Volume 92, Issue 60

Thursday, January 14, 1999



Win some, lose some

Chretien confusion surrounds club

Westminster may become a Western residence

Pigs fly to Canada to help out research

1,200 biz keeners to do gaming

New Earth-sized planet could sustain life


Hot Air

Caught on campus

Caught on campus too

Pigs fly to Canada to help out research

By John Intini
Gazette Staff

Canadian scientists are hoping a group of transgenic pigs will be able to solve Canada's organ shortage problem and ensure no one dies awaiting an organ transplant.

Eight doctors from Western, the University of Toronto and Guelph University are in the pre-clinical stages of research on six pigs which were shipped three months ago to Canada from Cambridge University in England.

While in England, the pigs were injected with human genes in an attempt to make their livers compatible with humans. The pigs are being studied to see if their antibodies have accepted the genes.

According to researchers, the short-term goal of the project is to provide a bridge in which patients with liver failure will be able to have a pig's liver hooked up externally to their circulation system.

According to Gary Levy, director of the transplant program at U of T, the liver lasts for 24 to 72 hours outside the pig's body. The long-term goal of the project is to perform complete organ transplants from pigs to humans, with hearts and kidneys the organs of greatest interest.

David Grant, professor of pathology at Western, said there are 3,000 current patients waiting for transplants in Canada. If the research is successful, transplants will be opened up to a number of patients who are in need of a transplant.

"Twenty per cent of people with liver problems will die waiting for a organ transfer," Grant said.

Through the breeding of the original six, 18 piglets have been born. Testing is currently underway to see if the offspring have the human gene in them as well.

Pigs were chosen based on their compatibility with humans, because their organs are of similar size to humans and the fact that they produce large litters, Levy said. The use of primates was considered, but based on the closeness of orangutan and chimpanzees to humans it creates a moral issue.

"There are people who do not feel that testing on animals for any reason is positive," Levy said. "In general, the public is supportive of the work, but education will be very important when clinical testing becomes a closer reality."

Currently work is being done at Western on monkeys but actual human testing is still six to 12 months away, Levy said. Complete transplanting of organs, if the procedure is deemed safe, is being contemplated for sometime in 2000.

Funding for the project is coming primarily from Novartis, a Montreal-based pharmaceutical giant who, according to Gilles Gagnon, Novartis' VP-external affairs, is investing $3 million for research over the next two years.

"We are proud to be part of the program that brings some hope to desperate patients," Gagnon said. "We have gathered some of the leaders in transplant research and are very excited with this breakthrough project."

Bill Bridger, Western's VP-research, also viewed the work of the doctors as highly important.

"This is great stuff," Bridger said. "There is an incredible shortage of human organs and it is important that work is continued to find alternative ways of providing for patients."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999