September 11, 2020


Stem cell study could curb the use of animals in research




A two-year study, supported by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), will seek to better understand methods for generating white blood cells - macrophages - from pig stem cells inside the lab.


Researchers are developing a method of generating pig blood cells that will enable more research into important livestock diseases using fewer numbers of animals. Understanding the development of pig blood cells could help limit the use of animals for research.


The blood cells, which are naturally targeted by infectious viruses, will be used to test vaccines and treatments for highly transmissible viral diseases. These include the highly contagious and typically fatal African swine fever (ASF), and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), which costs the global pig industry US$[T1] 1billion each year.


Scientists at the Roslin Institute, together with collaborators from the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the APHA, seek to further understand how specific cells are derived efficiently from stem cells.


The team will examine how white blood cells develop from pig stem cells, to pinpoint key stages as they become blood cells. 


They hope to develop a method of arresting cell development and controlling the final stage of differentiation into white blood cells - a process known as conditional immortalisation.


Such technology could potentially provide a large-scale, continuous supply of blood cells for the testing and development of therapies, and reduce the need for tissue obtained from animals.


Findings from the £430,000 (US$550,954) study could have many applications in studying other viruses or pathogens that infect pigs, such as COVID-19 and hepatitis.


The method could be applied to other species and have a broader impact on livestock research by reducing animal use in studies and improving animal health and welfare in research environments and on farms.


"The ability to generate a continuous supply of pig blood cells from stem cells in the lab would be a valuable tool in helping to develop vaccines against devastating livestock diseases, with significantly reduced need for tissue from animals." Dr Tom Burdon from the Roslin Institute said.


- The Roslin Institute