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Xenotransplantation. 2014 Jul-Aug;21(4):309-23. doi: 10.1111/xen.12102. Epub 2014 May 7.

Microbiological safety of the first clinical pig islet xenotransplantation trial in New Zealand.

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Living Cell Technologies, Manukau, New Zealand.



Xenotransplantation using pig cells, tissues, or organs may be associated with the transmission of porcine microorganisms and the development of zoonoses. Among all porcine microorganisms porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) represent a special risk because they are integrated in the genome of all pigs and able to infect human cells. In previous preclinical and retrospective clinical trials of xenotransplantation, no transmission of PERV was observed. The first clinical trial of (alginate-encapsulated) porcine islet cell transplantation in New Zealand, which was approved by the New Zealand Government as an open-label phase I/IIa safety/efficacy trial, offers the possibility to analyze microbiological safety in a prospective clinical study.


Before the trial started, a multilevel testing strategy was used to screen for 26 microorganisms in donor pigs of the Auckland Island strain and the islet cell preparations used for treatment. Donor testing was performed using molecular methods including multiplex real-time PCR. Blood samples from 14 pig islet cell recipients were also investigated by molecular biological methods at weeks 1, 4, 8, 12, 24, and 52 post-transplant for the transmission of porcine microorganisms. Sera were also monitored at these time points for antibodies against PERVs.


Beginning in 2009, fourteen patients with severe unaware hypoglycemia were treated with one of four different dosages of alginate-encapsulated porcine islets ranging from 5000-20,000 islet equivalents delivered in a single dose. No transmission of either PERVs or other porcine microorganisms was detected by PCR and immunological methods.


These findings support previous results and strongly indicate the safety of xenotransplantation as performed here.


diabetes; high resolution melting; pancreatic islets; porcine endogenous retrovirus; porcine viruses; xenoses; zoonoses

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