Researchers have found a way to transform ordinary cells from pigs into powerful stem cells in a move that may have implications for human health.
With these stem cells, they hope to modify porcine genes that are related to the immune system so that pigs' organs may some day be used for people in need of transplants.
In an article published in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, the researchers from China described how they managed to re-programme ordinary cells taken from the ear and bone marrow of a 10-week-old pig using a virus.
"The cells changed and developed in the laboratory into colonies of embryonic-like stem cells," wrote the researchers, led by Xiao Lei, who heads the stem cell lab at the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.
Embryonic stem cells are capable of developing into any type of cell in the body.
"The research could open the way to creating models for human genetic diseases, genetically engineering animals for organ transplants for humans, and for developing pigs that are resistant to diseases such as swine flu," they said.
The researchers also hope to use their discovery to improve pig farming.
Commenting on this latest development, Chris Mason, professor of Regenerative Medicine at the University College London, said it would help in the treatment of organ failure.
"This breakthrough to produce pig stem cells potentially reinvigorates the quest to grow humanised pig organs such as pancreases for diabetics and kidneys for chronic renal failure," said Mason, who was not involved in the Chinese study.