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Fountain of Youth

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How eccentric geniuses and former presidents built a peerless reputation for an exclusive clinic. A story of life, near-death, and possibly resurrection via sheep fetus

There exists certain cells in our bodies that neither age nor die. By tapping into these, the older and aging cells could be regenerated back to health. It is for this reason that harnessing stem cells can be likened to the fountain of youth, where what has willowed through the years is restored. The original concept of stem cell therapy is cells are harvested from your body’s fat or bone marrow. Fresh cell therapy, on the other hand, uses an animal’s. Specifically, cells reaped from the fetus of a sheep.

The process is sometimes called live cell therapy, other times lamb cell therapy. And for the more familiar, simply just Villa Medica, one of the most famous fresh cell therapy clinics in Germany.

Why sheep?
Bobby Kittichaiwong, CEO of Villa Medica, who was in Manila to bolster the hospital’s profile, explained during an interview with China Business Philippines how it could be a rabbit, a pig, or a cow. But rabbits are too small, pigs are unsanitary scavengers, and cows are too big and there’s mad cow disease to deal with. So sheep it is.

Before you cry selective animal cruelty, the story of fresh cell therapy’s origins needs to be told and it is as good as any medical thriller you can come across.

Deadly Goiter
In 1931, a patient came in at a clinic in Lausanne, Switzerland for a goiter growth, a nagging problem among the alpine Swiss population and neighboring regions. Removing it was a routine operation assigned to a young doctor. But in the course of the surgery the inexperienced doctor accidentally nicked the parathyroid gland, sending the patient into shock and then coma, with the inevitability of death if drastic measures were not taken.

The medical director of the clinic at that time, Professor de Quervain, could only think of one possible solution and that was to give the patient a goiter transplant. He knew only one person who could perform it. That person was Dr Paul Niehans.

He was elusive, mysterious, and preferred to remain isolated in his laboratory. Despite his hermetic tendencies, Niehans was grudgingly regarded a genius by his peers. With the goiter patient deteriorating rapidly, de Quervain sought the good Dr Niehans to perform the transplant. But Niehans was an unlikely choice. If we are to believe the rumors surrounding his behavior, he did not bother changing his clothes to perform the task. Instead he went to a slaughterhouse to get himself the parathyroid gland of a calf.

A parathyroid gland transplant, being a complicated operation, takes four hours. As with most geniuses when pressed for time, Dr Niehans started cooking pieces of the calf’s gland, mashing it and then injecting it into the patient.

Print ed: 04/13

 

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