Researchers transplant pig's pancreas to monkey

PHOTO: Researchers transplant pig's pancreas to monkey

SEOUL - A group of doctors here has successfully transplanted parts of a pig's pancreas to a monkey, opening the way for new treatments for diabetes in people.

Professor Park Sung-heo of Seoul National University College of Medicine and his team said Monday they transplanted the islets of Langerhans, a region of the pancreas, of a number of pigs to eight monkeys, of which four have survived for more than six months without complications.

"It is rare even among the same species to experience no noticeable side effect. The case might be the first of its kind among different species," the researchers said Monday at a press conference at the school.

Park said they ceased all medication including immunosuppressants four months after the surgery and the monkeys seem to have maintained stable blood sugar levels since.

"It is possible that they will live for another one or two years without experiencing any side effects," he said.

Park said he developed an antibody that controls the immune system and that it may have contributed to the success. Park, his school and Dinona, a medical equipment manufacturer, are working on commercialization of the antibody into a drug.

According to the team, the result meets the World Health Organization's qualifications to pursue a human clinical test.

Islets of Langerhans are irregularly shaped patches of endocrine tissue located within the pancreata of most vertebrates. They secrete insulin and other hormones to control the blood sugar level.

Currently, transplantation of the part is considered the only way to dramatically improve type-2 diabetes among children and adults.

"We have learnt that it is possible to transplant a pig's islet of Langerhans to the human body. It will be great news to type-2 diabetes patients who face difficulties in every day life because of their illness," Park said.

The progress of the experiment was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine's latest edition.