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A Pig Milestone

Researchers say the organs from nine pigs cloned over the winter holiday will be transferable to human beings and aid in fighting diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes


Five pigs cloned by the people that brought you Dolly the sheep.

Scientists working on transplanting animal organs into humans announced a major victory this week.

Two separate groups of genetical researches, both based in the United States, successfully cloned nine pigs. The clonings were made just before the New Year by Scotland's PPL Therapeutics and Missouri-based Immerge Biotherapeutics.

The Edinburgh-based PPL Therapeutics, which cloned the sheep Dolly in 1997, cloned five pigs in their Blacksburg, Virginia laboratories on Christmas Day and named them appropriately. Noel, Joy, Angel, Star and Mary are all reportedly doing fine. Immerge Biotherapeutics based in Columbia, Missouri cloned four pigs, according to Science Magazine.

The purpose of the clonings was to produce pigs that could transfer their organs to human beings, and help battle diseases like diabetes. The clones are called “knock out pigs,” because they knock out the specific gene in the human immune system that bars the human body from accepting pig organs.

Pigs, which produce many offspring, are the preferred species for organ transfer, or xenotransplantation, on ethic grounds, according to the company. With their similarly-sized organs, they also prove an appropriate scientific match, according to scientists.

PPL Therapeutics says that clinical trials could begin in as few as four years with the immediate goal of engineering insuling-producing cells in the pigs that could treat diabetes in humans. The company says that cell-based therapies could also be developed for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s as well.

“The promise of xenotransplantation is now a reality, with the potential to revolutionize the transplant industry,” Research Director Alan Colman said in a statement.

PPL Therapeutics estimates the organ transplant industry could be worth $5 billion. The industry for cellular therapy could be worth at least one billion more.

Perhaps more importantly, say reasearchers, is the number of lives the organs produced in the genetically-modified animals could save. In Germany alone there are 10,000 patients waiting for organ donations, and the list of appropriate donors keeps getting smaller.

"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. David Ayares, president of research at PPL said in a statement.