For decades, researchers from all over the world have been working hard to understand Alzheimer’s disease. Now, a collaboration between the Department of Biomedicine and the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University has resulted in a flock of minipigs that could lead to a major step forward in the research and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

The cloned pigs were born with a mutation in the gene SORL1, which is interesting because the mutations are found in up to 2-3% of all early onset Alzheimer’s cases in human beings.

Due to the gene mutation, the pigs develop signs of Alzheimer’s at a young age. This gives the researchers an opportunity to follow the early signs of the disease, as the pigs show changes in the same biomarkers that are used to make the diagnosis in humans.

“By following the changes over time in the pigs, we can better understand the earliest changes in the cells. Later, these changes lead to the irreversible alterations in the brain that are the cause of dementia. But now we can follow the pigs before they lose their memory, change their behaviour, etc., which will make it possible to test new drugs that can be used at an early stage to prevent SORL1-associated Alzheimer’s disease,” says Associate Professor Olav Michael Andersen, who is the first author of the study, which has just been published in the scientific journal Cell Reports Medicine.

“Pigs resemble human beings in many ways, which is why this increases the possibilities of producing drugs that will work to counteract Alzheimer’s. It is important to have a workable animal model to bridge the gap between research and drug development,” he explains.

Pigs cloned from skin cells

Since the 1990s, researchers have known of three genes which — if they mutate — can directly cause Alzheimer’s disease.

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