BresaGen announces Australia's first cloned pig
Wednesday, 9 May 2001
Australian biotechnology company, BresaGen Limited, in association with the Immunology Research Centre, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, has made a major breakthrough in cloning technology.
Australia's first cloned pig is now five weeks old, has been weaned and is healthy and growing normally.
It is anticipated that the new cloning technology will have a major impact in guarding against the outbreak of animal disease and in the area of xenotransplantation - the use of animal organs for transplantation into humans.
The most obvious commercial use for cloning technology is the improved breeding of livestock. Cloning allows breeders to take a small number of animals with superior genetics and rapidly produce more.
BresaGen Program Leader Dr Mark Nottle described it as "a very good result considering that this was the first transfer using our new method."
"In addition to gains in productivity, cloning could be very useful in guarding against an outbreak of diseases such as Foot and Mouth," Dr Nottle said. "Once an animal is identified as having natural resistance to a particular disease, a breeding company would use cloning to produce large numbers of animals. These animals would be supplied to farmers as breeding stock for new herds."
BresaGen President & CEO, Dr John Smeaton, said the technology used to clone the pig was unique.
"It is significantly different from the technology used to make Dolly the sheep," he explained. "Basically what works in sheep doesn't work in pigs, so we had to start from scratch. Consequently we have something new for the pig and have filed a patent application. This is an excellent result for BresaGen and is indicative of the technical strength the company has in the field of reproductive biology and embryo research."
A further application, and one of particular interest to the medical community, is xenotransplantation. Every year thousands of people around the world die while waiting for organ transplantation. Pigs are a potential source of these organs but the pigs need to be genetically modified so that their organs are not rejected by the human immune system.
Professor Tony d'Apice of St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne said: "This cloning technology will provide a method whereby the function of one of the genes thought to be important in the rejection of these organs can be eliminated or 'knocked out'. The gene, called the 'Gal gene', is present in pigs but absent in humans. It will be possible to produce pigs without this gene and provide donor organs more compatible for human transplantation."
The pig was cloned from cells which had been frozen in liquid nitrogen for more than two years. This makes the technology useful in conserving valuable and rare genetics. Simply by freezing skin cells it should be possible to preserve the genetics of valuable animals.
The St. Vincent's Hospital / Bresagen research program in xenotransplantation has been funded by an R&D Syndicate and by Nextran Inc a subsidiary of Baxter Healthcare. Commercialisation of this technology will lead to significant royalty streams flowing to BresaGen.
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Mr David Ellis
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