FETAL TISSUE RESEARCH: Pig Cells May Resolve Controversy
Using brain cells from fetal pigs instead of those from aborted human fetuses may relieve some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and could mitigate some of the "ethical problems raised by taking the cells from human sources," according to a study in this week's Neurology. As reported in American Health Line yesterday, researchers at Boston Hospital found that of the 12 patients who received the fetal pig cell transplants, three showed more than a 30% improvement on a test that measures the severity of the disease, and none has developed signs of a retrovirus infection common among pigs (Vergano, USA Today, 3/14). Although fetal tissue transplants have also proven effective, "limited availability of such tissue and ethical concerns have prevented widespread use of the procedure" (Reuters Health, 3/13). "Even if one were not concerned about any moral or ethical considerations, the logistics of getting the total number of cells that are needed for transplantation is quite difficult," study researcher Dr. Samuel Ellias, a Boston University neurologist, said. "The supply of human fetal tissue is highly limited," echoed National Public Radio's David Baron. Researchers are planning to continue the study, with more results possible by this fall (NPR, "Morning Edition," 3/14).
In another pig cell development, scientists at PPL Therapeutics in Blacksburg, Va., yesterday announced that they have successfully cloned five piglets, potentially paving the way for "genetically engineered pigs whose kidneys, hearts, livers and other organs" could be used for transplantation in humans without "fear of rejection," the Washington Times reports. In addition, researchers indicated that cloned pig cells can be used in stem cell research to "take fire from the debate over use of donated human fetuses" for such research. David Ayares, head of research and development at the U.S. division of PPL Therapeutics, said, "This changes the whole dialogue. The use of pig cells provides a parallel strategy ... for researching cell mediated therapies." Although it is too early to draw any conclusions, Tim Leshan of the American Society for Cell Biology agreed that it would be "nice" if the cloned pigs provided an alternative to human fetal cells. PPL Therapeutics partnered with Edinburgh's Roslin Institute to produce the first cloned sheep, Dolly, three years ago (Gribbin, 3/15).