By Jake Stern

Scientists at the University of Missouri in Columbia have successfully implanted human stem cells into genetically modified pigs with compromised immune systems, paving the way for future advances in research using non-human animal subjects. In the past, stem cell research has been constrained by cell rejection, which is caused by the significant differences between the immune systems of the animal subjects (for example, mice) and human patients. However, in this case, the stem cells were not only successfully transferred, but flourished in the animal subjects. Pigs are quite similar to humans anatomically as well as in the way that they respond to health threats, which makes them viable candidates for stem cell transplantation. As R. Michael Roberts, Curators Professor of Animal Science and Biochemistry points out, “By establishing that these pigs will support transplants without the fear of rejection, we can move stem cell therapy research forward at a quicker pace.” Future research therefore will be able to focus on the immune deficiency diseases themselves and developing treatments for human patients without worrying about the effectiveness of stem cell transplantation. Furthermore, these animal subjects will also be able to participate in trial stem cell therapies as well as whole-organ transplants.

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