Medical Pigs

By Corinne Rose

June 18, 2010 Updated Dec 4, 2007 at 5:19 PM EDT

(Albion, IN) -- Some medical breakthroughs are coming from the most unlikely sources.

Here a pig, there a pig, everwhere a pig, pig.

Old MacDonald didn't have anything on this farm.

Rebecca Shroeder\Whiteshire Hamroc Farm: " We raise and market just under 45,000 pigs a year."

Whiteshire Hamroc has been a family-owned business since the '20s... and it's the only farm of its kind in the country to use specific genetic breeding, then track and document the pigs' progress.

So while most of these piggies at this sterile Albion farm will go to market, about a third of them will be used for medical research.

In nature, salamanders can re-grow a tail, an arm or even an eye if they lose one.

And now scientists are helping people start to do the same thing -- using cells from pig parts, like bladders, to form a kind of scaffolding for your own cells to grow on.

Rebecca Shroeder\Whiteshire Hamroc Farm: " There's a lot of different uses. Some of the more common ones are for topical wound healing, if you've got burn victims or or diabetics, that may have ulcerated wounds. It's just a really good, they've found, scaffold for healing."

With all of the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research, Rebecca Shroeder says using pigs like there could actually be a good alternative.

Rebecca Shroeder\Whiteshire Hamroc: " Certainly harvesting those from pigs who have come to the end of their lives that are becoming pork, instead of the controversy surrounding some of the embryonic stem cell harvesting. Pretty hard to come with a clear black and white answer as to what's best to do there."

So far, a powder made of a pig's bladder helped a man re-grow the tip of his finger -- nail and all.

Since scientists aren't exactly sure how using the pig's cells works, they haven't been able to regenerate limbs or organs.

But researchers hope they're close, and know these little pigs will help them do it.




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