliot said yesterday the company had hoped to have its 1000sq m pig complex, believed to be in Awarua, finished this month but was now looking at an April completion. The company was still waiting for final approval to start trials. Mr Elliot hoped to get the go-ahead early next month and potential candidates would be finalized soon afterwards.  Former health minister David Cunliffe gave the go ahead for eight people to take part in the trials.

They had to meet the company’s strict criteria including having type 1 diabetes for at least a decade, be between the ages of 30 and 60 years old, have no other medical complications as a result of their diabetes and must live in the Auckland area. The company has already tested the technology on six Russian patients near Moscow – hand-carrying the pig cells from New Zealand in a chiller bin.