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NZ Govt approves clinical trial of pig-based -

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ELEANOR HALL: To New Zealand now, where concerns are being raised about the risks involved in
injecting pig cells into people suffering from diabetes.

After years of fierce debate, the New Zealand Government has given the green-light to a clinical
trial by an Auckland based bio-tech company.

Eight people with type 1 diabetes are to be injected with the pig cells.

Scientists say they hope these cells will then produce insulin.

But critics warn that the experiment could backfire and unleash a deadly pig disease on humans, as
New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports.

KERRI RITCHIE: New Zealander Hayden Vink has to give himself five injections of insulin a day to
stay alive. He says he's sick of being sick.

HAYDEN VINK: I've had diabetes for eight years I can't really remember what life was like without
diabetes.

KERRI RITCHIE: Ex-patriot Australian paediatrician Bob Elliot has been leading the fight to get
approval for pig cells to be transplanted into humans to treat diabetes.

Professor Elliot founded the company Living Cell Technologies, which has just had its application
for a clinical trial approved.

BOB ELLIOT: Huge excitement and relief, it's been a long time coming.

KERRI RITCHIE: This is how the transplants work. Cells taken from the pig's pancreas are coated
with a seaweed gel to protect them from the human immune system.

Then they're implanted into a human patient's abdomen, the pig cells manufacture insulin, which
will then help the patient control their blood sugar levels.

BOB ELLIOT: This has world standing, and it's a world first. It will bring to diabetics, I think,
something that they've all been wanting, which is a self-regulating cell which will produce insulin
on demand and stop producing when it's not needed.

KERRI RITCHIE: Professor Elliott carried out a trial on six patients in the late 1990s but it was
stopped by the New Zealand government when fears were raised about a pig retrovirus spreading.

New Zealand's Health Minister David Cunliffe says the Government is now satisfied the advantages
outweigh the risks.

DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes we've consulted with the company concerned, Living Cells Technology, they've
indicated that they're happy to meet any and all reasonable conditions. They can see that by
meeting these very strict conditions, which are designed to bring New Zealand to the forefront of
international best practice, that the results of the trial will have that much more credibility. So
I think that they see the win-win in that.

KERRI RITCHIE: But some aren't convinced. The Society for the Study of Diabetes believes there is a
chance a virus from the pigs could be passed on to humans. It says the company involved, Living
Cell Technologies, has carried out studies but it hasn't made the findings public.

Spokesman for GE Free New Zealand John Carapiet is also worried.

JOHN CARAPIET: I think the major concern boils down to who is taking the risk and who is going to
be liable if something goes wrong. And at the moment, the regime is that the public pays.

But when it comes to risks for private research, like this is, I believe most New Zealanders would
expect the companies would be liable for the risk, not the public.

KERRI RITCHIE: He says there are too many unanswered questions for the trial to go ahead.

JOHN CARAPIET: Both of the issues, around animal welfare, around what's happening next in this step
towards transplantation and what's the long-term effect on New Zealand and New Zealand's values.

KERRI RITCHIE: The piglets which will be used in the trial are being kept in strict quarantine.
David Cunliffe believes everything has been done to ensure the pigs are free from retroviruses, but
he says he's not going to pretend there are no risks.

DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can give a guarantee to New Zealanders that no stone has been left unturned in
preparing for this; that this is as strict a process as would be possible anywhere in the world;
that the risk is not zero, but the risk is negligible and such risk that there is will be extremely
carefully managed.

KERRI RITCHIE: The trial is set to begin at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital in February.

This is Kerri Ritchie in Auckland reporting for The World Today.