The Legacy of Dolly the Sheep May Be Your Future Health

The first mammal cloned from an adult cell, Dolly the sheep. In 1997, The Roslin Institute introduced Dolly to the world. It caused a frenzy of attention. In the twenty-five years since Dolly’s birth, we have cloned many more species of animals with little fanfare. In February 2021, scientists announced they’d successfully cloned the first U.S. endangered species, the black-footed ferret. The ferret is just one part of Dolly’s legacy. The other part of the legacy of Dolly the sheep may be your future health.

Photo of preserved Dolly the Sheep part of a DNA exhibit at  in Edinburgh's Royal Museum. This is also part of Dolly's Legacy.

The Life of Dolly the Cloned Sheep

Born on July 5th 1996, Dolly’s white face confirmed she was a clone. The black-faced surrogate ewe who birthed her could not be her genetic mother.

Scientists tested Dolly’s DNA when she was one. They discovered that her DNA telomeres (end caps) were shorter than expected. Scientists thought that since the cells used to create Dolly came from an adult sheep may have caused the abnormality. They thought the adult cells somehow prevented her telomeres from developing normally.

At two, Dolly mated with a Welsh Mountain ram called David. Dolly gave birth to a female lamb in 1998,. She had twin lambs the next year and triplets in 2000.

In September 2000, Dolly was one of several sheep at The Institute that came down with a sheep retro virus (JSRV). The virus causes lung cancer in sheep.

They diagnosed Dolly with arthritis in 2001 and treated her with anti-inflammatory medications, but never found a cause for her arthritis.

She developed lung cancer and euthanized on February 14, 2003. She was a young six years old. The average life expectancy of her variety of sheep is 11-12. Many feared clones aged faster or didn’t start from age zero.

Dolly’s Legacy—Cloning Endangered Species

Photograph of a wild black-footed ferret. Cloning this endangered species is also part of the legacy of Dolly the sheep

Black-footed ferrets are the only ferret species native to North America. They are also one of North America’s most endangered species. estimates there are approximate 370 black-footed ferrets in the wild today.
Those 370 ferrets are the descendants of seven closely related animals. That lack of genetic diversity will lead to the extinction of these ferrets.

That’s why the February 18, 2021 announcement by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s breeding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado, caused such excitement.

Elizabeth Ann, a black-footed ferret was born on December 10. She was cloned from the frozen remains of a ferret named Willa who died in 1988. If conservationists can reintroduce genetic diversity to the black-footed ferret population, they may prevent the species extinction. They may prevent future extinction if scientists can manipulate the genes to help the animals survive the diseases that endanger them today.

Conservationists and animal lovers celebrate this possibility. But in my post, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I discuss the potential pitfalls of conservation genetics. But conservation genetics is only part of Dolly’s legacy.

Dolly’s Legacy-Rejuvination

image of three strands of DNA colored light blue against a dark blue field. The DNA research done is part of the legacy of Dolly the sheep

An article written in 2016, reported that Dolly had four “sisters” born in 2004. They cloned these sheep from the same genetic material used to clone Dolly. Dolly’s “sisters” are unlike the Azrael in The Fellowship Dystopia series of novels. They were a healthy old age of nine in 2016. The only difference between them and Dolly is that they are kept outside instead of in a barn 24/7.

Scientists confirmed that all signs of biological and chronological age matched between cloned and non-cloned sheep.

There seems to be a natural built-in mechanism in the eggs that can rejuvenate a cell.

If scientists can discover this mechanism, it may lead to cures for many diseases.

Will You Benefit from Dolly’s Legacy?

If scientists could manipulate your genes with a simple treatment or vaccination that cured or prevented diseases like cancer, dementia, arthritis, or chronic pain—would you take the treatment? A huge part of the legacy of Dolly the Sheep may be your future health.

Type 1 Diabetes Research-What You Need to Know

Recently researchers at LJI reported they prevented beta cell deaths in mice by blocking nerve signals to the pancreas. Why is this important? They may be one step closer to understanding what causes diabetes. The hope is that understanding will lead to a cure. This is what you need to know.

What is the Pancreas?

