Health  

Creating superhumans by implanting pig tissue in people

CLONE CLUB Dolly the Sheep’s nearly identical sisters — Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy — were produced from the same mammary gland tissue as Dolly. The new clones are not aging prematurely as was feared for Dolly. PHOTO CREDIT: The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom (U.K.)

CLONE CLUB Dolly the Sheep’s nearly identical sisters — Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy — were produced from the same mammary gland tissue as Dolly. The new clones are not aging prematurely as was feared for Dolly. PHOTO CREDIT: The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom (U.K.)

*Trial shows muscles nearly 40% stronger after animal transplant
*Scientists grow mini-human brains to treat age-related
*Four identical copies of Dolly still healthy after nine years

The idea of implanting pig tissue into humans may sound like one of the tactics used by Doctor Frankenstein to create his monster.

But scientists are now using that method in the hopes of treating muscle injuries.

Researchers have surgically implanted pig tissue into 13 patients with muscle injuries, and all of them have shown significant improvement in strength and range of motion.

The study comes from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, United States (U.K.) where researchers tested the new method on people with muscle injuries.

While it has currently only been tested in people with muscle injuries, in the future this method could potentially be used in healthy individuals to give ‘superhuman’ strength.

The new study, published in the Journal of Regenerative Medicine, involved 13 participants – 11 men and two women – who had lost at least 25 per cent of leg or arm muscle volume and function.

The participants had all undergone a customised regimen of physical therapy for four to 16 weeks but had not seen drastic improvements.

The researchers implanted a ‘quilt’ of compressed extracellular matrix (ECM) sheets – molecules secreted by cells that provide structural and biochemical support to the surrounding cells – which had been derived from three different types of pig tissue.

After the implantation, the participants resumed physical therapy for up to 24 weeks.

Six months later, patients showed an average improvement of 37.3 per cent in muscle strength, and 27.1 per cent in range of motion, compared with their performance before the operation.

Additionally, Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) imaging also showed that in all 13 patients, soft tissue had begun to form.

This new research builds upon previous studies, which showed that damaged leg muscles could recover when implanted with ECM from pig bladder.

However, that study only used five participants, all with leg injuries, and did not use CT and MRI scanning to look at the effect of tissue regeneration.

Meanwhile, scientists in Singapore have made a big leap on research on the ‘mini-brain’. These advanced mini versions of the human midbrain will help researchers develop treatments and conduct other studies into Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and aging-related brain diseases.

According to the study by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), these mini midbrain versions are three-dimensional miniature tissues that are grown in the laboratory and they have certain properties of specific parts of the human brains. This is the first time that the black pigment neuromelanin has been detected in an organoid model. The study also revealed functionally active dopaminergic neurons.

Meanwhile, to the untrained eye, one flock of sheep may look much like another, but one small group of ewes have more reason to be confused with each other – they are all clones of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.

Although Dolly herself died 13 years ago, four genetically identical clones are still living outside Nottingham, UK.

Debbie, Denise, Diana and Daisy were born in 2007 from the same frozen tissue samples used to create Dolly herself in 1996.

The birth of Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute on the outskirts of Edinburgh sent shockwaves around the world.

Although cloning had been used for sometime on animals like frogs, she was the first mammal to be created with the technology.

The study of the ‘four Dollies’, published in the journal Nature Communications, will be important for cloning research that aims to produce human cells and tissues for regenerative medicine.

The researchers used a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. This removes the nucleus of an adult cell along with the DNA it contains.

This is then put inside a hollowed-out egg before a jolt of electricity sparks it into growing and dividing like normal embryo.

The resulting lamb was an exact genetic copy of the sheep that donated the cell.

She was named after Dolly Parton, the curvaceous country & western singer, because the adult cell used had been from a mammary gland.

While the technology sparked fears among some that it may lead to human cloning, it was also hailed as a triumph of science.

It raised hopes of a new era of regenerative medicine where replacement body parts and tissues could be grown in the laboratory.

Dolly’s creation proved that adult cells were not permanently stuck in their developed state and they could effectively be reset to develop into all the other cells in the body.

It has also opened up the field of transgenic animals, where livestock can be genetically altered to make them resistant to disease.

The result was a lamb that was an exact genetic copy of the sheep that donated the cell and the world’s first cloned mammal.

Today, scientists have found it is possible to turn pieces of skin into heart, brain, retina and other cells in a bid to heal diseased and damaged bodies.

They are part of an experiment to study the long-term health effects of cloning.

Dolly the sheep created a worldwide sensation when scientists revealed she was the first mammal to be created using a cloning technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.

They used a cell from the mammary gland of a Dorset Finn sheep, removing the nucleus – along with the Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA) – and inserting this into an egg that had had its own nucleus removed.

But when she was just five years old Dolly developed arthritic knees and she seemed to be ageing faster than normal sheep, raising concerns that the technique may cause long-term health problems.

Dolly died in 2003 when she was six years old — sheep can live as long as 10 years or more.

Her four living clones, now nine years old, are in their 70s in human terms. They have undergone a battery of tests and seem to be in relatively good health for their advanced age, scientists said.

But it was also important to see if the cloning process itself can be improved on the inefficient method used when Dolly herself was born — she was the result of just one out of 277 attempts at making a clone of an adult sheep’s frozen mammary cells.

Meanwhile, the human midbrain, which is the information superhighway, controls auditory, eye movements, vision and body movements. It contains special dopaminergic neurons that produce dopamine — which carries out significant roles in executive functions, motor control, motivation, reinforcement, and reward. High levels of dopamine elevate motor activity and impulsive behaviour, whereas low levels of dopamine lead to slowed reactions and disorders like PD, which is characterised by stiffness and difficulties in initiating movements.

Also causing PD is the dramatic reduction in neuromelanin production, leading to the degenerative condition of patients, which includes tremors and impaired motor skills. This creation is a key breakthrough for studies in PD, which affects an estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide.

Furthermore, there are people who are affected by other causes of parkinsonism. Researchers now have access to the material that is affected in the disease itself, and different types of studies can be conducted in the laboratory instead of through simulations or on animals. Using stem cells, scientists have grown pieces of tissue, known as brain organoids, measuring about 2 to 3 mm long. These organoids contain the necessary hallmarks of the human midbrain, which are dopaminergic neurons and neuromelanin.

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