Stem cell study could curb need for animal tissue

Blood cells made in lab will be used to develop therapies for serious diseases of swine and other livestock species.

September 8, 2020

2 Min Read
Roslin pig blood models.jpg
The Roslin Institute.

Researchers are developing a method of generating pig blood cells in the laboratory to enable research into important livestock diseases without using large numbers of animals, according to an announcement from The Roslin Institute in the U.K.

A two-year study, supported by the National Center for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), will seek to better understand methods for generating white blood cells — macrophages — from pig stem cells in the lab, Roslin said.

These blood cells, which are naturally targeted by infectious viruses, will be used to test vaccines and treatments for highly transmissible viral diseases, such as the highly contagious and typically fatal African swine fever virus (ASFV) and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), which costs the global pig industry $1 billion each year, the institute reported.

Development insights

Roslin scientists, together with collaborators at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the U.K. Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA), will seek to further fundamental understanding of how specific cells are derived efficiently from stem cells.

The team will examine how white blood cells develop from pig stem cells to pinpoint key stages as they become blood cells, the announcement explained.

The researchers hope to develop a method of arresting cell development and controlling the final stage of differentiation into white blood cells — a process known as conditional immortalization. Such a technology could potentially provide a large-scale, continuous supply of blood cells for the testing and development of therapies and reduce the need for tissue obtained from animals, the institute said.

Findings from the £430,000 study could have many applications for studying other viruses or pathogens that infect pigs, such as coronavirus and hepatitis.

The method could be applied to other species and have a broader impact on livestock research by reducing animal use in studies and improving animal health and welfare in research environments and on farms, Roslin said.

"The ability to generate a continuous supply of pig blood cells from stem cells in the lab would be a valuable tool in helping to develop vaccines against devastating livestock diseases, with significantly reduced need for tissue from animals," said Dr. Tom Burdon with The Roslin Institute.

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