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Eternally indebted to four-legged creatures

We know we owe a lot to animals. The old farm dog provides companionship more than they will ever know. They can be left outside, maybe not receive the most attention all the time, but when you do give them a pat on the head, or a belly rub, they treat you like you’re the king of their world. Actual research and anecdotes show the therapeutic qualities a dog or cat will have on the elderly, the young or the stressed.

Having a bad day? Sit down and just talk with your dog; scratch behind their ears while relating your worries and woes. All of a sudden the tables are turned, and they become the king in your world. A therapist without a couch, and no outrageous fees or having the wait for an appointment. The four-legged doctor is always in, and they work for kibble or treats.

Hog producers also know firsthand what we owe animals as if not for the porcine under your care, you would not be doing what you love and feeding the world along the way.

As both human and animal medicine have improved over the years, and the developments that go along with both have improved, scientific breakthroughs have discovered even more reasons that we are eternally indebted to animals.

While hog producers rely on hogs for their careers and making a living, many others are indebted to swine for their lives. There are more than 40 pharmaceuticals and medicines that have been derived from pig co-products, and valves from pig hearts have been used to replace defective valves in human hearts.

An article from the Minnesota Daily this week details how research is stepping up that game a little bit more. Research at the company of an alum of the University of Minnesota is looking at using organs from pigs to solve the issue of a shortage of organs for transplants into humans. Jeff Ross, CEO of Miromatrix in Eden Prairie, Minn., says his firm’s process called perfusion decellularization and recellularization is the groundwork to create human organs from pig organs.

According to the article, decellularization strips an organ or tissue of all its cells and leaves an empty organ, what scientists call a scaffold. They then add cells to the scaffold, called recellularization, and repopulate it to make a functional living organ.

“[The cells] naturally … migrate to their native microenvironment or location within that organ, so they essentially kind of reanimate or reconstruct the organ,” Ross says.

Hopes are that the first pig-to-human transplant will occur by 2020, but “Ross plans to be the first to transplant a recellularized pig organ into a live pig.” As researchers found with the pig-to-human heart valves, Ross says pig organs work best because they are similar to human organs, and are easier to come by, adding that the pigs’ organs are from pigs already in the food chain. “There’s an endless supply of pig organs that aren’t being utilized today. We can change that into lifesaving technology,” Ross says.

Ross currently focuses efforts on creating livers, but Miromatrix researchers are also looking at kidneys. “Over 450 thousand patients today are on dialysis, our goal would be to get patients completely off of dialysis and give them a better solution through transplantable kidneys,” he says.

Pigs are not the only livestock that are providing more than just food for the table.

As with hogs, our bovine friends also have a long list of products made possible through years of research to better our lives. The National Institutes of Health recently issued a news release discussing a development in the battle against human immunodeficiency virus. 

“Scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health have achieved a significant step forward, eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV by immunizing calves. The findings offer insights for HIV vaccine design, and support further study of modified bovine antibodies as HIV therapeutics or prevention tools in humans. …

“Researchers have observed that about 10 to 20% of people living with HIV naturally develop bNAbs to the virus, but usually only after about two years of infection. These bNAbs have been shown in the laboratory to stop most HIV strains from infecting human cells and to protect animal models from infection. However, scientists have so far been unsuccessful in prompting the human immune system to produce bNAbs through immunization.”

Researchers supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of NIH, at the Scripps Research Institute, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and Texas A&M University, say cattle may offer some help solving these problems.

“While cattle do not naturally acquire the human virus HIV, their immune systems have unique features that the researchers thought would allow them to produce potent antibodies when injected with HIV immunogens, or proteins designed to mimic proteins on the surface of HIV.

“In their study, the researchers injected HIV immunogens into the flanks of four calves and waited for their immune systems to respond. All four cows developed bNAbs to HIV in their blood as rapidly as 35 to 50 days following two injections. This immunogen — a BG505 SOSIP trimer — can elicit HIV bNAb responses consistently and rapidly.

“While bovine bNAbs are not likely suitable for clinical use in humans in their current form, exploring this rapid production may help answer important research questions.”

The original Star Trek opening monologue may be very fitting to what researchers in animal and human medicine may be undertaking: “the final frontier. … to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

All this research only solidifies how much we truly owe our four-legged friends.

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