Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. today reported the successful reversal of the aging process in cells. The company's breakthrough may be the path to successful use of therapeutic cloning techniques to cure some of humankind's most intransigent age-related and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes, as well as heart, liver and kidney disease.
Today's report was published in the journal Science (April 28, 2000), and was titled Extension of Cell Lifespan and Telomere Length in Animals Cloned from Senescent Somatic Cells, by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and its collaborators. Prior to publication the journal requires that articles be checked by independent researchers through a scientific peer review process.
Dr. Michael D. West, a pioneer in telomere research and the President and CEO of Advanced Cell Technology, said, "With this research we have shown that it may eventually be possible to improve the quality of life for millions of people. In the U.S. alone, over 64 thousand patients are currently awaiting organ transplantation, and a new name is added to the waiting list every 18 minutes. In addition to patients with heart, liver, and kidney disease, over 16 million patients worldwide suffer from neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Over 140 million patients suffer from diabetes, and millions more from other diseases that may one day be treatable using these new technologies."
In the report, the researchers describe how they used a new cloning technology to literally rewind the aging clock in cells. Virtually all types of body cells, except reproductive cells, contain this aging clock. It consists of a strand of DNA on the end of all chromosomes. These ends are called telomeres and every time a cell divides some of this tail is used up. We thus eventually run out the aging clock until the cells in our bodies stop dividing. This cellular aging phenomenon is known as the "Hayflick Limit."
"This study represents a milestone in our efforts to understand how mammalian longevity is determined," said Leonard Hayflick, Ph.D., Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, discoverer of the aging process in human cells and the man for whom the Hayflick Limit is named. "The oocyte [egg cell] apparently is the rejuvenating environment that makes babies young."
Medical science has long sought a means to turn back the aging clock by returning old cells to their earliest stages of development. If this can be accomplished it will then be possible to regenerate cells and tissues for the repair of age-related disease. The results of previous research indicated that even cloned cells retained the aging clock of the clone donor. For example, scientists that used an alternative cloning technique to create Dolly the cloned sheep that has been so prominently featured in the media, reported that she was actually aging faster and that her cellular aging clock had not been reset by the cloning process.
Today's report in the journal Science describes the cloning of six calves generated from cells at the end of their lifespan. "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," said Dr. Robert P. Lanza , MD, Vice President of Medical and Scientific Development at ACT and first author of the report. The cloned animals, one of which is celebrating her first birthday this week, have telomeres that look like newborn calves despite the fact that they were cloned from senescent cells.
"Our results show that cloning actually has the potential to reverse the aging of cells," said Dr. Lanza. "This has profound implications for treating age-related disease and for understanding the actual mechanisms behind the aging process."
The company's scientific objective in applying cloning to human medicine is to create human stem cells -- the basic primitive cells that ultimately form all the cells in the body. These basic building block cells would then be capable of differentiating into a variety of human cells, such as heart cells, neurons, blood cells or islets for transplant therapies. By demonstrating that the cellular clocks of these stem cells can be reset through the cloning process, ACT has shown that human therapeutic cloning may give scientists the potential to grow young cells, tissues, and organs for an aging population.
"We couldn't be more excited about these results," said Jose Cibelli, Ph.D., Vice President of Research at ACT and an author of the paper. "These new results highlight the importance of the human medical applications of cloning. The ability to produce even a small number of young cells of any type, all of which are genetically identical to a patient and with no transplant rejection problems, may prove lifesaving for a host of age-related disorders."
The researchers of the paper from Advanced Cell Technology, collaborated with scientists from the Terry Fox Laboratory and Cancer Research Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia and the Lankenau Medical Research Center and Wynnewood, PA. Michael D. West, Ph.D., is the senior author of the Science report. His co-authors are Dr. Lanza, Dr. Cibelli, Catherine Blackwell and Nancy Sawyer of ACT, Vincent J. Cristofalo and Mary Kay Francis of the Lankenau Medical Research Center, and Peter Lansdorp, Jennifer Mak, Michael Schertzer and Elizabeth E. Chavez of the Terry Fox Laboratory.
Advanced Cell Technology is a biotechnology company focused on discovering and developing the applications of cloning technology in human medicine, agriculture and veterinary medicine.
Advanced Cell Technology
Michael D. West, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer