Korean scientists develop Alzheimer’s pig for research

Korean scientists at Jeju National University said Friday they had produced a cloned pig with Alzheimer’s disease symptoms for the first time in the world.

Led by Professor Park Se-pil, head of Jeju National University’s stem cell research center, and professor Lee Seung-eun, the researchers produced a cloned pig called “JNUPIG” that has three genetic factors that cause Alzheimer’s disease. They also applied for technology patents both at home and abroad.

Park said the achievement will expedite research and development of medicine for dementia.

“Alzheimer’s is a universal problem for humans,” Park said. “The technology to produce the newly-cloned pigs will be useful in drug screening.”

The professor also said the technology will start generating massive economic effects once it enters the preclinical stage.

“The current goal is to increase the number of cloned pigs and push the project to preclinical research for Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “Government estimates show that this technology will create 4.4 trillion won worth of economic and industrial value in nine years.”

Alzheimer’s disease patients have excessive beta-amyloidal protein in their brain, which destroys cerebral nerve cells and memories stored in them. Researchers around the world have used rodents to research the degenerative illness. But studies based on rodents had credibility issues because they have very different biological properties compared to humans.

For this reason, pigs, which have an organ structure and physiological properties similar to those of humans, have been considered as a viable replacement of rodents.

“In 2009, researchers in Denmark made a demented pig. But it had only one genetic factor that caused Alzheimer’s disease,” Park said.

Park and the colleagues have tapped into the cloning technology for Jeju Island’s native black pigs.

The first JNUPIG was born in March 30 last year and died May 24 this year. Park said the pig showed symptoms that are ethologically similar to those of human patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Genetically, normal sows never forget to drink water right after they breed. But the demented pig forgot how to eat and drink,” he said. “Pigs tend to keep their food containers clean. But the demented pig defecated in it.”

The research was part of the Rural Development Administration (RDA)’s “Woo Jang-chun Project.” Commemorating Woo, who was an agricultural scientist and botanist, and his scientific achievements, the RDA picked five research teams to support them for national research projects.

Park and his colleague’s research results were published in the international online science journal PLOS ONE.

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