- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

Maybe there is no Fountain of Youth. But, as it turns out, it is possible to reverse the aging process, in cows at least.

Scientists announced Thursday that six young cows they cloned are genetically younger than their chronological age, and it's thought that the spinoff applications of this discovery for man are dazzling.

In the prestigious journal Science, Dr. Robert P. Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., reported that cells extracted from calves his team cloned show no signs of normal aging. The cells from one calf born a year ago "look like those of a newborn," Dr. Lanza said.

"The old cells were not merely returned to a youthful state. Remarkably, they were actually given a longer life span than those from normal animals," Dr. Lanza said in a statement. He continued:

"Our results show that cloning actually has the potential to reverse the aging of cells. This has profound implication for treating age-related disease and for understanding the actual mechanisms behind the aging process."

And Dr. Michael D. West, Advanced Cell's chief executive officer, declared, "With this research, we have shown that it may eventually be possible to improve the quality of life for millions of people."

But while emphasizing the importance of the Advanced Cell work by its team, physiologist George Seidel indicated some of the company's conclusions may be premature.

Mr. Seidel, a Colorado State University professor affiliated with the school's embryo-transfer laboratory, says, "It's not that they stopped the aging process. They've taken one component of the process and reversed it." He added that "unpublished and still confidential studies will soon validate" the Advanced Cell findings.

Zoologist Kelly Smith, a Clemson University professor, said the company's conclusions "make sense, but they are speculative." He agrees with those who contend the aging process is so complex that it can't be assumed Advanced Cell is dealing with the fundamental and ultimate cause of aging.

Mr. Smith suggests the speculative elements in Advanced Cell's announcements are the glittering predictions that the new findings will lead in a quick, straight line to "human-cloning therapy." That refers to the process of removing cells from a human patient, cloning and multiplying them, then injecting them into patients to cure Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other currently intractable ailments.

Still, Dr. West confidently told Reuters news agency, "It's the first day in a new era in treating age-related disease."

Cell scientists evaluate age by studying "telomeres." Telomeres are the "caps" on the ends of chromosomes. The caps actually are strands of DNA. And DNA is part of each cell.

When a cell divides, the end portion of the strand the telomere frays or breaks and becomes shorter. As the cell keeps dividing, the strand keeps diminishing until there is no telomere left. Then the cell dies.

But it's clear before death that the longer the telomere, the more youthful the cell. The shorter the telomere, the closer to death or the more aged the cell has become.

Dr. Lanza and his crew took short embryonic stem cells those near death from a 45-day-old bovine fetus. Using a cloning process created in the laboratory, they produced eggs that were implanted in a surrogate cow.

Six calves were delivered by Cesarean section. And when the youngsters were tested months later, it was found they had cells with long telomeres. Thus they had young cells not the old cells expected because old cells were cloned.

Another reason old cells might have been expected was that Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, had old cells when she was tested. Dolly is genetically older than her years.

The discovery of Dolly's genetic age disappointed scientists. It was interpreted as a clue that developing human-cell therapy might not be possible. It tended to indicate the young cells needed to rejuvenate or replace human cells might be impossible to produce. Dr. Lanza's team has proved those notions wrong and pushed human cloning therapy a long step ahead.

Advanced Cell's researchers quickly admit they do not understand the mechanism that enabled them to reverse the aging process in their heifers. It's a mystery. However, they believe the answer may lie in the fact that, in cloning the cows, they utilized a modified version of the technique used to produce Dolly.

Besides that, they employed a different type of cell and they were dealing with a different kind of animal.

Whatever happened, Dr. Lanza says, "When other cows the same age start to grow old and frail, [our cloned cows'] cells should be able to divide the same as a newborn calf's. They should be able to repair damage due to disease and aging and should live longer, healthier lives."

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