Tapping Into the Code of Life With Science


"These are the body's master cells," said Lanza. "They're actually immortal. They grow forever. And we can turn them into virtually every cell in your body."

He sees the strong potential of stem cells in treating people suffering from Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis and strokes. He's even on the verge of research that could eliminate the need for blood donations.

"We're actually now able to grow an entire tube of blood cells from scratch from embryonic stem cells. And the beautiful thing about that is, if you start with one of the lines that's O negative, it's universal. It'll match everybody. So you won't have to worry about tissue typing."

And for Lanza, the potential of the research doesn't stop there but extends to creating organs.

"We can actually grow these up by the billions," he said. "So we can create, say for instance, an entire heart [or kidney] some day. And some day, if you get into an auto accident, we'll just take a skin cell and grow you up a new kidney.

"And it's not science fiction," he added. "We're doing this today. We've already grown up entire bladders that are in people."

Anthony Attala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University, successfully implanted human bladders grown in a lab into seven patients.

He has used the patients' cells to grow the bladders so there was no risk of rejection. Thirty other patients began clinical trials last year to further study the approach.

Doris Taylor, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Cardiovascular Repair, sees a huge potential for stem cells in treating or possibly curing heart disease.

"There are thousands of people every year who need a donor heart, which is the only solution. And they don't get it. So we said,'what's the next option? We can use cells to maybe treat the problem. Can we use cells to cure the problem?'" said Taylor. "So in talking in the hallway, literally, we stood around and we said, you know, 'what do you need to build a heart?' You need cells. Well, we got cells. Stem Cells-R-Us."

Taylor went to work harvesting heart stem cells from rats. After injecting the heart stem cells in an empty heart framework, the cells knew where to go. A pacemaker got the heart pumping and made sure all the cells learned how to beat together.

"The coolest thing is, we put the electrodes on, we teach the heart what to do, we can turn them off and it keeps beating. It's phenomenal," said Taylor. "We've opened a door that's going to provide another tool for organ transplantation in the future."


David Sinclair, co-founder of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass., has found a protein in our bodies that could be the key to resetting our biological clocks.

He made the discovery by randomly testing tens of thousands of cells, searching for the chemical that would activate that protein -- resveratrol.

"We found them by accident. We stumbled upon this molecule from red wine. And when I looked at the computer, [I asked,] what is this resveratrol?" said Sinclair. "And [when I] found that it was in red wine … [well,] I almost fell off my chair. Because of course we have all heard that red wine is good for you."

But to see the benefits, you would need to drink about 1,000 bottles a day. Since that was not the solution, Sinclair went back to the lab and found a way to make resveratrol a thousand times more potent.

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