Biologist and medical researcher
Born Robert Paul Lanza, February 11, 1956, in Stoughton, MA. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1978, M.D., 1983.
Office—Advanced Cell Technology, One Innovation Dr., Biotech Three, Worcester, MA 01605.
Researcher in the lab of Gerald Edelman, Rockefeller University, 1976; moved to the Salk Institute, 1978; became senior scientist at Biohybrid Technologies, 1990–93; clinical associate professor in surgery, Tufts University, Boston, MA, 1994–95; vice president of medical and scientific development, Advanced Cell Technology, 1999—.
Dr. Robert Lanza is a medical researcher at the forefront of headline–making developments in cloning and organ transplantation. Lanza, who works for a private biotechnology firm called Advanced Cell Technology, has cloned extinct and near–extinct mammals. He cloned a guar, an endangered oxlike Asian animal, in 2001, and in 2003 cloned a rare South Asian cowlike creature called a banteng. The guar died within days of its birth, but the banteng, born out of an Iowa farm cow, survived and lives at the San Diego zoo. Lanza is also involved in so–called xenotransplantation, the science of transplanting cells, tissues or organs from one species into another. Lanza wrote a book for a general audience on the subject. He also edited a book about world health problems, eliciting contributions from leading scientists and from luminaries such as former United States president Jimmy Carter and former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros–Ghali.
Lanza was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts, south of Boston, in 1956. As a child he was always interested in animals. Once he healed the leg of an injured rooster and kept it as a pet. He credits a high school science teacher with encouraging him to go to college and study biology. Only two of his four siblings made it through high school, so going to the University of Pennsylvania was a big step for Lanza. He earned a degree in biology in 1978. Lanza stayed at Pennsylvania for a medical degree, which he completed in 1983. Along the way he studied with many prestigious scientists. While still an undergraduate, he worked in the laboratory of Gerald Edelman, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1972 for his work on the chemical structure of antibodies. Lanza won a Fulbright fellowship, which sent him to Oxford University in England. There he worked with Rodney Porter, who had shared Edelman's Nobel. Lanza later also worked with Richard Hynes, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and with the eminent Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner. He also worked with Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the pioneer of heart transplantation. Lanza co–authored research papers with Skinner and Barnard, and a year after receiving his medical degree he published a book on heart transplantation.
Lanza's interests were broad. He combined a love for animals with a flair for medicine, coupled with an overarching concern for the environment and the ultimate fate of the world's creatures. In the early 1990s Lanza worked as senior scientist at a Boston biotechnology firm called Biohybrid Technologies. The company specialized in diabetes research, particularly in the development of an artificial pancreas. Between 1994 and 1995 he worked as a professor of surgery at Boston's Tufts University. All the time he continued to write. He published a book called Medical Science and the Advancement of World Health in 1985, and then published a three–volume series on pancreatic islet transplantation in 1994. His next book, though, was something of a departure. Lanza solicited essays from dozens of scientists as well as politicians for a compilation called One World: The Health and Survival of the Human Species in the 21st Century. The book was intended to provide a multi-faceted glimpse of pressing global problems, with hope for finding solutions. Lanza's contributors included some of the world's best–known scientists, such as Jonas Salk, discoverer of the polio vaccine; Lanza's former mentor, Christiaan Barnard; the essayist Carl Sagan, and leading AIDS researchers Robert Gallo and Luc Mantagnier. One World ranged well beyond sheerly medical problems, discussing subjects such as population growth, global warming, the education of women, and the role of poverty in disease.
Lanza followed this tome with another academic medical text, this one on tissue transplantation, and then put out another book for a more general audience in 2000, Xeno: The Promise of Transplanting Animal Organs into Humans (with co–author David Cooper). Xeno discussed the range of issues raised by animal transplants, as well as the fascinating history of the science. The book covered the medical challenges of xenotransplantation, explained animal and human immune systems, and attempted to sort out the ethics of using animals in this way. In July of 2004, Lanza's two–volume set, Handbook of Stem Cells, was published.
