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Robert Lanza

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Robert Paul Lanza (born 11 February 1956) is an American Doctor of Medicine, scientist, Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Biography

Lanza was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up south of there, in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Lanza “altered the genetics of chickens in his basement”, and came to the attention of Harvard Medical School researchers when he appeared at the university with his results. Jonas Salk, B. F. Skinner, and Christiaan Barnard mentored Lanza over the next ten years. Lanza attended University of Pennsylvania, receiving BA and MD degrees. There, he was a Benjamin Franklin Scholar and a University Scholar. Lanza was a Fulbright Scholar. He currently resides in Clinton, Massachusetts.

Scientific work

Stem cell research

Photo of Dr. Robert Lanza and Barbara Walters
Lanza being interviewed by Barbara Walters.

Lanza was part of the team that cloned the world’s first early stage human embryos for the purpose of generating embryonic stem cells. Lanza demonstrated that techniques used in preimplantation genetic diagnosis could be used to generate embryonic stem cells without embryonic destruction.

In 2001 he was also the first to clone an endangered species (a Gaur), and in 2003, he cloned an endangered wild ox (a Banteng) from the frozen skin cells of an animal that had died at the San Diego Zoo nearly a quarter-of-a-century earlier.

Lanza and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate that nuclear transplantation could be used to reverse the aging process and to generate immune-compatible tissues, including the first organ grown in the laboratory from cloned cells.

Lanza showed that it is feasible to generate functional oxygen-carrying red blood cells from human embryonic stem cells under conditions suitable for clinical scale-up. The blood cells could potentially serve as a source of “universal” blood.

His team discovered how to generate functional hemangioblasts (a population of “ambulance” cells) from human embryonic stem cells. In animals, these cells quickly repaired vascular damage, cutting the death rate after a heart attack in half and restoring the blood flow to ischemic limbs that might otherwise have required amputatation.

Recently, Lanza and a team led by Kwang-Soo Kim at Harvard University reported a safe method for generating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Human iPS cells were created from skin cells by direct delivery of proteins, thus eliminating the harmful risks associated with genetic and chemical manipulation. This new method provides a potentially safe source of patient-specific stem cells for translation into the clinic.

Clinical trials for blindness

Lanza’s team at Advanced Cell Technology has succeeded in getting stem cells to grow into retinal cells. Using this technology some forms of blindness may be curable, including macular degeneration and Stargardt disease, a currently untreatable form eye disease that causes blindness in teenagers and young adults.

Advanced Cell Technology has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for human trials using human embryonic stem cells to treat degenerative eye diseases. This treatment for eye disease uses stem cells to re-create a type of cell in the retina that supports the photoreceptor cells needed for vision. These cells, called retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), are often the first to die off in age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases, which in turn leads to loss of vision. Several years ago, Lanza’s team found that human embryonic stem cells could be a source of RPE cells, and subsequent studies found that these cells could restore vision in animal models of macular degeneration.

In recent studies, the same team of researchers showed that their stem-cell therapy provides a long-term benefit in animal models of vision loss. The retinal cells achieved near normal function in animals that otherwise would have gone blind.

In September 2011, Lanza’s company received approval from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to begin the first human embryonic stem cell trial in Europe. Surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London will inject healthy retinal eyes into the eyes of patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, hoping to slow, halt or even reverse the effects of the disease.

Biocentrism

Main article: Biocentrism (cosmology)

In 2007, Lanza’s article titled “A New Theory of the Universe” appeared in The American Scholar. The essay addressed Lanza’s theory, biocentrism, which places biology above the other sciences. Lanza’s book “How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Universe” followed in 2009.

Awards and public commentary

Lanza has received numerous awards, including a 2010 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Award for “Translating Basic Science Discoveries into New and Better Treatments”; a 2010 “Movers and Shakers” Who Will Shape Biotech Over the Next 20 Years (BioWorld, along with Craig Venter and President Barack Obama); a 2005 Wired magazine “Rave Award” for medicine “For eye-opening work on embryonic stem cells”, and a 2006 Mass High Tech journal “All Star” award for biotechnology for “pushing stem cells’ future”.

Publications

Lanza has authored and co-edited books on topics involving tissue engineering, cloning, stem cells, and world health.

Books

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