Pigs could be key to new knee and arthritis treatment

Pigs could be key to new knee and arthritis treatment

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Pigs and humans: The two have a whole lot more in common than you might think. Pigs have proven to be particularly effective in bio-medical research for humans.

A potentially groundbreaking research project on knee and arthritis treatments is underway in pigs at the McNeese State University farm.

The specially-selected swine were all evaluated from head-to-hoof to be part of this research study, which is spearheaded by orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Alan Hinton, and partnered with Dr. Chip LeMieux of MSU's Harold and Pearl Dripps Department of Agricultural Sciences.

"We do look at the feet and legs. We make sure that they don't have any abscesses or sores or any kind of structural issues in the pigs prior to the surgery," said LeMieux.

When Hinton came up with the idea for this research project, he knew he needed access to pigs. He reached out to LeMieux, who has used pigs at the farm for his own research projects that could have human implications.

"A lot of the physiological systems are similar," said LeMieux. "The joint size and structure and the weight-bearing of this animal is real similar to the humans."

The purpose of Hinton's project is to regrow a meniscus, which is the cartilage in the knee that protects the bones from wear and tear.

"What we're doing here is to remove a piece of meniscus from the pig and then inject stem cells to see if it can regrow the meniscus," he said.

To do that, the pigs are put on the operating table under anesthesia, administered by retired veterinarian, Dr. Sam Monticello, and a piece of the meniscus is removed. Next, human stem cells are injected into that site.

"We found that it's not actually the cells per se that do the good, it's something that they produce, it's something in the proteins," said Hinton.

That "something" is what this research team hopes will create a new meniscus and healthy surrounding tissue, where arthritis develops.

In the initial stage of the research with a different set of pigs, arthritis developed in just six months after meniscal surgery. Hinton said there is no current option to prevent arthritis when people have this same surgery.

"Most of the time, the only way to really take care of it is to remove the piece of meniscus," said Hinton. "What that does is it relieves the short-term symptoms, but unfortunately long-term, over the course of 15-20 years, arthritis can develop."

These pigs are now three weeks post-op and their recovery is going smoothly. They are monitored every day, checking their gait and stability, which is overseen by the McNeese farm staff.

"They're doing great; have no problems with them," said Monticello."They're moving around pretty well."

Time will tell if there is healthy growth inside these pigs' joints.

"The pigs will be harvested at four, five, six months to see if we have any regrowth of the meniscus," said Hinton.

If that regrowth happens, this research project will become even larger.  So will the hopes of it translating into human benefits one day soon.

"The idea and the thought is that one day this would be available to the physician at the time they took out the torn cartilage or use it to help heal a torn piece of cartilage," said Hinton.

Relieving pain that can become debilitating and maybe even making meniscus removals a procedure of the past.

While the research is centered on benefiting humans, it is something that could also improve the health of animals with meniscal tears.  

The research team is held to a strict set of standards in treating the pigs with care.

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