Pigs and my Pancreas


Having diabetes makes me pay attention to all sorts of things that, in my previous life, I could have cared less about. Like, for example, the different ways that cottage cheese and plain greek yogurt affect your blood sugar levels. Or how many grams of carbohydrate are in an avocado .

This morning, I’m surprised to say that I am interested in pig pancreases. I was looking through my google news alerts and came across this article from the daily student newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh (bookmarked in my browser right next to the New York Times). It’s about researchers at the University of Pittsburgh trying to figure out how to use pig islet cells as potential replacements for human islet cells — the same subject Jess wrote about earlier here. To quote:

Pitt researcher Massimo Trucco thinks transplanting these pig [islet] cells into humans with Type 1 diabetes might eliminate the need for insulin shots.

Trucco, whose work is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, said his researchers chose to use genetically altered pig cells because of their successful trials on monkeys. Therefore he thinks the human body will be less likely to reject the cells, as it has rejected other cells researchers have tried.

He said he and his colleagues — researchers from the Netherlands and Australia — transplanted the islet pig cells into monkeys and found that the cells worked in their bodies for more than a year.

(Here’s a link to the entire article.) Before we get too excited about the possibility of getting our bacon to multitask, I should point out — as anyone with Type 1 is probably aware — that simply preventing the body from *rejecting* the new islet cells isn’t going to solve our problem. Since we have an autoimmune disease — which means that our immune system has attacked our own cells — we’ve also got to figure out a way to shut off the response that caused Type 1 diabetes in the first place.

Nonetheless, it’s always nice to hear about creative approaches to figuring out new sources for insulin-producing cells. Perhaps in the future, we will raise pigs for the noble cause of harvesting their pancreases — and BLTs will be a tasty benefit on the side.

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13 years ago

This approach will be a catalyst to this branch of the cure.  With more islet cells available, more patients can be helped, and more research can be conducted.  There are simply not enough human pancreases available.  The encapsulation approach has already received more attention because of the use of pig islet cells in Australia.

13 years ago

LCT has been testing this already in humans, capsulated pig cells are protected from the autoimmune effect and no immunosuppressant drugs are needed.


Elizabeth Snouffer
13 years ago

Definitely food for thought (lol) – but I think the scientific community has come along a way since using mice, monkeys etc.  Islet transplantation is serious business up in Edmonton!  Where are we today?  Subject deserves much more attention.

Jessica Apple
13 years ago

Jeff, thanks for the letting us know about insulin’s 88th.  I totally agree with you – the change is amazing.

Jeff Nobles
Jeff N.
13 years ago

Cool, and kind of like turning the circle back to the type of insulin used in 1973 (when I was diagnosed), derived from pork and/or beef.
Speaking of animal-based insulins, today is the 88th anniversary of the first use of insulin on a human, Leonard Thompson, who was 14. The first injection was ineffective but the second one worked, 12 days later. Amazing how the world has changed for diabetics since then.

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