Pig implants spark Pacific spat
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A row has broken out over a New Zealand company's plan to try implanting pig tissue into humans in the Cook Islands as a cure for diabetics.
The drama began last year when Auckland-based biotechnology company Diatranz relocated its trial program to the Cook Islands after New Zealand banned pig tissue implants.
The spat gained momentum in recent days after Cook Islands officials said their cabinet is likely to allow Diatranz to start the trial implants this week.
The New Zealand government has remained firm on the case, saying it opposes the trial, and wants to change the small South Pacific state's mind.
Scientists from around the world have warned that the technique might allow a pig virus to cross a species line and infect humans.
"One doesn't know the risks to the community at large from this," Bob Boyd, a New Zealand Health Ministry adviser, told The Associated Press.
"It might be useful for one individual, but what if you pass on a retrovirus?"
Cure for millions
Diatranz medical director Bob Elliott, who pioneered the implant technique has refuted the claims, saying a pig virus could not be transferred to a human in this way.
"Pig retroviruses can't exist in human serum because it is marked with a blood group that makes it immediately incompatible with human beings," he said.
Diatranz thinks the pancreatic tissue implants, by making insulin, might cure diabetics. In the clinical tests planned, implants from newborn piglets would be injected into 24 volunteer patients.
Diatranz says the technique is safe and could eventually provide a cure for the world's 15 million diabetics who need daily insulin injections.
Cook Islands lawmaker Joe Williams said New Zealand "has absolutely no right to interfere in an internal Cook Islands' matter."
The Cook Islands is an independent nation but it works in close partnership with New Zealand, its former administrator.
New Zealand has one of the highest incidence of diabetes in the world and has been looking for potential new treatments.
Diabetics need insulin to control their blood sugar levels or risk eye, kidney and nerve damage.
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