Your pancreas is about six inches long. It lies in the back of the abdomen, on your right side behind your liver. The pancreas creates a cocktail of juices called enzymes.  These enzymes travel from the pancreas through a duct to the upper part of your intestine. There they break down the food you eat into fats, proteins, and starches.

Your pancreas also produces hormones that carry messages to other parts of your body. (Read more about the pancreas.)

One hormone the healthy pancreas makes is insulin. It makes insulin in specialized cells called beta cells.

What is Type I Diabetes

Image of symbols of syringe with need, pills, diabetic supplies, and medical symbols-type 1 diabetes-what you need to know
Allanakhan123 / CC BY-SA

Nearly 1.6 million Americans have a life-threatening, but treatable condition. Their beta cells die. When their beta cells die, their bodies do not produce insulin. It happens in every race, gender, and body size and shape. Even mammals can have type I diabetes.

Without insulin, you will fall ill within hours. If the high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) isn’t treated you will die. Death comes in days or may take as long as two weeks, depending on your general health and blood sugar levels. (Read more about diabetic ketoacidosis.)

There is no cure for diabetes. People who have type I diabetes must take insulin. Patients manage the disease with medication, a healthy lifestyle and diet and careful monitoring of the blood sugars. Type 1 diabetics can and do live long and happy lives. (Read more about how to manage diabetes.)

How do You Get Diabetes?

We know the beta cells of the pancreas produce insulin for the body. And we know insulin is essential for our body to turn the food we eat into energy for the cells of our body.

In type 1 Diabetics, the cells of the pancreas that make insulin die off. This dying off can be a long process that takes years before the person knows it’s a problem. It can appear at any age from newborn to a senior of advanced age.

While risk factors for type 1 diabetes include genetic and environmental factors, researchers don’t know why the disease seems to attack at random. Some scientists believe an autoimmune response may be what’s killing those cells. Autoimmune response is where the cells meant to fight off infection attack other cells in your body. In this case, your beta cells. (Read more about the possible causes of type 1 diabetes.)

The Research

image of white mouse in gloved hands--type 1 diabetes-what you need to know

Researchers at the LaJolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) are working to uncover the cause of type 1 diabetes. They’ve noticed that the beta cells in a diabetic’s pancreas die off in patches. Some areas have large patches that die and other areas are untouched.

There are many theories about why this occurs. Inadequate blood supply, an attack by a virus, and an autoimmune response are some theories.

They turned to a new field called neuroimmunology, which is the idea that nerve signals can affect immune cells. Could nerve cells drive immune cells to attack the pancreas?

They induced beta cell death in mice. Some mice weren’t untreated, some received beta blockers, and some were “denervated.” 

Denervation is a chemical or physical block that prevents nerve messages to pass. The block can be temporary (often used today in surgeries) or permanent. Here, they surgically cut the nerve or inject it with a neurotoxin or a medication that blocks nerve signals. Then they “used LJI’s world-class imaging facility to track the pattern of beta cell death in living mice.”

The “denervated” mice did not experience beta cell death. “It was like the pancreas had gone dark and  immune cells were unable to find their targets.”

They’ve Just Started

They need to do a lot more testing and research to confirm that this works.

But these results suggest that other autoimmune diseases may benefit from denervation. Arthritis, vitiligo, and lupus erythematosus are a few of the many autoimmune diseases. (Read more about autoimmune disease. )

Before this method can be used on humans, doctors first need a reliable way to predict who was at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. 

And, I’m guessing, there will need to be more research about the effects of denervation on other functions of the pancreas.

Science Provides Slow Hope

What you need to know is that it will take years to explore this treatment and its consequences. Perhaps it will also take years before people accept it as a preventative. You may remember that my niece has type 1 diabetes. Would I recommend she be an early adopter? My answer would depend on information they discover between now and then. If you knew positively that you or your child would develop type 1 diabetes, would you ask for permanent denervation?

How Long Do You Want to Live?

If you could choose, how long do you want to live? To 100, 200, 500 years of age? Perhaps your answer is, it depends—will I be healthy?

Photo of a wrinkled old woman smiling at the question how long would you want to live.

