Doc Svendsen's Tailored Genes
For a number of years we here at KS&A have been lucky enough to work on the promotion of the annual Cedars Sinai Board of Governors Gala. For the last two years, the Gala has benefited the Regenerative Medicine Institute at Cedars, and allowed me to learn more about the remarkable director of the Institute, Dr. Clive Svendsen. Discoveries and advances in regenerative medical science and gene therapy are announced with increasing frequency these days, and I have to admit – I am not sure the science and math side of my brain is fully wired. Gene therapy, not pharmaceuticals, may be the ultimate key to treating and curing diseases, cell renewal, organ regrowth and perhaps the reversal of aging itself – and I flunked bio chemistry my junior year! The science is fascinating and seems ripped from the pages of science fiction, but the theory and procedures can be challenging material for a non-scientist like me. Enter Dr. Clive Svendsen, world renowned stem cell research scientist; he has a gift for presenting and discussing regenerative medical science and gene therapy with the layman.
Clive Svendsen, PhD, Director of Cedars-Sinai's Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute is one of the world’s foremost research scientists in gene therapy, exploring novel treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Crohn's, Battens but his path to preeminence in this very specific field, was unconventional. He grew up in the tiny coastal village of Sidmouth in Devon, England. Son of a botanist, he developed an early fascination with photosynthesis. He loves to sail, he speaks Japanese, he's written an unpublished science crime thriller called Genesis. A former employer at a medical equipment company in Japan said "Svendsen was fantastic at explaining something that was brand new and very complicated to just about anybody". Svendsen is known for his sense of humor and once said if he hadn't been a neuroscientist, he might have been a lumberjack. (oh man… all this and a Monty Python reference!).
For more than 20 years, Dr. Svendsen has been at the forefront of regenerative medical research and has seen stem cell research go "from rare, to ubiquitous". Often spearheading those studies, Svendsen has written or contributed to more than 80 scientific papers (80!!!). More recently, Dr. Svendsen has led research of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) created from skin cells that are “reprogramed” to create any of 250 types of cells in the human body – allowing scientists to sidestep some of the ethical issues of embryonic stem cell use. From these easily acquired cells scientists can create customized gene therapy specific to the cell donor. Entire, functioning organs can be grown in laboratory conditions. The potential is literally awesome; right now Svendsen and his colleagues are close to a procedure that may provide a diabetic with a new, healthy, customized pancreas to reduce or eliminate the need for insulin shots. Svendsen seems to envision a future where aging may be obsolete and death optional. Physicist Stephen Hawking, arguably the most famous ALS patient alive, met with Svendsen and toured his research facility in 2013. To quote Hawking, “If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way…be curious.” Note to self: Re-watch The Theory of Everything and take notes.