Robert Lanza, M. D. is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Ocata Therapeutics (formerly Advanced Cell Technology), and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His current research focuses on stem cells and regenerative medicine and their potential to provide therapies for some of the world’s most deadly and debilitating conditions.
Dr. Lanza has hundreds of publications and inventions, and over 30 scientific books, including “Principles of Tissue Engineering” and “Essentials of Stem Cell Biology,” which are considered the definitive references in the field. He received his BA and MD degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was both a University Scholar and Benjamin Franklin Scholar. He was also a Fulbright Scholar, and was part of the team that cloned the world’s first human embryo, as well as the first to successfully generate stem cells from adults using somatic-cell nuclear transfer (therapeutic cloning).
Lanza’s work has been crucial to our understanding nuclear transfer and stem cell biology. 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 also 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 tissue-engineered from cloned cells. One of his early achievements came from his demonstration that techniques used in preimplantation genetic diagnosis could be used to generate human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) without embryonic destruction.
He and colleagues have also succeeded in differentiating human pluripotent stem cells into retinal (RPE) cells, and has shown that they provide long-term benefit in animal models of vision loss. Using this technology some forms of blindness may be treatable, including macular degeneration and Stargardt disease, a currently untreatable form eye disease that causes blindness in teenagers and young adults. Lanza’s company just completed two clinical trials in the United States using them to treat degenerative eye diseases. ACT carried out the only pluripotent stem cell trial in Europe.
In October 2014, Dr. Lanza and his colleagues published a paper in the journal The Lancet, providing the first evidence of the long-term safety and possible biologic activity of pluripotent stem cell progeny into humans with any disease. “For a nice two decades scientists have dreamt about using human embryonic stem cells to treat diseases,” said Gautam Naik, Science Reporter at the Wall Street Journal “that day has finally come…scientists have used human embryonic stem cells to successfully treat patients suffering from severe vision loss.” RPE cells derived from embryonic stem cells were injected into the eyes of 18 patients with either Stargardt’s disease or dry-AMD. The patients were followed for more than three years, and half of them were able to read three more lines on the eye chart, which translated to critical improvements in their daily lives as well.
Lanza and his colleagues in South Korea also recently published the first report of the safety and potential efficacy of pluripotent stem cells in Asian patients. hESC-derived RPE were transplanted in four Asian patients: two with dry age-related macular degeneration and two with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy. There were no safety issues related to the transplanted cells. Visual acuity improved 9-19 letters in three patients, and remained stable (+1 letter) in one patient. The results confirm that hESC-derived cells could serve as a potentially safe new source of tissue for regenerative medicine.
Lanza has been a major player in the scientific revolution that has led to the documentation that nuclear transfer and reprogramming factors can restore developmental potential in a differentiated cell. One of his successes was showing that it is feasible to generate functional oxygen-carrying red blood cells from human pluripotent stem cells. The blood cells were comparable to normal transfusable blood and could serve as a potentially inexhaustible source of “universal” blood. His team also discovered how to generate functional hemangioblasts — a population of “ambulance” cells — from hESCs. 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 to be amputated. He has recently published similar pre-clinical work showing hESC-derived cells can be used to treat a range of other diseases, including multiple sclerosis and lupus, among others.
In 2009, Lanza and a team lead 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 manipulation. This new method provides a potentially safe and non-controversial source of patient-specific stem cells for translation into the clinic. The Editors of the Nature selected Lanza and Kim’s paper on protein reprogramming as one of five “Research Highlights” of the year. Discover magazine stated, “Lanza’s single-minded quest to usher in this new age has paid dividends in scientific insights and groundbreaking discoveries.”
Dr. Lanza has received numerous awards, including TIME Magazine’s 2014 TIME 100 list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World,” the Top 50 “World Thinkers” (2015), the 2013 Il Leone di San Marco award in Medicine; an NIH Director’s Award (2010) for “Translating Basic Science Discoveries into New and Better Treatments”; the 2013 “TOP 50 Global Stem Cell Influencers” (voted Top 4 “Most Influential People on Stem Cells” along with James Thomson and Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka); the 2010 “Movers and Shakers” Who Will Shape Biotech Over the Next 20 Years (BioWorld, along with Craig Venter and President Barack Obama); the 2007 100 Most Inspiring People in the Life-Sciences Industry (PharmaVOICE, “For his discoveries ‘behind the medicines making a significant impact on the pipelines of today and of the future'”; the 2007 Outstanding Contribution in Contemporary Biology Award (Brown University, “For his groundbreaking research and contributions in stem cell science and biology”; the 2006 All-Star Award for Biotechnology (MA High Tech, for “pushing stem cells’ future”); the 2005 Rave Award for Medicine (Wired magazine, “For eye-opening work on embryonic stem cells”); Massachusetts Medical Society award; and The Boston Globe’s William O. Taylor award, among others.
Dr. Lanza and his research have been featured in almost every media outlet in the world, including CNN, TIME, Newsweek, People, as well as the front pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, among others. Lanza studied with some of the greatest thinkers of our time, including Nobel laureates Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter, renowned Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner (the “Father of modern behaviorism”), Jonas Salk (discoverer of the Polio vaccine), and heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard.
In 2007, Lanza published a feature article, “A New Theory of the Universe” in The American Scholar, a leading intellectual journal which has previously published works by Albert Einstein, Margaret Mead, and Carl Sagan, among others. His theory places biology above the other sciences in an attempt to solve one of nature’s biggest puzzles, the theory of everything that other disciplines have been pursuing for the last century. This new view has become known as Biocentrism. In 2009, he co-authored a book “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe” with leading astronomer Bob Berman. In biocentrism, space and time are forms of animal sense perception, rather than external physical objects. Understanding this more fully yields answers to several major puzzles of mainstream science, and offers a new way of understanding everything from the microworld (for instance, the reason for Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and the double-slit experiment) to the forces, constants, and laws that shape the universe. Nobel laureate E. Donnall Thomas stated “Any short statement does not do justice to such a scholarly work. The work is a scholarly consideration of science and philosophy that brings biology into the central role in unifying the whole.”
“Robert Lanza is the living embodiment of the character played by Matt Damon in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” Growing up underprivileged in Stoughton, Mass., south of Boston, the young preteen caught the attention of Harvard Medical School researchers when he showed up on the university steps having successfully altered the genetics of chickens in his basement. Over the next decade, he was “discovered” and taken under the wing of scientific giants such as psychologist B.F. Skinner, immunologist Jonas Salk, and heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. His mentors described him as a “genius,” a “renegade thinker,” even likening him to Einstein.” – U.S.News & World Report, cover story