May 4th, 2010
11:05 PM ET

Scientists use pig embryo to create stem cells

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Scientists appear to have broken another barrier in stem cell research by creating a better research model to study human illnesses – a pig – actually 34 pigs.

It’s an important advance for research because pigs are much more like humans than other lab animals are.

The scientists did not clone the pigs – instead they adapted a procedure used in mice and human stem cell research and were able to grow a specific kind of cell, induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells.

Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to turn into any cell in the body. IPS cells were first developed about five years ago by Shinya Yamanaka, who used four genes to coax a regular mouse cell into acting like an embryo. Creating stem cells with this method is less controversial than harvesting them from an embryo, which destroys the fertilized egg in the process.

According to Dr. Steve Stice, director of the University of Georgia Regenerative Bioscience Center, his team took a bone marrow cell from a pig and injected six new genes, which caused it turn into an embryo-like cell.  Pluripotent stem cells were harvested from this embryo-like cell and injected in another pig embryo. 

The first piglets carrying these new stem cells were born September 3, 2009. 

So far human embryonic stem cell research has not actually found its way into the human body.  Most of the research is still in mice.  But mice aren't the best animal models to get more accurate data on how a treatment may affect a person.  For example, mice hearts beat four times faster than a human heart and mice don't get atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) – but pigs do.  That's why pigs are much better animal models says Stice. "Physiologically, pigs are much closer to a human," he says.

The researchers also found that unlike mouse embryonic stem cells, which can turn into cancer cells, none of the pigs developed any signs of tumors.

But it has been very difficult to harvest embryonic pluripotent stem cells from pigs. Stice credits his research assistant Franklin West with finding a way to make the existing IPS technology work in pigs.  

Now researchers hope to find many different applications for these new pig stem cells and the pigs they can produce.  They are already working with scientists at Emory University to develop insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells, which might be transplanted into people with diabetes.

Stice thinks this new method can also be used to genetically engineer healthier livestock for other tissue transplants and food consumption. He suggests these stem cells may someday be used to make "artificial bacon," which would eliminate the need to slaughter pigs.

The research will be published in the online journal "Stem Cell and Development."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (60 Responses)

    Could stem cellls help cure my Idiopathic Axonal Peripheral neuropathy

    I live in Scotland /Uk and there is no research cure or treatment and there will not be for decades according to my doctor

    Every day I receive Google new Alert about Stem cells and must be one of many desperate patients in the world so please USA hurry up and beat the world on this

    May 5, 2010 at 05:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Maria H-Miami

    Oh please,

    I have an injury which I would very much like it healed so that I could live a complete, normal life.

    To me Stem Cell research turned out to be a political gimick and a Hollywood Celebrity promotional gimick and a money maker for research companies.

    Noone wants to remember the past political campaigns where we were told that if Stem Cell research were approved we would see Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Diabetes, Spinal Cord injury, etc..healed, disappear in just a few years.

    So what happens, suddenly scientists start saying that Smoking might be the answer to Parkinson's, SMOKING????? What happened to the political campaigns that Stem Cell research was going to cure, disappear Parkinson's?

    Injured, sick people are vulnerable, I know this first hand, I happen to be injured, we get approached all the time with every promise, hope you can think of.

    Sorry, I don't trust them. I hope these scientists are not saying this as a way to get more freedom and funding, another dollar in their pockets, playing on our vulnerability.

    May 5, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tim

      You're an imbecile.
      Clealy you have NO idea how long it takes from the inception of an idea to the development of an actual clinical cure. Where did you get 'a few years' from? The giant vacant cavern that is your head?
      People like you hold up progressive research with your fear of the novel and fearmongering.
      If these greedy scientists really wanted to make money they would be trying to grow a good side of steak from bovine stem cells, and not trying to create models to follow in human research.
      Just so you know the person writing this article isn't the best informed either.
      From above: 'So far human embryonic stem cell research has not actually found its way into the human body'
      From CNN earlier this year: 'http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-21/health/stem.cell.spine_1_cells-als-patients-spinal-cord?_s=PM:HEALTH'

      In fact they are both posted by the Medical Managing Editor Mariam Falco. She's even dumber than you are.

      November 10, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
  3. wesrch

    Ever since stem cells were first described over 140 years ago, biologists have studied how these cells evolve into various organs and tissues.1 Early studies were mostly of interest to scientists working on the basic biology of development and embryogenesis. Excitement began building in 1998, when James Thompson and his colleagues first isolated and cultured human embryonic stem cells.2 More recently, advances in our understanding of stem cell biology, combined with animal experiments showing that many tissues can, indeed, regenerate, have been fueling the hope that these cells can be used to treat life-threatening diseases. In this context, stem cell therapy might be an alternative, or addition to, drug therapy. (http://medical.wesrch.com/Paper/paper_details.php?id=ME1XXFH5NBYHY&paper_type=pdf&type=paper_category)

    May 5, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. kathy

    This is exciting news. There will not be enough islets to go around to all of the diabetics who will want them once FDA approval has been achieved for islet cell transplantation. This could be the solution.

    May 6, 2010 at 06:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Stan

    Maria in Miami.... nobody said that these diseases would be cured "in a few years" as you said. What is your problem with non-embryonic stem cell research?

    July 30, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. joh

    Maria H, I understand your resentment in stem cell research and your frustration in the slow and unpromising process is reasonable, but this article is yet another huge breakthrough! Scientists’ intentions aren’t to use people’s vulnerability for more funding but rather they are trying to help save lives. Even if the research takes countless years for completion, it still helps because it gives hope to people who truly need it. For instance, a little girl from a poor family hoping for Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve – hope makes us believe in the unthinkable. This same little girl diagnosed with a terminal disease will be stronger if she has hope in being cured one day with stem cell research. Although you dismiss the research as a “gimmick,” it provides hope and reassurance to those who still believe.

    September 23, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tim

    Dear Miriam Falco – CNN Medical Managing Editor

    In this article that you posted it is written (and I quote): So far human embryonic stem cell research has not actually found its way into the human body.

    Earlier this year you posted another article with the name: First U.S. stem cells transplanted into spinal cord

    Not sure if the person posting the articles is the same as the person writing them, but clearly CNN needs to fire SOMEONE and hire a replacement, since your editors are pretty incompetent.

    November 10, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.