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Missouri Research: Nothing to Swine About
Missouri Ag Connection - 03/17/2023

Pigs account for $20.5 million in MU research expansions. It has been said that “pigs are like people.” (Or vice versa, depending on the source or the complaint.)

But there’s a lot of scientific truth to that belief, and it has led to medical breakthroughs and cutting-edge research conducted at University of Missouri farms and science facilities. Now those studies will widen with the help of three swine-related research facility expansion projects. The UM Board of Curators on Feb. 9 gave approval for the three projects totaling $20.5 million.

The expansion projects are now set for the National Swine Resource and Research Center (NSRRC), Middlebush Farm’s NextGen Center for Influenza Research, and the South Farm Swine Research and Education Facility. The building projects amount to $8 million, $7.5 million, and $5 million, respectively.

Each project is expected to enhance the “translational research” into using animal organs or tissue for human ailments ranging from cancer and diabetes to cystic fibrosis and influenza. What’s more, the research is not new to MU facilities.

When news broke in early 2022 about the first-ever partial heart transplant that saved a two-week-old baby, reports didn’t include the deeper story — that the surgery was made possible by discoveries pioneered 21 years ago using pigs from the University of Missouri.

Randall Prather, director of the NSRRC, has been working behind the scenes for decades on genetically modifying pigs to prevent diseases that threaten both swine and humans. Now his research with pigs has been directly linked to successful transplants in humans, offering hope to more than 100,000 people waiting for organ transplants.

“We undertake projects for things that have failed in studies with mice but are much better suited for pigs,” said Randall, a Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), in a news release that announced the MU connection. “For example, you can’t take a mouse’s heart and transplant it into a human — it’s not going to work — but pigs are far more genetically and physiologically similar to a human, so they are very good biomedical models to study diseases that impact humans.”

He said the cardiovascular systems between pigs and humans are similar, “and baby pigs are also great for studying infant nutrition, as their nutritional requirements and the way they absorb nutrients is very similar to humans.”

Randall’s research is an example of translational medicine, as therapies and treatments that are successful in pigs may be successful in treating humans with the same diseases.

After decades of basic research that led to successful scientific innovations, Randall and his team of investigators at the NSRRC have become the go-to source for genetically modified pigs used by researchers across the United States to study various diseases that impact humans. The latest in a series of NIH grants will increase the center’s ability to generate and distribute more pigs for research.

The NSRRC has received funding from the NIH for 20 years, and Randall has been at MU for 34 years. With requests for genetically modified pigs constantly coming in from researchers at universities all over the country, including University of California-Los Angeles, Harvard, Duke, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louisiana State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Indiana, the current facility has maxed out its capacity.


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