1. Fluorescent GM pigs a 'perversion of science'
2. Animal organs may cause new epidemic: report
3. Pig industry under threat from disease


1. Fluorescent GM pigs a 'perversion of science'
Geraint Smith
The Evening Standard (London) October 12, 2001

PIGLETS genetically modified to be born with fluorescent yellow snouts and trotters were today described as a "perversion of science".  Campaigners against both the use of animal organs in people, and experiments in genetic modification of animals, condemned the implantation of genes from jelly fish into the piglets' DNA. But Professor Randy Prather, of the University of Missouri, said the work was a step towards growing animal organs for transplants which could save human lives.

The technique was the same as for the creation of Dolly the sheep. Nuclei from modified pig cells were placed inside pig eggs whose own DNA had been removed. Five eggs were implanted into the womb of a surrogate mother. The professor said the experiment showed it was possible to "change the genetic makeup of the cells to prevent the body's rejection of transplanted organs".  Dr Andre Menache, of Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine, disputed this claim and said the danger of transmitting animal viruses to humans remained.


2. Animal organs may cause new epidemic: report
AIDS, mad cow cited
Tom Blackwell
National Post

The multi-million-dollar push to transplant animal organs into humans could usher in a deadly new epidemic, making it essential Canada implement safeguards around the procedure, a Health Canada report says.  There is nothing to prevent such a transplant from going ahead now if researchers met existing requirements under federal drug-approval laws, a department spokeswoman said on yesterday. But the report by a Health Canada expert on infectious disease says experiments with xenotransplantation should not be allowed until special precautions and a national oversight body are put in place.

Citing AIDS and the human version of mad cow disease, illnesses that originated in the animal world, the document notes there is grave concern about organs and tissue from other species introducing a dangerous new disease to people.  "Since xenotransplantation carries an as yet undefined risk to the public in the way of a new epidemic, the assessment and containment of this risk at the clinical trial level is essential for the health protection of Canadians," says the report compiled by Dr. Marian Laderoute, of Health Canada.

The precautions it discusses implementing around xenotransplantation include:

- A national patient registry charting any problems after an animal transplant.

- A special lab to test the patients.

- A committee of experts to oversee the procedures.

- An emergency preparedness plan in the event of an outbreak traced to xenotransplants.

Xenotransplantation -- inter-species transplanting of organs and tissues -- has become a major focus of the biotechnology sector recently.

With human organs in short supply, using parts from pigs, judged particularly suitable to the human body, offers hope to many people who would die waiting for an organ.  Several companies are working on xenotransplantation, including the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont., and PPL Therapeutics PLC, the Scottish firm that produced Dolly the cloned sheep.

Health Canada has already prepared draft guidelines that incorporate some of the ideas proposed in Dr. Laderoute's report.  But a decision on whether to implement these or other guidelines will not be made until Allan Rock, the Minister of Health, receives the results of a public consultation quietly carried out last month, said Roslyn Tremblay, a department spokeswoman.

No one has applied to conduct a clinical trial of xenotransplantation in Canada yet. But if anyone did, the trial could proceed under current regulations governing drugs and medical devices if the proponent provided sufficient supporting documentation, Ms. Tremblay said.

The Laderoute report follows a discussion in Ottawa last year among experts from Canada, Britain, France, the United States and Germany.  It notes the evidence is unclear whether disease is likely to be transmitted from pigs to humans.  There is some data to suggest hepatitis E, which can be fatal to fetuses in some pregnant women, could cross the species barrier.  There is also concern about transmission of PERVs, viruses embedded in the pig's genetic material, that could theoretically produce silent infections that stay latent for many years and result in "incurable and devastating" disease.  Although there is no data to prove PERVs could infect humans, scientists have yet to rule it out, the report says.

The Canadian Public Health Association has recently finished a series of government-funded consultation sessions with randomly selected members of the public.  They discussed the subject with experts, then were asked whether xenotransplantation should be allowed.  A report on the findings should be ready by the end of the year.


3. Pig industry under threat from disease
by Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor
The Times, September 24, 2001,,2-2001331316,00.html

New diseases that are killing thousands of pigs and for which there are no known cures could prove devastating to the industry, according to farmers. Stewart Houston, chairman of the National Pig Association, said last night: "The effect of these new diseases is likely to be tragic and really could sound the death knell for the pig industry. So many people are now really struggling and they will have to decide whether to stay or quit the industry."

The disease takes 2 forms -- pigs suffer a sudden death and are found in their pens, or they become listless, gaunt, and physically waste away. Some also have a purple rash on their skin.

Farmers are desperate to find ways to protect their stock from the disease, for which there are no cures or treatments. Meat industry experts believe that about 300 000 pigs could die from the disease.  Vets insist, however, that there is no threat to human health.

The disease, which was first recognised in England in the South West 2- &-a-half years ago, is spreading quickly throughout the country. Last year the disease was confined to outdoor pig units in East Anglia, but has now been found at indoor units and spread as far north as Yorkshire and Humberside. Farmers and vets believe that the surge could be related to the outbreak of classical swine fever (CSF) in East Anglia last year.

Pig producers in Scotland, where there has been one suspected case, are so concerned that they have banned pigs from the south crossing the border, although foot-and-mouth movement controls remain in place for the moment anyway.

The 2 linked diseases are known as post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) and porcine dermatitis nephropathy syndrome (PDNS).  PMWS appears to affect pigs aged 6-14 weeks. Pigs are normally reared for 20 to 23 weeks before going to slaughter.  PDNS affects pigs of 12 to 14 weeks. Once the virus is present in a herd it can take 2 years to eradicate.

About 60 per cent of the country's producers have experienced high rates of pig mortality. The cost in lost pig meat sales to the country is estimated at GBP 21 million [in 2oo1]. But the cost to the industry is far higher, as farmers must still pay for feed, vets, and carcass disposal, even though they receive no income from the dead animals. Pigs from farms with the diseases are unlikely to be sold as breeding stock.

Bob Stevenson, a veterinarian and pig adviser to the British Veterinary Association, said last night that there was near panic among farmers who were free of the diseases. "They worry about buying new stock because breeding companies cannot give assurances about the healthy state of their pigs. In disease terms it really is a big fear, especially as the disease is so new to the UK." However, he said that although some farms had experienced up to 30% mortality, some pigs appeared to recover with nursing and good stockmanship.

Government vets are planning a survey of private vets to establish the number of cases in the country this year and to see if there are similar patterns of pig behaviour.

Mr Houston will meet Elliot Morley, the Animal Health and Welfare Minister, next month to press the Government to fund new research into the diseases. Ministers and government vets know of the threat to the pig industry, but have been concentrating on wiping out CSF and foot-and-mouth. Mr Houston said that the real concern for farmers was that they did not know how best to protect their animals, and that there was no treatment on offer.

Vets believe that the diseases are linked to circovirus, which is found in pigs, but they do not know what triggers the virus to cause sudden death from the wasting condition. Some experts think the disease is spread by birds, rats, and mice. Farmers have been told to maintain strict pest control on their farms. Another theory is that the disease may be passed through semen. Stress is also thought to be a factor. Farmers are now reducing the number of pigs held in pens, cleaning out pens, replacing straw and water more frequently and ensuring that pig feed is free from mould.