Germany Bans 'Live Cell'
Therapy That
'Holds Back' Aging
By Roger Boyes in Berlin
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 in Karlsruhe.
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 rump.
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.


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