5-Animals: Pig cloning offers PR bonanza to boost shares but no medical miracles
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- Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2000 11:41:34 +0100
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----------------------------- 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: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------
Pig cloning offers public relations bonanza but no medical miracles,
(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
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.
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