Researchers at the University of Iowa have genetically bred cystic fibrosis into pigs, animals that should become valuable "guinea pigs" used to study the disease and that may speed the discovery of a treatment. Dr. Chris Rogers, a U-of-I research scientist and lead author of a new study, says mice had been raised some 15 years ago to carry the C-F gene but they weren’t good test subjects.
Rogers says: "One of the advantages of the pig is the size of the pig, especially the newborn pig. It’s similar to the size of a newborn infant." While mice are small and easy to manage in large quantities, ultimately they didn’t develop cystic fibrosis in same ways as humans. Rogers says piglets are a much closer match to human infants for the hereditary disease, which strikes multiple organs.
"Cystic fibrosis progresses through an intestinal disease and then a pancreatic disease and a lung disease and so on, " Rogers says. "The ability to study the disease, as it’s occurring, as the disease begins, which is most likely in infants, the ability to study that in piglets is quite an advantage." The U-of-I’s development of the pig "model" for studying cystic fibrosis will be a benefit for medical researchers around the globe who are trying to unlock the disease’s mysteries.
Rogers says there are obvious medical advantages, but there is also a financial incentive for the university, which is expected to patent and market the specially-bred pigs for sale. Rogers says, "This is a resource that both academic and pharmaceutical industries would be interested in so that they can begin to better understand the disease and begin to develop new therapies and even prevention."
For decades, Iowa has been known around the world for being the leader in hog production, but Rogers says that had nothing to do with that particular animal being chosen as their primary test subject for cystic fibrosis.
"Ultimately, it was coincidence, but it is the ideal from the standpoint of physiology, the biology, the anatomy on down the line including the size, genetically pigs and humans are similar, so that’s mostly coincidence, but it doesn’t hurt that we are in Iowa," he says, chuckling. The results of the study are being published in the September 26th issue of Science.