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Swine genetics aiding human research

By Staff | Apr 2, 2010

Dr. John Swart, president of Exemplar Genetics, offered a presentation of what his company does on March 16 to the Le Mars Chamber of Commerce annual business luncheon.

LE MARS – Exemplar Genetics, of Sioux Center, claims to be the only company offering gene-targeted animal models for human disease research.

In his presentation to the Le Mars Chamber of Commerce’s 16th annual business luncheon earlier this month, Dr. John Swart, president of Exemplar Genetics, spoke on the company’s cutting edge research in the field of gene technology concerning human diseases.

Previously, Swart worked in the animal health business of Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

His experience with BI included responsibilities in research and development, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and operations management.

“My goal has always been to develop therapies for human disease,” Swart said. Through his work with Iowa State University, Trans Ova Genetics, in Sioux Center, and Via Gen Inc., in Austin, Texas, he is doing just that.

The company’s work focuses on the Yucatan miniature pig, Swart explained, because this bree is easier to work with.

Swart said that Yucatan miniatures most closely replicate the human phenotype.

“Mouse models do not react the same as humans where disease is concerned,” Swart said. “We have found that pig genes are 94 percent relevant to the human gene.

“When we discovered just last year that these pigs get the same clinical signs of cystic fibrosis as humans, we’ve learned more about cystic fibrosis than we have in years.

“Human disease gene sequencing is used to change the pigs’ cells, which are used in the cloning process” he explained.

The company’s active target disease research includes diseases such as cystic fibrosis, metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease and cancer. Potential projects include diabetes, neurological disease, immune disease and obesity.

Swart’s work is done through gene targeting and cloning of the disease in swine. Research and development labs are in the Iowa City area.

Other animal facilities called LoneStarLabratory Swine are located in several locations including Iowa City, Sioux Falls, S.D., and one near Nashville. All facilities are AALAC accredited and U.S. Department of Agriculture approved. The facilities are bio-secure and these animals are not able to go into the country’s food supply – all remains are incinerated.

Facilities are completely cleaned three days a week. The grounds are locked and fenced.

Because of the need for these pigs in research across the country, Exemplar Genetics is now able to offer them to other companies for research, thus opening the doors for more facets of this business.

The company is also developing handling and imaging equipment to be used in the research done on these animals.

One of the biggest challenges for his company, Swart said, is the cost care and animal welfare issues.

Swart sums up this company’s future as “local innovation with a global impact.”

Contact Robyn Kruger by e-mail at rangerob@hickorytech.net.

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