Wellington, Oct 7 NZPA - A New Zealand biotech company has implanted cells from a pig pancreas into a long-term diabetes patient at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland.
The pig cells were expected to help the man, 47, manufacture his own insulin to combat type-1 diabetes.
They were inserted in his abdomen after Living Cell Technologies (LCT) received special approval for the xenotransplant.
The patient, who has suffered from diabetes for 20 years, was the first of eight approved for clinical trials of the LCT product.
The pig cells are covered with a seaweed gel to avoid them triggering the immune system in humans and being rejected.
The first four patients in the trial are being given the equivalent of 10,000 islet cells per kg of body weight and the next four patients will get a higher dose of 15,000 cells/kg.
It is not the first such transplant in Auckland -- LCT's medical director, Professor Bob Elliott, who carried out the original research, implanted pig cells into people there in 1996 and 1997.
His work was interrupted by Government concerns over the potential for pig viruses to be spread between humans.
NZ medical authorities blocked the trials being re-started in Rarotonga, and LCT was later listed on the Australian stock exchange to fund trials on monkeys in Singapore.
LCT has said it could avoid risk by using tissues from disease-free piglets in a breeding line said to have been isolated from other pigs for over 150 years on the Auckland Islands.
According to Dr Elliott, a group of Russians injected with New Zealand pig cells in 2007 showed reductions in daily insulin injections, ranging from 23 percent to 100 percent, and had good control of blood glucose levels in four out of five patients.
The Auckland trial received ministerial approval in June on the condition that it was limited to patients with "brittle diabetes", a relatively rare type-1 form of the disease which can cause extreme swings in blood sugar levels.
This week's patient has had frequent episodes of high blood glucose and unacceptable swings, including low blood glucose levels.
He was monitored for eight weeks by principal investigator, Dr John Baker, a diabetes specialist based at Middlemore Hospital, before the implant, and will be followed up intensively for a year.
An independent data safety and monitoring board will assess progress and provide a report in six months.
LCT chief executive Paul Tan said he believed the Auckland trial might deliver better results than the Moscow trial, because it would be using higher doses of islet cells.
Very exciting. This is what the Spring Point Project and Dr. Hering are working toward in Minneapolis. Information on this is on the pig picture at the side. The New Zealand study also included the gel surrounding the islets so that immunosuppressants are not needed.
I am continuing to do well. My blood sugars are running fine. My drug levels are stable. My stomach is not perfect, but tolerable. I'm still working on gaining some weight back.