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Scientists Discover Potential Secret of Aging in Cloning Technique

Aired April 27, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Researchers report a potential milestone in the age-old search for a fountain of youth, and they'll be the first to admit they don't fully understand how it all works. One day, scientists say they may be able to use cloning techniques to treat age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's and arthritis -- in short, cloning new age-defiant cells to replace diseased, dying cells.

Here's CNN medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These scientists believe they may have unlocked one of the secrets of aging.

DR. ROBERT LANZA, ADVANCED CELL TECHNOLOGY, INC.: What we have shown for the first time is that cloning can take old cells backwards in time and restore them to a youthful state. Not only were we able to generate young, healthy calves using the cloning procedure, but also young, healthy cells.

ROWLAND: Researchers report in the journal "Science" that cells grown to the end of their life span were put back into eggs to produce six cloned calves. The scientists measured a tiny part of the calves' chromosomes called telomeres, which grow shorter as a cell ages.

LANZA: And when we measured these animals -- the telomeres of these animals, we actually show that those telomeres were much longer than normal. In fact, in many cases they were longer than in newborn calves.

ROWLAND: Researchers say by rewinding the clock in human cells, they could eventually develop new medical treatments.

DOUGLAS WALLACE, CTR. FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE, EMORY UNIV.: So that's what's exciting. If we can reset the telomere program, then the cells could grow longer and we could get enough cells to do the kind of therapeutics that I think people would like to see.

ROWLAND: For instance, the cells could be used to grow replacement parts, a new heart or liver for transplantation, or tissues that could halt degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes. (on camera): Still, not all scientists are convinced that increasing the length of telomeres in the calves will increase life span. They say living longer is determined by a number of factors, and telomeres may be just one.

WALLACE: We can make no prediction on the life span of these calves. And, obviously, what needs to be done is to have a lot of these calves and then look to see if their mean life span is longer or shorter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLAND: The study's researchers agree, but say because the cells appear youthful, the calves may have a better chance of warding off the damage that comes with age. And if the technology can be used to one day protect the cells we rely on to function physically and mentally, we may have longer, healthier lives -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right, if these can work for the cows, can it work for us?

ROWLAND: Well, perhaps theoretically -- and I must emphasize theoretically. And perhaps this could be done in one of several ways. As we mentioned, one way is to come up with these new replacement parts. So say your heart starts to wear out. Maybe they could grow up some cells and come up with a patch to put on the heart, or maybe grow a whole new heart and you could have that until the rest of your parts wear out.

Other researchers think, one day, we could all take a pill that would actually lengthen our telomeres. And another possibility that is very controversial is that maybe you could use a fertility technique like in vitro fertilization and put these new cells in to maybe double our life span. Again, these are all very theoretical, way off. But the important thing is that we are starting to understand better why and how we age.

ALLEN: Well, it's certainly getting more interesting, isn't it.

ROWLAND: Certainly is.

ALLEN: All right, Rhonda, thanks very much.

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