He has written numerous textbooks, was part of the team that cloned the first human embryo and is now vice president of research and scientific development with Alameda-based biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology Inc.
So, when Lanza released a paper in August in the scientific journal Nature about a method where new stem cell lines and therapies could be created without destroying embryos, as a scientist he felt as if he struck gold.
But after an initial positive response, the article received a horde of negative attention. Some felt misled because while the study's method was described, the paper didn't clearly state that ultimately all of the remaining cells were destroyed.
To appease the critics, last week Nature released a second version of the story in which specific clarifications were added to the paper. Among the changes was the phrase, "In this proof of principle study ..." to emphasize that it was a process being illustrated.
Still, the clarification reaffirmed that Advanced Cell's technique was scientifically sound, Lanza said.
Lanza said Monday that it's important to note that the remaining cells were destroyed because the original article was submitted in April and not published until four months later. Lanza believes that the remaining embryonic cells could have continued to be developed, but at the time he did not think that was necessary to prove the study.
"The political forces out here succeeded
Initially, the attention the 37-employee company received was positive because both media and fellow scientists felt Advanced Cell Technology had addressed many people's ethical concerns involving human embryonic stem cells.
"The major objection of all human embryonic stem cell methods is you're destroying an embryo, so I was thinking, `Well here we go, now we have a way of doing it without destroying the embryo,"' Lanza said. "We felt we had the solution."
But then came the backlash.
"This is one of those things where joy was suddenly replaced with disbelief by what was going on," said Lanza, who has written a textbook on stem cell research and studied as a student in the lab of polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk.
In September before a Senate subcommittee, Lanza was blasted by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who said, "It's a black eye if scientists are making false and inaccurate representations."
Lanza hopes that now, with the new paper, Advanced Cell can put the politics behind it and focus on what he loves, the science of stem cell research.
John McCamant, editor of Medical Technology Stock Letter in Berkeley, would like to see more clinical research from the company because there's not a lot of data investors can latch onto now.
Shares of Advanced Cell Technology are currently trading over-the-counter. On Monday, shares closed at 88 cents, unchanged during the day.
"Without anything in the clinical trial process, it's really difficult to figure out how to value a company like this," McCamant said.
Business Writer David Morrill can be reached at (925) 416-4805 and firstname.lastname@example.org.