Pig spleens sourced from abattoirs could help reduce the need for live animal testing research shows

New research published by researchers from the University of Leicester, Leicester’s Hospitals and University College London (Dr Giuseppe Ercoli, who was a post-doctoral researcher at Leicester at the time the work was conducted, now works at UCL) has developed a scientific model that could replace the use of protected animals in research with abattoir-sourced pig spleens - potentially reducing the need to conduct experiments on animals.

The team set out to study bacterial infection in human spleens, the main organ responsible for innate immunity, in order to improve our understanding of invasive infections including pneumonia and sepsis.

In order to do this, the team studied ex vivo pig spleens - retrieved from animals slaughtered for food production - which can act as a reliable parallel to human spleens and allow for scientists to explore how certain infections and diseases can affect humans with a high degree of accuracy. 

“To study mechanisms of immune response to infection we need experimental models,” says Professor Marco Oggioni. “To be able to do so without the need to breed animals for experimental research and to expose animals to any suffering due to experimental research is a breakthrough. The use of abattoir-sourced organs removes this problem, by still providing us with excellent scientific data.

“This is an important occasion and highlights the University of Leicester’s commitment to the principles of the 3Rs - Replacement, Reduction and Refinement - in animal research.”

The methodology of ex vivo perfusion indicates that organs are taken from deceased animals and perfused with blood or blood-replacement, keeping them functional for a period of many hours. During this period, how the organ responds to agents such as bacteria can be studied - including testing therapeutic interventions against infections.