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Yes, lamb was the entree

Embryologist Bill Ritchie, who helped devise Dolly the sheep, addresses a Westside gathering on cloning's human applications.

October 27, 2002|Mark Ehrman | Special to The Times

If quality of life for an aging population can be improved through genetic manipulation, then the man of the hour is embryologist Bill Ritchie. The featured speaker at a recent soiree, Ritchie was a clutch member of Dr. Ian Wilmut's Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, which spliced together the chromosomes that, in 1997, resulted in Dolly, the first cloned sheep.

"We have to do something to extend those active vital years," insisted Kay Kimberly Siegel, hostess, socialite and founder of the Siegel Life Project at the UCLA Center on Aging, which she funds to direct research into areas where governments and corporations won't. During the hoopla that followed Dolly's creation, Siegel and her husband, Joseph, visited the Roslin Institute and befriended Ritchie and Wilmot. Siegel now proudly brandishes a photo of herself being kissed by the world's most famous sheep.

When Ritchie finally accepted the couple's open invitation to come visit, the Siegels immediately organized an impromptu dinner party at their Mediterranean-style villa in a development adjacent to Century City. "The guests here are interested in both anti-aging and cloning," Siegel said.

The party invites said Roslin is looking into cloning human embryos, not to make babies, but to harvest stem cells for possible cures of diseases that afflict the elderly.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 14, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 496 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong author -- In the Oct. 27 Calendar, a story about a dinner party for embryologist and cloning expert Bill Ritchie said Kerry Martin was the author of "How Do You Stay So Young?" The book's author is Terry Moore.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 17, 2002 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong author -- A story about a dinner party for embryologist and cloning expert Bill Ritchie in the Oct. 27 Sunday Calendar said Kerry Martin was the author of "How Do You Stay So Young?" The book's author is Terry Moore.

"This may cure Parkinson's," said Kerry Martin, who recently wrote "How Do You Stay So Young?," a distillation of her experience with the likes of Mary Pickford, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, Heather Locklear and "what I learned from each of them about staying young."

"I'm interested in stem cell research and its connection to heart disease and Alzheimer's," said Richard Anderson, who played Lee Majors' boss on "The Six Million Dollar Man."

Also among the 30 or so guests were a contingent of researchers from UCLA and 72-year-old Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, an embodiment of anti-aging himself, who demonstrated remarkable spryness back in September by clocking a Bible-brandishing skeptic who demanded that the former NASA astronaut publicly swear he walked on the moon. In a room of black tie and pink chiffon, Aldrin, who attended with wife Lois, wore a moon-and-star-pattern tie, his way of "showing the colors."

The guest of honor showed colors of his own. While clothed in conventionally formal uppers, below the midsection, the bearded Edinburgh resident sported a hunting Stewart tartan, woolen knee socks and a pair of ventilated black ghillies brogues. He entertained the gathering with an easy-to-follow slide show presentation, depicting the tools and methods of gene splicing.

The photos of Dolly elicited a collective swoon even though everyone's belly was still full of the lamb dinner. ("I just told the caterer to bring what he brought to our last party," Siegel explained. "I didn't think about the lamb.")

During Q&A, Red Buttons asked, "Should I clone my William Morris agent so there'll be someone else to answer my phone calls?" Everyone laughed. The embryologist took the clone-clowning in stride but drew the line at his country's other renowned creature. "I won't talk about the Loch Ness monster," he said.

More serious questions followed about re-engineering endangered species, the difficulties in transplanting old cells and the current applications for human diseases. Ritchie described how sheep are cloned to produce milk with a clotting protein for human hemophiliacs and discussed how transgenic animals are used to harvest human organs -- the rest of the human applications are years if not decades away. "At the moment," Ritchie said (which, with his thick accent, sounds to an American ear like "at the moo-ment"), "we stop at cloning human beings. It's far too dangerous."

But not everyone caught the message. "It really is the fountain of youth," someone gushed.

For Marilyn and Harry Lewis, owners of the restaurants Kate Mantilini and the Gardens of Glendon, the information presented was stimulating but hardly the answer to any prayers. "I'm sort of glad I'll be checking out soon," Marilyn Lewis said. "I don't want to be here when people are 200 years old with borrowed body parts, thank you very much. I've had very good life."

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