Researchers have developed a genetically altered pig model for cystic fibrosis (CF) that closely matchers the characteristics of the disease in humans. This animal model is a large step forward for CF research, advancing from the formerly used mice models, which do not exhibit typical symptoms of CF. By utilizing the pig models; researchers will now better understand how the complications of CF develop.

“This new approach allows researchers to move beyond mouse models into species that are physiologically more similar to humans and that manifest the multi-organ symptoms of the disease. It is an advance for CF research as well as for the study of other diseases where the mouse model is inadequate,” says Griffin P. Rodgers MD, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.

Abnormalities throughout the pigs’ intestines, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder all mirrored common complications caused by CF in humans. Additionally, researchers found no evidence of infection or inflammation in the lungs of the pigs at birth, a similar situation to newborn humans with CF.

“By tracking how the lungs of these pigs respond to challenges to their respiratory systems introduced by the environment, we hope to better understand how the complications of CF progress in children,” says Michael J. Welsh MD, senior author of the study from the University of Iowa.

The study is published in the September 26 edition of Science.