GENET archive


5-Animals: Pig cloning offers PR bonanza to boost shares but no medical miracles

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Pig cloning offers public relations bonanza but no medical 
miracles, coalition says
SOURCE: Campaign for Responsible Transplantation, USA, press release
DATE:   March 15, 2000

-------------------- archive: --------------------

Pig cloning offers public relations bonanza but no medical miracles, 
coalition says

(New York) - PPL TherapeuticsŐ announcement yesterday, that cloning 
pigs could provide an unlimited supply of porcine organs for 
transplantation, is nothing more than a public relations blitz 
designed to boost the companyŐs sagging stock, says the Campaign for 
Responsible Transplantation (CRT), an international public interest 
group promoting a ban on cross-species transplants (xenotransplants). 
Shares of PPL stock had jumped over 50% by the end of the day.

"The public should not be fooled by this latest announcement," says 
CRT Director, Alix Fano. "These pigs were cloned by the same company 
who cloned Dolly the sheep. Today we know that, because of defects in 
her DNA, Dolly could age prematurely and be more prone to cancer and 
other diseases."

Cloned animals are not healthy animals; and because cloning 
technology is imprecise, dozens of pigs or sheep may be killed to 
produce one animal with a desired genetic trait. Last May, the BBC 
News Online reported that PPL was having trouble producing cloned 
pigs because none of the genetically modified embryos were surviving 
to term in their surrogate mothers.

Moreover, cloning pigs will not rid the animals of the numerous 
viruses, bacteria, and parasites they carry. Porcine Endogenous 
Retroviruses (PERVs), for example, which have infected human cells, 
are integrated into the pigŐs genome and can be found in all pig 
organs and tissues destined for transplantation into humans. Pigs 
also carry prion proteins, implicated in "mad cow disease," and they 
act as efficient "mixing vessels" for viruses from other mammals and 
birds. The swine flu epidemic of 1918, which likely jumped from birds 
to pigs and then to humans, killed 20-40 million people worldwide. In 
1998-99, the novel Malaysian "Nipah" viral encephalitis virus, which 
may have originated in fruit bats, jumped from pigs to humans, 
infected 269 people, killed 117, left dozens brain-damaged, and led 
to the mass slaughter of one million pigs. A new pig virus, 
contracted via xenotransplantation, could spread to humans 
undetected, causing an AIDS-like pandemic.

"Biotech companies insist that no xenotransplant patient has become 
infected with a pig virus," says Fano. "But a patient who is 
asymptomatic today could become symptomatic tomorrow. It may not be 
the 200th patient, but it could be the 201st. It only takes one 
transplant to start an epidemic."

Nevertheless, The U.S. is pumping millions of taxpayer dollars into 
the development of xenotransplantation. The U.S. Commerce 
DepartmentŐs Advanced Technology Program gave PPL a multi-million 
dollar grant to clone pigs, and has dispensed millions more to other 
companies developing xenotransplantation without public input or 
debate. One researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, 
A. B. Cosimi, received over 17 million dollars between 1992 and 1999 
to study the immune response involved in xenograft rejection between 
pigs and baboons.

Although companies stand to make $6 billion in profits by the year 
2010, xenotransplantation could boost annual U.S. transplant costs 
from $3 billion to $35 billion. It is unclear who would pay for the 
procedures, or shoulder the medical and legal costs associated with a 
public health disaster.

"It is outrageous that taxpayer money is being used to develop this 
dangerous, expensive, and inhumane technology, when better 
alternatives exist," says Fano. Taxpayers need to know how their hard-
earned money is being wasted."

Since 1905, 82 humans have died after receiving animal organs due to 
a complex process of rejection. At least a dozen Americans have also 
died in cellular xenotransplantation trials - after being infused 
with pig cells or having their blood "perfused" through pig organs. 
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will not release data about 
such trials, even though they have been widely publicized in news 
reports and by the companies themselves.

Last Monday, Boston University researchers reported that 12 
ParkinsonŐs patients, who had embryonic pig cells injected into their 
brains, showed a 19% improvement in motor function, while 3 achieved 
a 30% improvement in symptoms.

But Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician at Canberra 
Hospital in Australia observes that, without a control group, there 
is no way to determine whether the pig cells really worked. "You may 
well get a 30% improvement with aspirin or a red coloured placebo," 
he says. Indeed, in April 1999, a team of researchers announced that 
3 ParkinsonŐs patients who had undergone placebo surgery to test the 
efficacy of human fetal cell implants, felt better up to a year after 
their sham operations.

"Xenotransplantation is not the solution to the perceived organ 
shortage," says CRTŐs Fano. Aggressive investment in prevention, to 
shrink the number of people on transplant waiting lists, should be 
societyŐs number one priority. Increasing human organ and tissue 
donation by all means possible is the next logical option: by 
improving organ procurement programs and considering the merits of 
"presumed consent" legislation, which has boosted donation rates in 
Europe. If all the money poured into xenotransplantation had been 
invested in these options, PPL and others wouldnŐt be cloning pigs 
today," says Fano.

Alix Fano
Tel. +1-212-579-3477


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