Back in 2006, I wrote a short note on the use of pigs for organ transplants.
Why the hell was I interested in pig organs? Well, pigs can be genetically engineered to be almost perfect organ donors for humans that need transplants. Perfect… except for the fact pigs have PERVs like humans have HERVs.
So sure you could put a pig aortic valves into humans… but would those transplanted organs start producing pig-specific retroviruses? Would they evolve into the next HIV-1/AIDS pandemic? Would they stay silent and everything would be fine? Hell, we dont know what the human ERVs do in humans!
A potential solution to this problem has come from a rather… odd… source: abandoned island pigs.
In 1806, Captain Abraham Bristow of the British Royal Navy discovered the Auckland Islands (… ‘discovered’ them after Polynesians already discovered them, you know how it goes). Evidently he dumped some pigs/goats/etc on the islands for shipwrecked sailors to eat, should shipwrecked sailors ever find their way to the Auklands (huh, nice guy!).
Unfortunately, these pigs were an invasive species. Pigs werent native to the islands, so they demolished the native flora and fauna. Thus the modern day New Zealand Department of Conservation wants to kill them all.
Because these pigs have been isolated from other pigs for so long, they are remarkably free of potentially xenotropic viruses! Professor R.B. Elliott, a long time proponent of pig-human transplants discovered that these pigs lack Porcine Cytomegalovirus Infection (problem in pig-human transplants), Porcine lymphotropic herpesvirus 1 (problem in pig-human transplants), Hepatitis E (problem in pig-human transplants), Porcine Encephalomyocarditis virus (problem in pig-human transplants), AND they only have a handful of PERVs!
These little piggies might be our ticket!
This is where the connection to diabeetus comes in! New Zealand just gave Elliott approval to try transplanting Auckland Pig pancreatic islet cells into humans with Type I diabetes. His group has already had success with non-human primates, and a few limited clinical trials in humans. A larger clinical trial will allow them to optimize the transplants, and maybe end up with a long-term therapy for diabetes (or at least a reduction in dependence on injected insulin).
Scientists: Give us fifteen abandoned pigs, a PCR machine, 1000 fruit flies, two boxes of paper clips, and one piece of grape flavored Fruit Striped gum, and we will figure out a promising treatment for Type I diabetes.