Rights: University of Waikato Published 9 November 2011 Download

LCT has developed a pig cell transplant product to treat type 1 diabetes. LCT’s DIABECELL product uses islets extracted from the pancreas of 7–16 day old piglets to produce insulin in response to blood sugar levels. The islets are encapsulated in a seaweed-based coating to protect them from the transplant recipient’s immune system. Once the DIABECELL product has proven to be safe and effective, there is likely to be a huge demand for this treatment, so LCT has to consider whether they can supply enough piglets to meet this demand.

Questions to consider

  • How many piglets will be needed to treat each patient with type 1 diabetes
  • How many people could benefit from this treatment?

Teaching points

Find out why islets from pigs are used to treat type 1 diabetes, rather than human islets.

See the video: Pig cell transplants treat diabetes


Peter Hosking (Living Cell Technologies)
The cells for treating type 1 diabetics come from the pancreas, which is an organ located in the abdominal cavity. The cells are actually called islets of Langerhans, which were named by a German physiologist in the 1800s.

The cells that LCT use come from a special herd of Auckland Island pigs, and the cells that we use come from neonatal pigs – those pigs are aged between 7 days and 16 days old.

The production process for the DIABECELL product starts of course with the removal of the pancreas from the neonatal piglets, and what we do there is we take the pancreas and we treat it with enzymes and isolate the islets of Langerhans from the tissue.

Well, the amount of piglets that we require for each patient is dependent on a number of factors. It depends on the weight of the patient, it depends on the dose that we’re going to give that patient and the yield that we get from each batch of production. But having, you know, explained all of that and I can give you an estimate, which is probably about 10 neonatal piglets per patient would be around about the average that we would expect.

Bob Elliott (Living Cell Technologies
If in the best possible worlds we’re able to make people with type 1 diabetes non-diabetic, that is our final goal, how are we going to meet the supply of piglets to meet that demand? There’s 20 million type 1 diabetics out there in the world. How on earth are we going to supply 200 million piglets?

Well, the calculations can be done. Each person in New Zealand at the moment consumes a pretty large amount of pork, and we kill these animals so we can eat them. Can we provide a similar number of animals not to eat them but to provide cells? Yes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If there’s a commercial dollar to be made in this, the pig herds will just be expanded to cope with this demand.

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