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By Mark Snyder, Gatehouse Media Columnist
Dr. Robert Lanza, a Stoughton native and graduate of Stoughton High School, has been spending his spare time trying to help animals avoid extinction. For instance, in the jungles of Southeast Asia lives a rare animal known as a banteng. At a farm in Iowa, Lanza was able to clone a banteng that was birthed through a calf. Lanza told People Magazine that “one hundred plant and animal species go extinct every day, and their genes are lost to the planet forever.” Lanza aims to rescue as many as he can.
The University of Pennsylvania medical school grad trained with many of the biggest lights in science. He worked closely and co-authored a series of papers with the late Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner. The Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine trained with Dr. Jonas Salk (yes, the polio vaccine guy) and Dr. Christiaan Barnard (the heart transplant pioneer).
Lanza, who began working with stem cells to further medical research, soon realized that he could help protect genetic diversity now. He told the California Academy of Sciences, “Although we still may not have the technology to do it very efficiently, it is real. When an animal dies, all you have to do is freeze a few cells to preserve the genetics of the animal forever.”
Dr. Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development for Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, is very proud of his pioneering work in stem cell research. We all have interesting hobbies in our spare time. Mine is hitting the gym. Dr. Lanza’s? He works on cloning endangered species. He was able to save the gaur [an endangered cattle species found in southeast Asia]. He said, “We took some skin cells from a gaur that had died nine years earlier at the San Diego Zoo and fused them with the empty eggs of ordinary cows. Not only did we get beautiful little gaur embryos, but for the very first time ever-- we got pregnancies. ” Of the six pregnancies, one went all the way--Noah was born in January 2001, adorable and perfectly healthy.
Embryonic Stem Cell research has become quite controversial. Lanza sidesteps the controversy, and says he is working on methods that do not affect the health of the embryo. He also says his research could lead to people living to a “normal” 100 year lifespan, but tells the California Academy, “The world is already overpopulated. It certainly doesn’t serve anyone’s interest to have people unhealthy and sickly.”
The bachelor, 49, lives on a ten acre spread in Clinton, where he serves on their local conservation commission. He fears people may misunderstand his cloning work and hesitates to speak to reporters. Asked about human cloning, and pet cloning, he told People Magazine, “Folks that think they’re getting ‘Fluffy’ back are in for a big surprise. About one in four cloned animals developed health problems. Cloning humans would be like sending a baby into space and knowing the rocket will blow up 25% of the time.”
Those associated with Stoughton High School remember Lanza. His former English teacher at SHS, Mrs. Weddleton, wrote that Lanza “was one of my favorite, but not my best, English students.” His seventh grade science teacher, Dr. Roberta Camacho, remembers Lanza as “very creative. He was a great kid with an excellent sense of humor. He showed lots of promise then—he thought outside the box.” His eighth grade science teacher Barbara O’Donnell still speaks with Dr. Lanza all the time. She tells the Web, “I remember in ninth or tenth grade he won the state science fair. He took albino chickens and injected them with pigments from the eggs of Rhode Island Reds. The albino’s came out spotted.” O’Donnell said that Lanza gets frustrated with all the politics of his stem cell work, often talking about his frequent appearances before the Senate and House of Representatives. But O’Donnell remembers Lanza’s “terrific curiosity and tenacity. He always had an interest in animals. He was in the nature club I ran, and also had a pet monkey. And, he writes beautifully.” Stoughton High Principal Phil Iacobacci says that Lanza was one of the first inductees in Stoughton H.S. Hall of Fame for Extraordinary Achievement in 2004.
Wired Magazine recently recognized the pioneer, too, with a Wired Rave Award. He told Wired, “ "There are 3,000 Americans dying every day from diseases I believe could be treated using stem cell technology." As Lanza works hard to avoid the political minefield surrounding his work, he is getting closer to accomplishing his biggest goals—to save endangered species, and to help cure diseases that plague the human body. He’s come a long way from Stoughton High School!
Sometimes when balancing life writing two columns, hosting a radio show and TV program, driving two children back and forth from their activities and active social lives, cooking and doing laundry, a thought does cross the mind. I could sure use a clone. As for the possibility of cloning this columnist, Lanza refused to return my call. Maybe he was out walking his banteng or his gaur.
(Mark Snyder is CEO of PMPNetwork.com, the internet’s entertainment superstation. His radio feature, The Entertainment Minute, is heard on WMJX-FM/ Magic106.7 FM, WROR-FM 105.7 and WBOS-FM 92.9. Mark can be reached by fax at 781-344-7207, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2007 by snydersstoughton.com
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