Cloning Pioneers End Pig Research

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) — The creators of Dolly the Sheep are halting their research into genetically modifying pigs for human organ transplants, one of the scientists said Sunday.

The decision is motivated in part by fears that transplanting animal organs into people could unleash deadly new viruses among the human population.

California-based Geron Bio-Med, which owns exclusive rights to biotechnology developed by Edinburgh's Roslin Institute — where Dolly was created — has decided to cut funding for the work, said Ian Wilmut, leader of the team that created Dolly, the first clone made from an adult animal.

``I think the concern is mainly unknown viruses. That's the frightening thing,'' said Wilmut. ``It's possible there could be viruses we don't know about that could be released into the human population.''

Roslin scientists have been working for two years on experiments aimed at creating genetically altered pigs whose organs and cells could be successfully transplanted in humans — a process known as xenotransplantation.

In March, the Scottish company PPL Therapeutics successfully produced five cloned piglets.

Pigs are physiologically one of the closest animals to humans, and so of particular interest to scientists looking to fill a shortage of transplant organs.

Other researchers continue to pursue work on genetically modified, or transgenic, pigs.