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Scientific progress

04 - 02 - 2019

Pigs: a hope for immunology

The online media THE CONVERSATION published on December 17th an article on the importance of research in pigs for immunology of human health. It was written by three French researchers.

The researchers point out that the study of organ interactions, which is the case of the immune response, requires the use of animal models.

The use of the mouse for the study of immunity has led to many discoveries, but when it comes to transposing a therapy, the differences between humans and rodents lead to many failures.

Monkeys or non-human primates are very close to humans. But their use in research is particularly complex and demanding.


Pigs are much more similar to humans than the mouse regarding heart, lung and kidney functions. The decryption of their genome has also revealed great similarities regarding immunity. The size of pig organs is similar to that of humans. Pigs have already been used to test pacemakers and stents.

Pigs are used to develop xenografts - the transplant of an organ from one species to another. The goal is to overcome the lack of organ donors for last resort patients that desperately need a heart or kidneys


Recent advances in genome editing (CRISPR-Cas9) have eliminated an endogenous pig virus that was a hindrance to xenografting. Recently a pig heart transplant in a primate, the baboon, was tolerated more than 6 months.

Pigs are also a model close to humans for the study of the gut microbiota (it is an omnivore), sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydiosis), influenza or cystic fibrosis.

However, researchers have shown differences between the immunity of pigs and that of humans. These differences must be taken into account before deciding to use this species in research.