The UMCG is trying to reduce the use of laboratory animals, so is opting to use slaughter waste instead
Translated by Charlotte Hardy
Animals for testing
Around 12,000 animals live in the laboratory animal facility of the UMCG: Mice, rats, zebrafish and killifish. Previously, pigs were also included in this list and used as test animals in Groningen, however, the UMCG wished to get rid of pig houses, so scientists started looking for alternatives.
The new alternative
Every Tuesday and Thursday researchers go to the slaughterhouse to pick up kidneys from pigs that have just been slaughtered. The kidneys are then transported to the laboratory in a special device and afterwards, they are used for research.
Why wasn’t this done sooner?
As reported by RTV Noord (in Dutch), previously, this wasn’t deemed as possible as there was no way to keep the pigs kidneys well during transport to the lab. Professor Henry Leuvenink explains how they now use the same equipment as they do with real hospital transplants: “The breakthrough is that we now use techniques that we use in the hospital to keep organs of good quality in order to be able to transplant them.”
This is a machine that continues to pump oxygen through the cooled pig kidney during transport, which means that the quality of the kidney deteriorates less. In the laboratory the kidney goes into a kind of incubator where the whole body is simulated with machines. The kidney functions again because blood is pumped through it.
Leuvenink and his students use the pig kidneys for research on transplantation. In the incubator they use equipment to investigate how they can bring kidneys into the best possible condition in the time between removal from the donor and placement at the recipient.
In recent years they have used around three hundred kidneys of slaughter pigs. No laboratory animals have been involved. According to Leuvenink, this is ‘quite unique’ in the world; it hardly ever happens and certainly not on this scale.
Yet his research cannot be entirely without laboratory animals, he says. To be able to assess whether a kidney treated by the researchers functions in a body, living pigs are still needed.
‘We then use these techniques to save a kidney from a living animal and to transplant it into another animal. That way we can see whether all the work from the laboratory is actually effective. ”
This research can no longer be done in Groningen as pigs are not kept as test animals anymore, therefore, it must be done abroad.