Link between pigs and human reproductive medicine

Link between pigs and human reproductive medicine

One in every four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. Researchers in obstetrics, gynecology and genetics are constantly working to figure out what is to blame, but could swine experts have the answer? 7News heads back out to the McNeese State University farm to see how pig pregnancies could impact human reproductive medicine.

Sure we know pigs can give us ham, bacon and pork chops. But Chip LeMieux, Ph.D., head of the Harold and Pearl Dripps Department of Agricultural Sciences, and graduate student, Carrie Hebert, say there are several commonalities with our swine friends.

"The hearts can be the same as humans, the stomachs can be the same as humans," said Hebert, "so why can't they, as far as getting pregnant and saving pregnancies, that could actually relate back to us.

To get to that conclusion, we first need to start with the basics of swine baby-making. 90 percent of piglets today are the result of artificial insemination and while it is a safe, cheap way to boost production numbers, the risk of miscarriage is still there.

"It can be genetic, nutritional, environmental," said Dr. LeMieux, "a lot of things that could happen, fluctuation in temperatures, stress factors."

A full-term pregnancy for a pig is three months, three weeks and three days - less than half that of humans. For the pregnancy to not end in miscarriage, corpora lutea, a tissue mass that secretes the pregnancy hormone progesterone, must be present the whole time.

Experiment number one with 20 sows involved lowering the CL levels and giving half of the pigs nothing to increase the progesterone. The other half of the sows were given a daily oral dose of progesterone.

"If we did give them the progesterone," said Dr. LeMieux, "they maintained their pregnancy to term and gave birth."

After that experiment's success, the next step was to terminate the corpora lutea altogether by giving hormones to the sow. Then, oral progesterone was administered in addition to other hormones to see if she could grow a new CL on the ovary to keep a full-term pregnancy.

"It worked for a period of time," said Dr. LeMieux, "she did put on a new CL, but at the end, once we removed that oral progesterone, she terminated the pregnancy."

While that was not the outcome they were hoping for, these researchers still say their discoveries are encouraging for pigs and people. The research could serve as a model for physicians to induce more CL in women with early miscarriages.

"This would be her producing her own progesterone, so maybe a more natural dose of it would be better than an exogenous amount of progesterone," said Dr. LeMieux.

There is excitement that these findings have potential to reduce infertility and early miscarriages in mainstream medicine.

"Maybe one day it could save a woman who's potentially in danger of losing her baby," said Hebert.

Dr. LeMieux plans to keep this research going and include more sows in the next study. It will focus on tweaking the dosages of the medication to see if healthy piglets can be born to a sow after the creation of a new CL.

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