New grant will help scientists advance human immune model in pigs

Four researchers standing inside specialized biocontainment facility
Researchers take every precaution inside a specialized biocontainment facility to prevent pigs with severe combined immune deficiency from being exposed to disease in this photo from 2019. Photo courtesy of Christopher Tuggle.

AMES, Iowa – The strict regulations that govern medical research with human subjects often slow down the study of the human immune system. So generations of researchers have used models of various designs to simulate human systems. Scientists at Iowa State University are poised to take a significant step forward in this arena by transferring a human immune system into pigs.

The research will allow biomedical researchers to study realistic human cellular and tissue responses in a wide range of applications without the use of human subjects. The project recently received a nearly $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop the technology over the next four years. The research could pave the way to new treatments for a wide range of health problems, from cancer to severe burns, said Christopher Tuggle, a professor of animal science and member of the research team.

“These pigs are a very good model because the genetics and physiology of pigs are very similar to humans,” Tuggle said. “What’s unique about them is they don’t have a big part of their immune system that allows them to reject cells from other species. The advantage of that is that they can serve as a biomedical model for human cell growth or human cell biology.”

Read the full ISU News Service article