July 27, 2009

Living Cell Technologies

Here's another cool Kiwi company doing some amazing work, even if quite controversial. There is a lot of hype around Living Cell Technologies (LCT) currently, some of which is outlined over at the NZ Science Media Centre. This is because LCT's pig cell trial for a diabetes cure is underway.

LCT is actively working to develop life-changing cellular therapies – treatments that will improve the quality of life of patients with diabetes, haemophilia, hearing loss, liver failure and brain degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

In the case of diabetes, this is done by encapsulating the healthy living pig cells that produce insulin, in a seaweed derived extract (alginate) to form tiny particles that are then implanted into the patient. The seaweed extract coating is biocompatible, and so no immunosuppressive drugs are needed to stop to the body rejecting the cells. Nutrients can pass through the seaweed coating into the cell, and insulin can pass out into the patients blood stream where it is required. These implanted cells have led to near-normal blood glucose levels in patients, reduced the need for insulin injections and lessened episodes of high blood glucose that lead to long term complications.

LCT's pigs originate from the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands and are disease free. A new pig breeding unit recently opened in Invercargill, ensures that they remain free of viruses, bacteria and parasites.

This type of bioencapsulation technology is quite widely applicable, and can be used in stem cell research, for example. Although there are clearly some ethical issues involved with this type of treatment, this is an emerging area which, through Living Cell Technologies, represents an opportunity for NZ to capitalise.

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