Pigs may soon become donors of insulin-producing islet cells to cure humans afflicted by insulin dependent diabetes, if a University of Minnesota researcher is to be believed.
Dr. Bernhard Hering, Scientific Director of the Diabetes Institute for Immunology & Transplantation at the university, will present his latest findings on pig islet xenotransplantation at the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis in Minneapolison 20 September.
The symposium will be part of The Transplantation Society's 2007 Joint Conference. It will unite the greatest innovators from three sections of the Transplantation Society—the Cell Transplant Society (CTS), the International Pancreas and Islet Transplant Association (IPITA) and the International Xenotransplantation Association (IXA) - for the first time.
During the study, the researchers observed that the transplantation of islet cells harvested from the pancreas of a pig yielded a long-term reversal of diabetes in monkeys.
Herings says that the medical breakthrough opens the path to unprecedented new opportunities for human patients with the disease. He and his colleagues are now making preparations for clinical trials, slated to commence within three years.
Meanwhile, a non-profit organisation called Spring Point Project has started to raise medical grade pigs so that once the cure is realized, diabetes sufferers will find the treatment to be widely available and affordable.
Dr. Henk-Jan Schuurman, CEO of Spring Point Project, will moderate the Source Pigs for Xenotransplantation Trials Symposium on 15 September at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, during the Joint Conference.
The organisation is currently operating a 21,000-square-foot biosecure facility in Western Wisconsin called the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation Islet Resource Facility, which works to raise high health pigs for clinical trials.
Dr. Schuurman says that a team of highly skilled veterinarians and animal care staff is actively raising high health pigs in compliance with governmental regulations—a charge that requires the pigs to be housed in an ultra clean biosecure environment, fed special food and given only purified water to drink and filtered air to breathe.
"Continuing to populate our Islet Resource Facility brings us closer to meeting our ultimate goal of curing diabetes," he has been quoted by Nature magazine as saying.
"With the pigs that are currently housed in our biosecure facility, we're already expediting the widespread availability of islet cell tissue so that an adequate supply of pig donors will be available for clinical islet cell transplantation trials using patients with diabetes," he adds.