In 1999, Lanza began working for another Boston–area private biotechnology company, Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (ACT). He was vice president of medical and scientific development at the firm, which specialized in cloning and stem cell research. The company was formed in 1994, and it was responsible for several advances in cloning. In 1998 ACT announced it had successfully cloned two calves, named Charlie and George, and later that year the company claimed it had treated Parkinson's disease in rats using fetal brain cells from cloned cows. When Lanza joined the company, ACT began to work on cloning endangered animals. This was both exciting and controversial research.
Lanza argued that cloning endangered animals was one way of conserving them. Lanza began work in 2000 on cloning a guar, a kind of wild ox from Southeast Asia that was on the verge of extinction. Lanza inserted DNA from a dead guar into an altered egg from a domestic cow. He fertilized the egg with a chemical process, and the fertile egg was then implanted into the cow. In 2000, Lanza's lab brought the guar to a late stage of fetal development, but it wasn't until the next year that a cloned guar survived through birth. The cloned guar, named Noah, was born in January of 2001, but it died within two days. Lanza claimed its death was due to dysentery, and probably had little to do with the fact that the animal was a clone.
Lanza's lab also began work on cloning a Spanish mountain goat called the bucardo. Whereas the guar was endangered, the very last bucardo had died in 2000. The Spanish government contracted with ACT to try to clone a bucardo using preserved tissue. Some conservationists thought Lanza's approach to saving endangered animals was of little use. All the money it cost to bring a clone to life did little to preserve the endangered animal's habitat. So cloning seemed to some a narrow–minded approach to conservation. But Lanza argued that if there were only a few individuals left in an endangered species, cloning was an important way to ensure that the species continued to exist. The bucardo was a good example, as there were none left in the wild. The South China tiger was another example. There were only 30 South China tigers known to exist as of 2003.
Lanza had more success in 2003, when he successfully cloned a cow–like animal from Southeast Asia, the banteng. Like Noah, the ill–fated guar, Stockings the banteng was born out of an ordinary dairy cow. Stockings survived and was moved to the San Diego zoo, where he grew to more than 300 pounds. Lanza encouraged zoos to freeze genetic material from rare animals, so that more could be cloned in the future. Lanza hoped to possibly clone a giant panda, of which there were only a thousand left by 2003. The cloned panda's host would presumably be a black bear. Another possibility would be to clone the Texas Ocelot, an extremely rare wildcat found in Mexico and the southwestern United States. Its host would be the common domestic cat.
Cloning endangered animals was only the most sensational part of Lanza's work. He continued to research cloning for human medical advancement at ACT. Lanza thought the health risks were too immense to consider cloning humans, but he believed that cloning and stem cell research might lead to effective new therapies for a variety of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, and diabetes.
Heart Transplantation (ed., with D.K.C. Cooper), MTP Press, 1984.
Medical Science and the Advancement of World Health, Praeger, 1985.
Procurement of Pancreatic Islets, R.G. Landes Co., 1994.
Immunomodulation of Pancreatic Islets, Springer Verlag, 1994.
Pancreatic Islet Transplantation: Immunoisolation of Pancreatic Islets, Dimensions, 1994.
One World: The Health and Survival of the Human Species in the 21st Century, Health Press, 1996.
Principles of Tissue Engineering (ed., with R. Langer and W. L. Chick), R.G. Landes, 1997.
Cell Encapsulation Technology and Therapeutics, (ed., with W. Kuhtreiber and W.L. Chick), Birkhauser, 1999.
Xeno: The Promise of Transplanting Animal Organs into Humans (with David Cooper), Oxford University Press, 2000.
Methods of Tissue Engineering (ed., with A. Atala), Academic Press, 2002.
Handbook of Stem Cells, Academic Press, 2004.
American Scientist, May 2000, p. 270.
Bioscience, March 1997, p. 193.
New Scientist, May 20, 2000, p. 48; January 19, 2002, p. 9.
Newsweek, October 23, 2000, p. 76.
People, September 8, 2003, pp. 89–90.