This little cloned piglet created by McGill researchers

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MONTREAL -McGill researchers announced Wednesday they have produced Canada's first cloned pigs, animals to be used in research into diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments.

MONTREAL -McGill researchers announced Wednesday they have produced Canada's first cloned pigs, animals to be used in research into diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments.

Seventeen cloned male piglets were born in three litters over the last six weeks. Seven were killed so autopsies could be conducted to rule out health problems. None were detected.

The 10 that remain weigh between eight and 15 kilograms and are growing normally, said Vilceu Bordignon, lead researcher and head of the large animal research unit at McGill. More piglets - females, this time - are due to be born over the next three months.

"In their physiology and anatomy, pigs are very similar to human beings," Bordignon said.

"Also, compared to laboratory animals (such as mice and rats), pigs give you the opportunity to do clinical intervention like surgeries" because their larger size makes them easier to operate on.

Bordignon said he has already been contacted by researchers from universities across Canada interested in using the pigs for medical tests.

Next year, his team plans to produce pigs for specific research projects, he said.

"We can induce genetic modifications in the cells so that the pigs that are generated have more cholesterol, for example, so they're going to develop cardiovascular problems."

Medical researchers can then use the animals to develop and evaluate treatments, he said.

"Or we can do the opposite - we can modify a gene to give the pigs resistance against specific infectious diseases, for example."

Meat from cloned pigs is not approved for human consumption, Bordignon said.

To create the 17 piglets, McGill researchers used the same approach that produced Dolly, the sheep that in 1996 became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.

Pigs were first cloned in 2000 by U.S. researchers. In Canada, goats and cattle have been cloned but these are the country's first cloned pigs, Bordignon said.

Organizations: McGill

Geographic location: Canada, MONTREAL, U.S.

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