- The quest for eternal youth is the stuff of legend and
poetry. But since we live in a more prosaic age than Achilles (who ate
lions' hearts and the marrow of bears), we seek out a suitably secluded
clinic in southern Germany or Switzerland, write a fat cheque for the Herr
Doktor, and receive with a sharp jab in the rump an injection of foetal
cells from a sheep or a calf.
- The therapy has been tried on the likes of Fidel Castro
(the world's longest ruling Communist), Nelson Mandela (still dancing in
his seventies), Konrad Adenauer (German Chancellor in his eighties) and
Marlene Dietrich (who lived into her nineties). Winston Churchill was given
rejuvenation treatment in Switzerland.
- Secrecy always cloaks the therapy. Now it is again the
source of controversy. The German authorities have decided to ban so-called
fresh cell therapy as being potentially dangerous.
- The clinic directors and doctors of the Black Forest
are protesting and have taken the Government to the Constitutional Court
- Fresh cell therapy involves taking foetal cells from
the donor animal and - within 20 to 30 minutes - injecting them directly
into the patient. The treatment draws on ancient medical tradition. Pliny
the Elder records that impotent Romans used to eat the bladders of young
wild boar. Paracelsus, the revolutionary medical thinker of the late Middle
Ages, acted according to the principle similia similibus curantur - like
heals like. Patients with heart problems ingest animal hearts, kidney
patients eat kidneys. But modern fresh cell treatment is based on the work
of the Swiss surgeon Paul Niehans and Switzerland remains the bubbling
fountain of youth.
- In 1931 Niehans was called to help a dying peasant woman
suffering from tetania, rigidity of the muscles. An inexperienced colleague
had just removed the woman's parathyroid gland. Niehans took the gland
of an animal and injected the fluid directly into the woman's breast muscle.
She recovered. Niehans was well connected, and his method quickly became
fashionable.After he treated Pope Pius XII, the aristocracy of Europe beat
a path to his door, or more precisely to his Montreux clinic.
- There are now four Swiss clinics offering cell therapy
and since the crackdown in Germany they are flooded with patients willing
to pay up to £8,000 for a six-day stay with four injections in the
- The claims of the cell therapists have become slightly
more cautious over the years. They promise chiefly to boost the immune
system and counter the symptoms of ageing; the injections work against
tiredness, lack of energy and memory failure. The Swiss clinics treat
more than 2,000 well-padded patients a year.
- The German authorities say - on the basis of reports
from the respected Robert Koch Institute, the Paul Ehrlich Institute and
many leading doctors - that people could die as a result of fresh cell
treatment. Risks include over-reaction as a result of introducing protein
from a different species. And, hovering over the whole debate, there is
the fear that some variant of "mad cow" disease could be passed
on through the doctor's syringe.
- The Swiss clinics have moved quicker than their German
counterparts to refine the techniques and shield themselves from accusations
of quackery. The Niehans clinic in Vevey uses only deep frozen cells while
the Lemina clinic uses a specially patented stabiliser to preserve cells
from 32 different organs.
- There have been some American experiments using cells
from human foetuses - strictly forbidden in Switzerland and Germany. At
Duke University in North Carolina researchers have injected young cells
from a leg muscle into weak hearts. Seven out of 12 of the test patients
showed improved circulation and a few registered four-times stronger heart
activity. The patients, however, were rabbits.