While many medical research projects involve animals, pigs are not normally what most people expect. A group of genetically altered pigs, however, could be the next weapon in the fight against cancer. Medical start-up company Recombinetics Inc. has a farm of pigs that have been engineered to have cancer. Pigs and humans are 98% alike in genes and so creating animals that have disease traits similar to humans could speed the way for drugs to be developed and get to market faster. Mice models are often used in research, but a gene-modifying technology called TALENs could make the pigs a better alternative.
Currently, the company is working on a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. One n 3,000 children have it, and it can often lead to cancer later in life. Trials in pigs modified to have it have proven helpful since the tumors that grow on the pigs are remarkably similar to those that occur in humans. The pigs can also be used to grow human tissue by taking a patient's own stem cells and using them to grow tissue. The company is also looking for a way to use pigs as blood donors.