What possibilities does the pig offer to human medicine?

What possibilities does the pig offer to human medicine?

23rd April 2020 - News

Human medicine has tried to overcome all organic dysfunctions that negatively affect health, and with a lot of effort has managed to considerably lengthen the life expectancy of people. The latest research has shown that the pig is a great option for medicine, and to increase the survival of humans. Due to their similarity to people, different parts of this animal's organism can currently be used in this area.

Transplantation of pig organs to people

In the last years of the 20th century, the demand for transplants grew to the point of exceeding the supply of organs. This fact led the scientific community to look for alternatives such as xenotransplantation (transplantation between different species) with species such as pigs, since this animal meets a series of characteristics (high prolificity, rapid growth, or the similarity in size and physiology of some of its organs with those of humans) that make its use accepted for experimentation, despite not being a species genetically close to humans, such as primates.

In 1992, at the University of Pádova (Itália), a 53-year-old woman received the first transplant of an artificial liver produced from modified pig cells. The woman suffered from hepatitis and with the xenotransplantation she managed to survive four days, until a human liver was found for the final transplant. Despite the advances made in recent years in this area, xenotransplantation is still in the experimental phase.

On the other hand, the pig has also been a good option for skin transplants (although it is a temporary option, but not definitive for skin transplants due to burns) or to provide heart valves.

The pig as a source of medicine

Although transplants are not yet a reality, the use of pigs to produce some medicines is, for example:

  • Insulin: The pig pancreas is an organ from which insulin is obtained, an essential hormone for diabetics.
  • ACTH: ACTH, a hormone used in human medicine for the treatment of arthritis and inflammatory diseases, can be obtained from the pig's pituitary gland.
  • Pig thyroids are also used to obtain medicines that will be consumed by people with inactive thyroid glands.
  • Heparin: Heparin is obtained from the intestinal mucosa of the pig, which has anticoagulant properties and is applied in human medicine in cases of thrombosis.
  • Hemoglobin: Genetically modified pigs can produce human hemoglobin, a pigment in the blood that carries oxygen to the cells of the body.
  • Surfactant: It can be removed from the pig's lung. This substance is essential for the treatment of babies born with pulmonary immaturity.

In addition, clinical trials with cells from this animal have also been developed to combat diseases such as Parkinson's, epilepsy, or to rebuild damaged tissues.

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