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Pigs arrived in biosecure facility

Milestone in finding the cure for diabetes

For the millions of people worldwide who are afflicted with diabetes, we are now one step closer to a potential cure for the disease.

Spring Point Project, a non-profit organization created to expedite the widespread availability of islet tissue for diabetes care, has now conducted the first animal population of its biosecure animal facility in Western Wisconsin to breed and maintain high-health, pathogen-free pigs. Insulin-producing islet cells from such high-health pigs are needed to meet the demands in the diabetes community that cannot be realized by using transplantation of human islets.

This facility was funded by a $6.2 million grant from the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation's (DRWF), a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit worldwide network dedicated to finding and funding the cure for diabetes. Ryan Companies, U.S., constructed the DRWF Islet Resource Facility.

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The 21,000 square-foot bio-secure building will be home to approximately 100 high-health, 'medical-grade' pigs. Pancreatic islet cells from those pathogen-free pigs will be used for transplantation into diabetes patients in clinical trials. There are very few buildings of this kind in the world.

"We had a favorable response from the FDA on the design and operations of this building," said Dr. Henk-Jan Schuurman, CEO of Spring Point Project. "Now, our goal is to be ready for clinical trials within three years, and to provide an FDA-approved standard treatment soon thereafter. We are very pleased that the first animals in the facility meet the high-health standards."

"Populating the Islet Resource Facility marks a major milestone in our ability to offer islet transplants to all patients with diabetes who meet medical criteria," said Dr. Bernhard Hering, a world-renowned diabetes expert and Scientific Director of the Diabetes Institute for Immunology & Transplantation at the University of Minnesota, which may run pre-clinical and clinical trials with Spring Point Project. "Human islet cell transplants have reversed diabetes in 90 percent of our recipients. However, the shortage of human donor organs greatly limits the applicability of islet transplants. Pig islets will solve this demand issue and are at the forefront of a far-reaching cure for patients with diabetes."

The demand for high-health pig islets has been significantly heightened since Dr. Hering and his team last March documented their medical milestone in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Medicine – pig islet cell transplantation yielding long-term diabetes reversal in monkeys, opening the path to unprecedented new opportunities for patients with diabetes.

"This is the reason Spring Point Project was established," said Tom Cartier, president and chairman on the board of Spring Point Project. "The Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation was among the first to come on board to support our activities. We also appreciate the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for their substantial support of the research team at the University of Minnesota Diabetes Institute for Immunology and Transplantation. We're moving closer to a cure for diabetes as a result of everyone's efforts."

An experienced team at Spring Point Project under leadership of Dr. Schuurman, and working with geneticist Dr. Scott Fahrenkrug of the University of Minnesota, is overseeing the breeding of the animals for safety and high islet production in the facility.

The Hutterian Brethren, a religious farming community in South Dakota, is contributing its expertise with the overseeing and care of the animals.

"The focused efforts in an unique partnership combining top-class expertise in all disciplines needed is the best safeguard for success and based DRWF's decision for funding," commented W. Michael Gretschel, volunteer president of the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation. "We will provide the world new hope for transplants that will relieve patients from the day-to-day burdens of insulin administration and threats of high and low blood sugars that cause deadly complications—from blindness to heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure."

henk schuurman | EurekAlert!
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