Pigs increasingly have become the animal model of choice for studying human health and disease, and a new University of Missouri research center will serve as the world's clearinghouse for swine genetics, say university scientists.

The National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of Missouri a $2.848-million grant to establish the National Swine Research and Resource Center. The grant, which will the university will match, will be used to construct a 20,000-square-foot facility. There, researchers will create, store and distribute swine models for biomedical researchers worldwide. NIH also gave the center a five-year, $7.1-million operational budget.

The swine center is the third NIH-funded animal resource center at the University of Missouri, joining the Mutant Mouse Resource and Research Center and the Rat Resource and Research Center, established in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

While mouse and rat research models have helped scientists make many advances in the understanding of human disease, swine models offer new opportunities for study, says Randall Prather, an animal scientist helping establish the new center.

"Because of similarities in their body size and physiology, pigs are an ideal animal model for humans, whether a researcher is studying diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity or organ transplantation," he notes. "The hog's size aids with blood and tissue collection, as well as testing new medical procedures."

Creating new genetic models, and improving cryopreservation techniques and pathogen detection will be among the center's priorities. One of the challenges will be finding better methods of preserving swine sperm.

Although the center primarily will serve biomedical research applications, Prather points out that many of the same genetic technologies could be used to enhance agricultural livestock production in the future.

"Just as we can genetically modify pigs to study disease, we can also modify them to help farmers produce higher quality hogs at less cost," he adds. "Through modification, we can make healthier pigs that resist diseases, more efficient pigs that produce more muscle with less feed, and pigs that are more reproductively efficient and environmentally friendly. The possibilities are only limited by the imagination."

The shower-in facility, which will be closed to general access, will be located southeast of the Animal Sciences Research Center. The center will take about two years to construct. Until completed, functions of the swine center will be carried out in other existing facilities on campus.

Source: University of Missouri