Russia Approves First Animal-to-Human Transplant Procedure

Pig cells wrapped in seaweed will be implanted into diabetes patients

No More Needles
Russia has approved a xenotransplantation treatment that inserts insulin-producing pig cells into the human pancreas, reducing the need for insulin injections in type 1 diabetes patients.Electorn via Wikimedia

Russian authorities have approved the first xenotransplantation treatment – the implanting of animal cells into the human body – for sale in that country, marking the first time such a treatment has been appoved anywhere. The type 1 diabetes treatment involves inserting insulin-producing pig cells coated in seaweed into the human pancreas to replace native cells that have been depleted there.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. As such, people suffering from the condition must inject insulin into their bloodstreams to regulate their glucose levels, but doing so can cause swings in blood sugar that can lead to other complications. The Russian treatment replaces the missing cells with pig cells that produce insulin inside the body, reducing the need for injections. The seaweed coating keeps the bodies immune system from attacking the foreign animal cells.

Though approved in Russia, the treatment was developed by Living Cell Technologies in New Zealand. In Russian trials, the treatment fared fairly well, exhibiting improvement in six of eight diabetes patients who were then able to reduce their daily insulin injections. Two of them were able to cease injections entirely.