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let's talk farm animals

Farm animals save lives

By Leslie Ballentine,  Farm and food commentator

When we think of cattle, pigs or poultry we may think of our next meal. But what many don’t know is that farm animals provide more than just sustenance.  They also save lives in other ways too.

In May, the media reported on a “medical breakthrough”:  A new type of heart valve made with cow tissues to solve a specific heart condition that kills 50% of sufferers.  In actual fact, the breakthrough was a new valve design and transplant procedure, not the use of cow tissue itself.

Cow heart tissue has been used to construct pericardial heart valve replacements – known as bovine valves, for many years. The same is true of intact pig valves which have been used to replace human heart valves for over 20 years.

By some, strange twist of evolutionary coincidence, our valves and those of cows and pigs are similar in tissue physiology. That makes them a frequent choice for heart valve replacement. The tissue which is sterilized and chemically treated to prevent rejection and calcification can last for 15 years or more. These animal valve substitutes have certain benefits over mechanical valves and valves transplanted from human cadavers.

Also in May,  media reported the first ever cow’s blood transfusion has saved the life of a car crash victim. Despite being close to death, Tamara Coakley, 33, refused a life-saving conventional blood transfusion because of her Jehovah’s Witness faith.  But in a world’s first procedure, a synthetic blood substitute made from cow plasma was used to revive the Australian patient who is now in good health. The success of the procedure could help combat the worldwide blood supply shortage with added benefits. Unlike donor blood, cow plasma does not require cross-matching and can be stored without refrigeration for up to three years.  The haemoglobin- based experimental plasma – called HBOC-2-1 – used to save Coakley came from the United States where it is being developed by the military.

But it works the other way too. Researchers in Texas are using calves to develop artificial hearts. Dr. Billy Cohn and Dr. Bud Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute are testing a machine on an 8-month old calf named Abigal. Cohn and Frazier removed Abigail’s heart and replaced it with two centrifugal pumps. The pumps spin Abigail’s blood and move it through her body. “If you listened to her chest with a stethoscope, you wouldn’t hear a heartbeat,” says Cohn.  ” By every metric we have to analyze patients, she’s not living,” he says. “But here you can see she’s a vigorous, happy, playful calf licking my hand.”

And it isn’t just cattle that are giving us medical miracles.

The European Commission has granted Swedish researchers over 5 million euros to conduct a final phase clinical study using hens eggs to treat patients with the incurable disease cystic fibrosis. The way it works is the hen is vaccinated with the Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria that continually infect and often kill CF patients.  The bacteria start producing antibodies in the egg in a high concentration which are then extracted.  When the patient gargles with the solution, the antibodies will attack the bacteria in the mouth which in turn prevents the bacteria from further infecting the lungs. Unlike traditional antibiotics the treatment has few side effects and holds hope for treating other bacterial infections.

And pigs have been saving the lives of burn victims for years. Biologic skin substitutes such as pig skin and cadaver skin are used to treat and heal serious skin burns.  But with limited organ donors world-wide, pig skin provides a readily available source for skin grafts.

So next time we think of farm animals we need to think beyond our plate.

Until the Next Blog

 

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Posted by OFAC on July 4th, 2011 :: Filed under animal by-products,Beef cattle,eggs,Innovation and technology,Pigs,Research
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