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Minipig, minipig, let me in

Animal experimentation remains an essential component of drug safety testing. But that doesn't mean that pharmaceutical companies have to rely on the same old animal models. According to a panel of European experts, diminutive strains of domestic hogs called minipigs could provide more suitable platforms for toxicity testing than monkeys, dogs, rats and other species routinely used to gauge drug safety.

“There are many features of the minipig that make it more amenable for being a toxicology model,” says Roy Forster, chief scientific officer of the French contract research organization CIT. “If you had to start the field of toxicology all over again and you didn't have the history and the tradition that we do, then the minipig would certainly be an animal that we would readily turn to.”

Credit: Understanding Animal Research

Reporting in a series of eight papers published in the current issue of the Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods, Forster and his colleagues from the EU-funded RETHINK project argue that minipigs, which are markedly smaller than their farmyard porcine cousins, should become the lab animal of choice for testing new drugs. The minipigs are easier to house and carry fewer zoonotic diseases than nonhuman primates, they share more physiological and metabolic similarities to humans than other large mammals, their large litter sizes and quick development time make them easier to breed and they have more genetic and genomic background data available than for other animal models of toxicology. Although switching to minipigs would still involve animal experimentation, Forster argues that the data gleaned from each minipig will be more informative and predictive of human biology than existing models.

“Pigs are basically taking over the world as the large-animal model of choice,” says Michael Swindle, a swine researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

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Dolgin, E. Minipig, minipig, let me in. Nat Med 16, 1349 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nm1210-1349a

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