cover image THE IMMORTAL CELL: One Scientist's Daring Quest to Solve the Mystery of Human Aging

THE IMMORTAL CELL: One Scientist's Daring Quest to Solve the Mystery of Human Aging

H. W. Brands, Michael West, . . Doubleday, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-385-50928-2

West was once asked by a journalist: "Just what does it mean to play God?" The author, whose controversial career in therapeutic cloning has been chronicled extensively by the media, seeks to respond in a brisk memoir that describes a boy who sought answers to mortality in his Protestant faith and eventually took matters into his own hands as a scientist-entrepreneur. He describes his founding of Geron, the first biotech firm to seek a "cure" for human aging, and his decision to leave for his current venture, Advanced Cell Technology. He continues with the media firestorm surrounding ACT's crafting of stem cells from cloned embryos, which plays out under the shadow of President Bush's decision to curb stem-cell research, and finishes with the argument that to ban potential therapies before they are tested is to abort progress in medical research. Along the way, he gives a primer on cell theory, genomics and the basics of aging, but it's all drowned in the thin gruel of a campaign book. West glosses over his embattled departure from Geron in about two pages, citing his messianic calling to deny death, and gives the ACT controversy, one of the most interesting parts of the story, relatively short shrift. To get the full story, one would do better to pick up Stephen S. Hall's Merchants of Immortality (Forecasts, May 5), which fills in the holes left by West. West writes like the Big Money science pitchman he is—but many will agree with his position on the necessity for stem-cell research. (On sale Sept. 16)