Using Cells from Other Species
“Xenotransplantation” means transplanting tissue from one species to another. And at the DRI, that means potentially transplanting tissue from pigs to humans.
Pigs have been of great interest for many years. In fact, before human insulin became available, pig insulin was a standard treatment. (Pig insulin differs from human insulin by only one amino acid.) Pigs also have been used to replace other human body parts, such as brain cells, heart valves, skin grafts for burn patients, and cartilage, among others.
In pre‐clinical trials, researchers have demonstrated the potential of transplanted porcine (pig) islets to reverse diabetes. But to use these cells in people, scientists must:
• Eliminate the risk of transmitting unknown diseases and viruses to humans
• Develop ways to block the heightened immune response to tissue from another species
Progress is being made in both of these areas. DRI collaborators have been developing disease‐free pigs, from which they are harvesting islet cells for transplant. Through our ongoing collaboration, the DRI is testing these porcine islets – encapsulating them with protective coatings before transplanting them.
Insulin-producing islets from pigs are being investigated as a source of insulin-producing cells since pig insulin is very similar to human insulin.