Living Cell Technologies (LCT) is a New Zealand company at the forefront of xenotransplantation research. Use our resources to explore why and how they’re using pig cells to treat disease.

Animal to human transplants

Transplanting living cells, tissues or organs from animals into people is known as xenotransplantation. Research in xenotransplantation is being driven by a lack of available human donor tissue.

Find out more about Xenotransplantation and organ donation.

Using pig cells to treat disease

LCT is an Auckland-based company that is developing pig cell transplants to treat diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, stroke and hearing loss.

Reducing the risk of disease

In the past, xenotransplantation research has been stopped because of the risk that it may spread disease from one species to another. To minimise this risk, LCT sources its cells from a unique breed of pigs, which originally come from the subantarctic Auckland Islands. LCT has designed and built special facilities to house the pigs and ensure they remain free of disease-causing pathogens and are kept happy and healthy and exhibit normal behaviours. Find out more about this in Designated pathogen-free pigs – origins and welfare.

Monitoring for disease

LCT has a world-leading molecular diagnostics lab that tests for known disease-causing pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria. The lab’s main purpose is to make sure that pig cell donors, pig cell transplant products and recipients are free of infectious disease. For further information, read Pig viruses and virus testing.

Preventing transplant rejection

All live cell, tissue or organ transplants (from animal or human sources) have the potential to be rejected. Rejection occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys foreign tissue. In animal to human transplants, rejection happens rapidly unless steps are taken to prevent it. LCT encapsulates its pig cells in a special seaweed-based coating to prevent them being rejected. The coating is a physical barrier to antibodies and prevents rejection of the cell transplant. This method has an added benefit – pig cell transplant recipients don’t need to take toxic drugs to suppress their immune system function. The article Preventing pig cell transplant rejection has additional information.

Treating type 1 diabetes

Pig cell transplants are currently being trialled as a treatment for type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by a loss of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It affects 15,000 people in New Zealand who need daily insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels. These people also have a high risk of developing severe health complications, so treatments that can give better control of blood sugar levels are needed. Transplanting insulin-producing pig cells into diabetics has been shown to improve blood sugar control and reduce the amount of insulin needed.

The article Diabetes and pig cell transplants provides more in-depth information.

Treating Parkinson’s disease

In an exciting new development, LCT is now testing whether pig cell transplants can be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. In Parkinson’s disease, specific nerve cells that control motor function die. LCT is transplanting pig cells from a region of the brain that can stimulate nerve repair and regrowth. In animal experiments, these transplants have caused new nerve cell growth and eased symptoms of the disease.

See this news story Pig cell to human brain transplant approved about LCT getting permission to start phase I clinical trials in 2012.

Ethics of pig cell transplants

Using animal cells to treat human disease raises many ethical issues. Whether people think that the benefits of this technology outweigh the risks is largely influenced by their needs and their cultural, religious or spiritual views of the world.

Students can explore different stakeholders' perspectives in the activity Ethics and pig cell transplants.

Updates to LCT products and research focus

In 2011, LCT formed a partnership with Otska Pharmaceutical Factory, Inc. and established the New Zealand joint venture company Diatranz Otsuka Limited (DOL). In June 2015, DOL announced that research, development and manufacturing of DIABECELL would move to the United States. Research published in 2016 supports the clinical benefits of islet xenotransplantation with microencapsulation.

LCT is currently trialing NTCELL for Parkinson's disease. If the trial is success, LCT will apply for provisional consent to treat paying patients in New Zealand and launch NTCELL in 2017.

Useful links

Keep up to date with the latest developments with the Living Cell Technologies (LCT) website.

 

Published 11 November 2011, Updated 19 October 2016