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[IP] Banned transplants from piglets 'cure' teenagers of diabetes

October 7 2001 BRITAIN

Banned transplants from piglets 'cure' teenagers of diabetes

Jonathan Leake and Steve Leahy

TWO diabetic children have been freed from a regime of insulin injections
with the world's first transplantation of cells from the testes and
pancreas of newborn piglets.

It could be a breakthrough in xenotransplantation - replacing human tissues
with animal equivalents - which is banned in many countries, including
Britain and America. Twelve diabetics aged 10 to 15 in Mexico were given
pig cells. Two seemed to recover fully, three reduced their insulin
requirements by more than 40% and the rest improved slightly.

Researchers say a combination of tissues from specially bred pigs prevented
the need for the dangerous drugs which are required for years after most
transplants to stop the recipient's immune system rejecting foreign cells.

There was controversy as Dr Rafael Valdes gave his results at last week's
International Xenotransplantation Association congress in Chicago. He said
the "cured" girls, aged 14 and 15, had been injecting insulin two or three
times a day: "It was like they got their childhoods back."

Although some called it a breakthrough, others said not enough was known of
the risks, especially of pig viruses spreading into the general population,
one reason why xenotransplantation is widely banned. But Valdes, who worked
at the Children's Hospital of Mexico, says diabetes is so serious the risks
are worthwhile.

He said: "This could be a breakthrough for millions. In Mexico [diabetes]
is the first cause of blindness and kidney failure. Its impact is worse
than cancer."

In the UK around 1.4m people are known to have diabetes, and up to 1m may
be undiagnosed. The disease costs the NHS #5.2 billion a year - 9% of its

Diabetics' blood sugar levels are too high because the pancreas does not
produce enough active insulin, a glucose-controlling hormone. In Type I or
juvenile diabetes the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells. In
Type II, which affects older people, insulin loses its ability to control
glucose levels.

Dr Robert Elliott, medical director of the diabetes researchers Diatranz
and former child health professor at the University of Auckland, said:
"It's a very exciting breakthrough."

But Dr David Cooper, who trained with Christian Barnard, said: "It's too
early for human trials. We need positive, long-term results in animals

A major concern is a virus found in pig cells called porcine endogenous
retrovirus, a distant relative of HIV.
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