By the end of this decade, nearly 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. Three out of 4 will have two or more serious health conditions. At least 1 in 4 can expect memory lapses and fuzzy thinking, while 1 in 10 will develop dementia.

You’re not part of the generation known as the Boomers? Don’t worry. You’ll age, too. 

Aging-Factors that Cause Disease

The research is extensive. And unfortunately, there isn’t just one thing that leads to age-related diseases. There are many: inflammation; a metabolism system that doesn’t work right; inactive stem cells; stress-related damage, environmental toxins, and more. These problems of aging cells lead to diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and cancer.

Fortunately, there’s been a “perfect storm” in anti-aging research. All kinds of treatments for age-related illnesses are moving into or already in clinical trials. They aim to make us grow old in better health. If you could grow old in good health, how long do you want to live?

Anti-Aging Research

A new class of anti-aging drugs called senolytics may give future you the opportunity to choose.

Senolytics remove certain cells that accumulate as we age. The cells create a low level of inflammation that blocks normal mechanisms of cellular repair. These cells, called senescent cells, create a toxic neighborhood for your cells. 

Halting Osteoarthritis

Image of the bones of the knee with inflammation at the knee joint

The goal of Unity Biotechnology, a biotechnology company in California, is to “halt, slow or reverse age-associated diseases, while restoring human health.” Their lead product is a treatment for osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. It passed the Phase I clinical trial in patients with moderate-to-severe OA of the knee in June 2019. The patients in the clinical trial tolerated the single injection well and showed improvement in pain and in function of the knee. They will publish the results of the Phase II clinical trial within the next six months.

Age-Related Respiratory Illnesses

Winter colds, flu, pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections that send over 1 million older adults to the hospital every year and kill more than 75,000. And that was before Covid.

In studies of more than 900 people by a Boston-based biotech company, their drug reduced the risk for age-related cases of respiratory diseases. Statistically clinical trial patients had 31 percent fewer respiratory infections — (colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia). Those with asthma had 68 percent fewer infections. People 85 and older had 67 percent fewer infections. There were fewer severe infections, too.

This drug works differently. It inhibiting an enzyme that regulates growth and metabolism in cells but goes into hyper-drive during the aging process.

A Phase 3 study of this drug started in 2019. If its results are as positive, the FDA could approve the drug for use as early as in 2021.

Other Age-Related Research

would you take these capsules every day if you could then decide how long you would

There are tons of research being done in age-related illnesses. Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease, is one of them with some promising results.

A drug commonly used in other countries to control diabetes in human patients also has shown promising anti-aging effects.

And there are many more drugs with the promise of having anti-aging effect.

They need more research and testing to be certain, but treatments for things we thought inevitable may be just around the corner. 

How Long Do You Want to Live?

If age-related diseases weren’t an issue, how long do you want to live? Even if these drugs don’t extend your life for another hundred years, you could live to be a healthy 85 or 100. How would that change society? Would we still retire at 65? What would happen to Social Security? How much retirement money would we need to live another 35 or 40 healthy years? So many questions that need answers. Health at 85 sounds pretty good. How long do you want to live? Would you take a pill or two if it guaranteed you’d be healthy at 85?

A New Skin. Will You Wear It?

The army deployed Susan thousands of miles from home. Her three-year-old son misses her. On their once-a-week video call, he cries when he hears her voice. She rubs his back and calms him. How did she do that? Biotechnology. A new skin. Will you wear it?

Image of two smart phones with hands coming out of them, pointer fingers about to touch. Haptic skin is a new skin that may make that image virtually real.

The First Attempts

For years, scientists, technology experts, and DIYers have tried to create wearable haptic devices. Haptic means relating to or based on the sense of touch.

Early devices required huge batteries for power sources. That made them too heavy to wear or limited by wires to and from the batteries. Many were so bulky so they hung loose and so failed to convey the touch.

You are probably familiar with one device that uses haptics. Your cell phone. It vibrates or doesn’t vibrate. But that vibration tells you by touch that you have a call or a message. 

