Struve Labs International Conti
In an instant, your life seems to split into before and after. We all hope it will never happen to us, but odds are you or someone you love with have to navigate through a difficult medical diagnosis in their lifetime. Quite possibly a diagnosis that requires an organ transplant to live.
However, a shortage of organs for transplants is one of the biggest challenges to modern medicine, and the current supply of tissue meets only a tiny amount of the total demand.
For those relentlessly searching and hoping for options for their loved ones, pigs don’t naturally jump to the top of the list, but their capacity to help people is phenomenal. And significant efforts to provide organs and to advance human health research and modern science are quietly being made, right here in rural Iowa.
Working tirelessly behind the scenes is Dr. Rexanne Struve, owner of Struve Labs International in Manning, Iowa. Dr. Struve says that one pig can produce nine organs for human transplant, including a heart, two lungs, two kidneys, skin, pancreas and bowels.
Like clockwork, for 11 years Iowa Select Farms provides 72 bred sows to Dr. Struve and her 19 employees, where they in turn produce nearly 2,808 piglets that support cancer research, diabetic therapies and provide organs viable for humans in need.
“One pig can produce nine organs for human transplant, including a heart, two lungs, two kidneys, skin, pancreas and bowel,” said Struve, who specializes in specific pathogen free (SPF) pig production for biological companies, pharmaceutical firms and researchers nationwide. “Pigs’ capacity to help people is phenomenal.”
Struve should know. Not only has she been a veterinarian for more than 40 years, but she raises Caesarian derived colostrum deprived (CDCD) piglets—the gold standard of SPF production.
For many years, Iowa Select has provided Struve with sows that deliver piglets on the same day. “We couldn’t accomplish our goals without Iowa Select Farms,” Struve said.
CDCD piglets are delivered in a sterile bubble via c-section in a surgical suite at Struve’s veterinary hospital. The piglets are raised in isolettes (incubators) for seven to 10 days.
“These pigs have no immune system,” said Struve, who became the first female veterinarian in Carroll County in 1976. “Biological companies that develop and test vaccines need pigs that don’t already have antibodies in their system.”
As the piglets grow, they are moved to a lab east of Manning. “Pigs leave our facility no earlier than five weeks of age and no later than eight weeks,” said Struve, whose company produces 162 CDCD pigs every three weeks.
“Biomedical researchers from California to New York rely on these pigs,” said Mark Sheeder, operations manager at Struve Labs International, the only company in America that provides CDCD pigs on a commercial basis. “Our pigs offer great models for cancer research, diabetic therapies and more.
Currently, there are heart valves, ligaments and skin from pigs being used to help humans, but eventually we will be able to do whole organ transplants. There will be nine viable organs from each transgenic pig to donate to humans in need and organ transplants will eventually become as common as knee or hip replacements, with an abundant supply for anyone in need.”
Improving human health is personal to Sheeder, whose youngest son, Tristan, has cerebral palsy and has required more than 100 hospitalizations. “We’re grateful for the Hansen Home for Hope,” said Sheeder, referring to one of the many outreach programs supported by the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation through Iowa Select Farms.
Located near Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, the Hansen Home for Hope serves families with children undergoing medical treatments.
The Struve Labs International team is proud to work with a home-grown company as professional and caring as Iowa Select. “We value partners who are rooted in their rural communities,” Struve said.” We’re all in this together.”