The Growth of Iowa Biotech
The state’s industry draws inspiration from medicine as well as agriculture.
In the early 2000s, cystic fibrosis researchers were frustrated with available mouse models of the disease. The mice carried the mutant version of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene that causes the disease in people, but the animals didn’t develop the mucus-coated lungs, coughing, or breathing difficulty observed in human patients. Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) thought they might have a solution—genetically modified miniature pigs. In September 2008, the team published their results: the mutant pigs had defective transmembrane chloride ion transport, the molecular hallmark of cystic fibrosis that leaves human patients’ skin tasting salty. Additionally, the newborn pigs shared human CF infants’ defects in the intestine, pancreas, and liver (Science, 321:1837-41, 2008). It was later found that, unlike the mice, the animals developed CF-like lung disease within two months of birth (Sci Trans Med, 2:29ra31, 2010).
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