Haptic Skin

The new skin is a flexible artificial skin developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) . Their very thin haptic skin, made of silicone and electrodes, will stretch and shape to any limb or body part. It transmits vibrations or pressure to the user. In other words, it creates a sense of touch.

EPFL aren’t the only ones developing haptic skin.  John A. Rogers, a physical chemist and material scientist at Northwestern University and his colleagues developed a tiny vibrating disk. Its need for energy is so small its power comes from a wireless source. A little thinner than a mouse pad, this device has thin layers of electronics between layers of silicone. The inner layer of silicone has a tacky surface that sticks to your skin. 


a man wearing cyber or VR glasses with a hazy field of bubbles around him.

Potential uses are seemingly endless. One commercial use is to make Virtual Reality (VR) games more immersive. Imagine being able to feel the blow your avatar receives.

Other uses are close to situations like the imaginary Susan in the opening paragraphs of this post. Someday astronauts on the moon or Mars may reach out and touch a loved one on Earth.

Finally, there are many possible medical applications. It may make the lives of patients who’ve lost their sense. Amputees may be able to feel their artificial limbs. And people who’ve lost their sense of proprioception could live safer lives. (Proprioception is the awareness of the position of your body in space. It involves balance, coordination, and movement.)

What’s Next?

Researchers at EPFL and Northern University both want to develop a full body suit of haptic skin. 

The Teslasuit, marketed as a training device, is a two-piece body haptic suit. They say it provides haptic feedback and captures both motion and biometrics for the athlete.

What Could Go Wrong?

A lot could go right. Patients would enjoy devices that would restore their sense of touch. But a lot could go wrong.

What if someone who wore a full body haptic skin suit committed a crime? No DNA evidence. No fingerprints. Maybe even someone else’s face.

We know that babies and children need maternal (and paternal) touch to grow into emotionally healthy individuals. What if that touch were only simulated touch?

What other potential problems do you see?

In the Future

Once again, we need lots more research. But haptic skin will happen. In time. Someday you may be offered a new skin—will you wear it?

In the Year 2525, Will These Treatments Keep You Alive?

Modern technological innovations have made dramatic differences in the work and daily lives of people. And these innovations are influencing medicine. In the year 2525, will these treatments keep you alive? Maybe. The genetic studies may take longer. Some, like 3-D printing, may save lives a lot sooner.


Drawing of a lab bottle containing a double helix--someday medical treatments based on pharmacogenomics may save your life.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. Scientists will study the genetic makeup of a patient. With this genetic information, doctors will personalize medications. They will know which medicines an individual will respond to. They’ll be able to avoid medication related illness like Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Side effects may become a thing of the past.

The field of study is still in its infancy. But pharmacogenomics has a lot of potential. One hope is that we can avoid addiction. And personalized medications will provide a better quality of life for many people.

3-D Printing

Photo of a 3-D Prosthetic hand. You don't have to wait for the year 2525 for this medical treatment.

One day organ transplants will be obsolete. If you need an organ, your doctor will print one on a 3-D printer. It will be made with your own tissue. Your body will recognize and accept it.

“The most significant developments in 3-D printing have come in external prosthetics, cranial or orthopedic implants, and custom airway stents. But it has also proven helpful in surgical planning” of complex surgeries. (Find more information here. ) Medical devices 3-D printed will match the patient’s own anatomy exactly. Thus the device is much more comfortable for the patient. It often provides better performance outcomes as well. 

Those organ transplants of the future? Printing human tissue is under study now. A tiny human heart was 3-D printed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel

Someday, perhaps by the year 2525, no one will die while waiting for a suitable organ transplant!

RNA Therapies

Personalize treatments using RNA therapy will “‘interfere’ with genetic data at the RNA level and intercept a genetic abnormality before it gets translated into functioning (or non-functioning) proteins.” Hopefully, these therapies prevent or reverse rare genetic diseases. Read more here.

Treatments of the Future

There are many more things to learn to make these technologies effective. We also must establish guidelines for these treatments. And like with conservation genetics, there are ethical questions to consider.

But the future of medical technology is right out of science fiction. One day, these treatments may be the norm. Perhaps in 2525 we, like Dr. Bones from Star Trek, will consider today’s medical treatments barbaric.