Long-term cloning program will aid in research on treating human diseases
Researchers in McGill University's Department of Animal Science have successfully produced three litters of cloned pigs, a Canadian first that will eventually contribute to advancing biomedical research into human ailments such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"This is an important intermediate step toward generating transgenic animal models for research because it gives us the opportunity to create animals from cell lines that can be easily manipulated in vitro; it could even lead to the development of new cell therapies for genetic diseases in humans," explained Dr. Vilceu Bordignon, director of the Large Animal Research Unit at McGill's Macdonald Campus in Ste. Anne de Bellevue.
The 17 piglets were produced from cells collected from a single pig. The cells were cultured in vitro and then injected into matured germ cells whose nuclei were removed. Developing embryos were later inserted into three female pigs – the same approach that gave birth to Dolly, a sheep that in 1996 was the first mammal to be cloned in this manner, Dr. Bordignon said.
Of the 17 – all male, because the original cells were harvested from a male pig – seven were euthanized and underwent autopsies to determine any abnormalities as a result of the cloning. The remaining 10, now several weeks old, are developing normally.
"We're monitoring their growth rate, but they're not receiving any special treatment," said Dr. Bordignon. "They are feeding, growing and developing just like normal pigs."
After monkeys, pigs are the most appropriate animal models to use in researching human disease because their physiology so closely resembles our own, he explained. Pigs were first successfully cloned in the United States in 2000.
"Because we are the first in Canada, I've already been contacted by researchers from McGill and other Canadian universities interested in developing specific animal cells to study a variety of human diseases," Dr. Bordignon said.
The research was funded with approximately $1-million in grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT) and McGill University.