Internationally re-nowned researcher Dr. Robert P. Lanza will speak about the use of cloning and stem cells in both medicine and conservation – including the potential of resurrecting endangered and extinct animals – at the Community College of Rhode Island tonight.
His presentation, “Cloning, Stem Cells and the Future of Life,” will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bobby Hackett Theater at the Knight Campus, 400 East Ave., Warwick.
Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology and an adjunct professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, is considered to be one of the world’s leading scientists, with hundreds of publications and inventions and more than 30 scientific books published to his credit. He will give the audience a glimpse into new techniques and tools – some already in the works, some to be revealed in the not-too-distant future – that have the power to save lives and change the world.
“I want people to see the coming revolution, to see what’s possible,” he said in a release. “I think these new technologies are going to inspire people, and give them hope.”
In 2001, Lanza was the first to clone an endangered species when he cloned a gaur, which is an animal in the ox family that can be found (rarely) in India, Indochina and Southeast Asia.
In 2003, he followed up that success by cloning another endangered wild ox, this one a banteng, from frozen skin cells collected from an animal that had died more than a decade earlier at the San Diego Zoo. Despite the fact that DNA degrades over time, Lanza said there were now sophisticated technologies that could “complete the picture,” penciling in the rest of the genome map where information has gone missing, making it possible to produce these cells from older specimens.
No matter what you think of the ethical issues surrounding cloning, said Lanza, the science has the potential to right some wrongs done to endangered species at the hands of the very people who could now save them.
“I’m very involved in conservation biology. I’m in favor of using this for animals that are going to go extinct if we don’t help them. The banteng, for example, was being shot to death. I think we have a responsibility, if the habitat is still there, to give them a fighting chance,” said Lanza.
Lanza also will discuss how stem cells can generate red blood cells, which could potentially create an ever-flowing source of blood for transfusions. Lanza noted that one of the advantages of these cells is that they could be used to create tissue that its host would not reject.
Under all of the successful science is the desire to help others, to make the world a better place. Lanza said that as a medical student, he was faced nearly every day with deaths that seemed senseless. The death of his sister in the emergency room following a traumatic car crash when there was a shortage of platelets for transfusion, as well as his father, who died of a pulmonary lung disease, only further stoked his fires.
“There should be something we can do about this. I want to save people and I’m doing what I can. I think that a little bit of effort from me as a small person can probably help a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of these people in the audience at the college will see some of this in their lifetimes. It’s going to revolutionize medicine and, hopefully, they won’t have to suffer some of the things I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
The lecture is free and open to the public, with support provided by the CCRI Foundation, Human Services Club-Flanagan Campus and the Biology Department. For more information about the lecture, call 825-2400.