Researcher confident of major breakthrough

BY DAN HUTCHINSON
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2010

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A researcher working on a revolutionary treatment for diabetes, using cells from rare Auckland Island pigs, is confident of a major lifesaving breakthrough.

Living Cells Technology medical director Professor Bob Elliott confirmed that human subjects in its latest New Zealand trial are showing fewer complications from their diabetes, most notably a big reduction in potentially fatal seizures.

Insulin-producing cells are taken from rare Auckland Island pigs that are bred in a special centre near Invercargill and injected into the pancreas of test subjects that suffer from type-1 diabetes.

Dr Elliott said the ultimate objective was that patients would no longer have to inject themselves with insulin.

The second objective was to at least stop patients from having unexpected seizures that could cause them to pass out.

"I can say that we are confident we can stop that from happening," Dr Elliott said.

He said patients who were in the early stage of diabetes would get warning signs about a sudden drop in blood sugar levels but those who have had it for a while lose that ability.

As a result they could pass out, without warning, and that could be fatal if they were in a dangerous situation such as driving or swimming or even just walking on solid pavement.

He said there was not much else to report about the latest series of human trials that started in May.

"All is going well with no adverse effects," Dr Elliott said.

The latest trial follows earlier human testing in Russia and subjects in the New Zealand trial have received a higher dose of cells. A full report of the trials would not be completed until the middle of January.

Living Cell Technology was hoping to have Diabecell on the market by 2013 and late last month it employed Ross Macdonald as managing director as it "escalates" efforts at commercialisation.

The diabetes treatment was the most developed of LCT's projects, with research also being carried out into use of cells for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, stroke, hearing loss and Huntington's disease.

Auckland Island pigs are being used because they are a unique herd that has lived in isolation from other pigs and humans for 150 years on the sub-antarctic islands.

The special bio-certified herd is based at a special facility near Invercargill and local authorities are hopeful they can keep those facilities and the pigs exclusively in Southland should the treatment become a big industry.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said the Government had to approve any export of animals from the island and poaching the pigs would also be difficult because of their isolation.

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"It would be a hell of a boat ride in that part of the southern ocean, let alone being stuck in a cabin with a couple of pigs," Mr Shadbolt said.

Even if they were smuggled out, the pig pilferer would not be able to prove they were the genuine article without giving away their crime, Mr Shadbolt said.

Venture Southland was currently working on trade-marking the pigs.

- The Southland Times

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