From bacon to bioscience

Published 11:09 am Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Medical research next up for Foods

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Smithfield Foods is looking to turn hogs into more than just ham and bacon.

Foods announced last week that it plans to use hog byproducts for medical uses, such as organ transplants and creating tissue to be used in humans.

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Smithfield Bioscience will support a range of biotechnology solutions in areas of human therapeutics, tissue fabrication and regenerative medicine.

The company plans to collect pig hearts, kidneys and livers for study in making those organs compatible for human transplantation. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Pigs and humans have similar DNA, which allows for use in medical intervention. For example, pig heart valves are already used for human heart valve replacements. 

Foods will be providing tissues and organs for research to third parties who have advanced technologies in this area, said Courtney Stanton, vice president of Smithfield Bioscience.

Medical researchers have determined that the age that the hogs are slaughtered, at six months, is also when their organs are the right fit for humans, according to company officials.

Currently Foods has the capacity to slaughter about 127,000 hogs a day.

The new initiative also fits in with Foods’ aim to use as much of the pig as possible.

“Our commitment to innovation and sustainability stretches across all aspects of our company,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods. “Smithfield Bioscience reflects these same values by finding new uses for byproducts that benefit the health and well-being of others,” said Sullivan.

This isn’t the first time hog byproducts have been used to treat a host of human conditions.

Several decades ago, Smithfield Packing and ITT Gwaltney collected and sold pig mucosa to pharmaceutical firms to produce heparin. Heparin is used to prevent blood clots. The two meatpacking companies also collected and froze hog pancreases to be turned into insulin and pig pituitary and thyroid glands to be used to produce growth hormones. The companies also sold parts of the hog’s stomachs to produce pepsin, which aids in digestion.

Smithfield Foods has continued that tradition, and Smithfield Bioscience plans to expand upon those efforts by exploring new methods and technologies for addressing concerns such as tissue regeneration and the availability of viable human organs for transplantation.

“This research is still in its infancy. As of now, there are multiple technologies out there for using pig components in human applications.  Each of these companies has a proprietary method of managing, and in some cases altering, the tissues. Smithfield’s role is to provide the byproducts that will help further this research,” said Stanton.

Currently, more than 119,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant, and about 22 die each day while on the list, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Smithfield Bioscience will be working with the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI), a public-private U.S. manufacturing initiative funded by the Department of Defense.

The consortium is focused on technologies that would repair and replace tissues on soldiers injured in combat.

Smithfield Foods approached ARMI, said Stanton.

“Smithfield has long held our veterans in extremely high regard.  We found the mission of ARMI to an excellent way for Smithfield to serve our veterans,” said Stanton.

The company is also working with Harvard Medical School and Columbia University on the research and development of immunological therapies; such as using the bodies’ own defenses to fight cancer. 

“Smithfield is a longstanding leader in sustainability and renewables with a broad geographic presence and strong manufacturing expertise,” said Courtney Stanton, vice president of the new Bioscience Group for Smithfield Foods.

“With these capabilities, our vertical integration and a reputation for transparency and quality, Smithfield Bioscience is well-positioned to help the U.S. medical and pharmaceutical industry achieve significant, scalable developments in biologics.”  {/mprestriction}