GENE THERAPY – The Future of Medicine? At WVRC, February 26th


I’m sure many of you are as intrigued as I am about what is really in that bottle that SEAN McMILLAN carries all the time.  In leading the Pledge, he did put it down, but it’s still a mystery.  Does anyone know?  Anyway, we went on to the song from there, with PP STEVE DAY and GREGG ELLIOTT taking us through God Bless America – my only problem here being that the key was a trifle low, at least for some of us.  PP MIKE NEWMAN came forward with some thoughtful comments about this season of the year.  MARK BLOCK told MIKE that Yom Kippur is the Jewish equivalent of our Lenten period, a time of atonement, reflecting on our constant need for forgiveness. 

MIKE pointed out that Rotary provides an umbrella for all our diverse beliefs – and we should be thankful that this is so.  Thank you, MIKE.


PP JIM COLLINS was honored to be asked to talk about BILL BLOOMFIELD, who passed away earlier this week.  JIM has known BILL for a long time, and he was able to tell us of some of BILL’S many interests and activities.  JIM mentioned that he and BILL share a locker at Los Angeles Country Club, and then commented on BILL’S, long career as a pilot.  He noted that BILL played a mean game of tennis – the last time they played, BILL won!  BILL and PEGGY are long-time members of Westwood Village United Methodist Church, and BILL has been a member of WVRC for almost forty years.  He was an early crusader against smoking – we have all seen his billboard on Santa Monica Blvd – and he was very instrumental in our Club becoming a no-smoking Club.  In 1947 he and Peggy started a business, renting washers and dryers to apartments, and today, Web Service Company is the national leader in this activity. BILL, we will all miss you.  And Thank You, JIM for your very personal historical recap.  Note – the Memorial Service for BILL will be this Sunday, the 29th, 2:30 pm at Westwood United Methodist Church.


SANDY SANDERSON could find no Visiting Rotarians, but SUSAN ALLEN brought Yoshio Umezawa, our former Ambassadorial Scholar who is pursuing her PhD at UCLA.

PP HOWIE HENKES had three guests of the Club, Capt. Clay Powell, who is the Patrol Captain for the Westside, Dara Pettinato, wife of our honoree, and Officer 3 Frank Pettinato. PP RON LYSTER, Chair of our upcoming 75th Anniversary event, spoke briefly about how we are doing – and urged us to get off the dime and send in those reservations.  It will truly be a spectacular event – don’t miss it (and note that you will be billed for one ticket, whether you attend or not!) Since he was already up there, Pres. PETER called on PP RON’S two partners, PP STEVE SCHERER and CHRIS BRADFORD for a further report on the new motorcycle.  PETER began this with what might have been a somewhat staged photo showing RON at a very early age (maybe 3 or 4) getting his first ticket from an officer of the law (the giveaway was that the photo was in color…). We were reminded that PP RON founded the Fellowship of Motorcycling Rotarians, which now has over 2000 members worldwide.  And I can vouch for the fact that his until-recently motorcycle, a Harley Davidson, cost $13K when purchased about a dozen years ago.  (Ask me how I know this, OK?)  It’s for sale now at $9.5K – which says that cycles apparently hold their value pretty well. The new machine, a Honda VTX, is an 1800cc, liquid cooled, fuel injected, five speed, and shaft driven ‘rocket ship’, and if that doesn’t impress you, Pres. PETER pointed out that this makes the Honda more powerful than his daughter’s BMW 318i.  All of this ended up just costing PP RON a hundred bucks – seems to YOE that the fine doesn’t fit the crime!


It was now time for the auction of the pair of tickets to the Disney Concert Hall, donated by SALLY PHILLIPS. The pre-set opening bid was $200 for the pair of tickets, and PDG ANDY ANDERSON, who could not be present, asked PP HOWIE HENKES to bid for him.  So we started at $200, and ELLIOTT TURNER stepped up with $250 – this, after a bit of maneuvering about what the minimum amount of increase could be – and that seemed to be the top bid.  But ANDY, in the person of HOWIE, came up with $300 – and that was the final price! Again, SALLY, thanks for the tickets – the ANDERSON’S will enjoy them, I’m sure. 


Hobby Day is next week, and LEE DUNAYER gave us an update.  Besides PP RON’S bike, PP ERIC LOBERG will have his MG in the Parking Lot, and other exhibitors include DAN PRICE, DICK LIVERMORE, PP JIM DOWNIE, CHRIS BRADFORD, and MICHAEL GINTZ, with SHANE WAARBROEK talking about his hobby, along with SLOSS VIAU.  PDG ANDY ANDERSON will be making hors d’oeuvres!  It will be fun – and informative.  Don’t be late!


Next, an Introduction prior to an Introduction – who joined WVRC in November 1952, thus having been a member for 52 years, was President in 1964-65, but HOWIE HENKES!  HOWIE then formally presented the Police Officer of the Year Award to Officer 3 Frank Pettinato.   These annual awards are funded by a donation from GEORGE SWARTZ, a former member who died in 1973.  They provide three Paul Harris memberships annually, and we then present them to the Police, Fire, and Volunteer of the Year. The money collected for the Rotary Foundation funds our Ambassadorial Scholarship Program.  When WVRC started to support the Polio eradication campaign, we had an original goal of $73,000.  Under HOWIE’S leadership, our actual amount collected was $120K! Rotary and the World Health Organization are on target to do away with Polio by the end of 2005 – this program is so well accepted that various countries where fighting is actually going on have suspended combat for the three days needed to administer the vaccine to the children.


But back to Officer Frank Pettinato.  He is a thirty-seven year veteran of LAPD, having joined right after two years in the Army – including service in Vietnam.  Frank worked in several other divisions, and since 1982 has been attached to the WLA station.  He has received over seventy commendations, and was wounded in the line of duty during his first year on the force.  His service in WLA has been varied, but he truly is a jack of all trades, filling in wherever needed. Frank’s official title is Timekeeper, but his computer skills are legendary – as HOWIE knows by direct experience.   His son is also a police officer. All of the above earned Frank a Paul Harris Fellow membership, plus being named the Westwood Village Police Officer of the Year for 2003.  Officer Pettinato received a standing ovation, and was visibly touched by this honor.  He warmed thanked us all for being selected.


SALLY BRANT introduced our Speaker, Paula M. Cannon.  Dr. Cannon received her degree in microbiology from the University of Liverpool – and then got into the music industry as an artist manager.  But her true love was scientific research, so she returned to Liverpool to pursue a PhD, receiving two scholarships along the way.  She then worked at Harvard Medical School, and the University of Oxford, doing research on retroviruses. 

In 1996 she accepted the position of Director of Research of the Gene Therapy Laboratories at USC.  She briefly moved to the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, but returned to USC in December of 2002 to join the Division of Research Immunology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, where she is an Assistant Professor.


Dr. Cannon’s presentation was supplemented by some excellent slides.  Bone Marrow transplants began in 1983, and today USC provides about fifty per year.  There are ten faculty members involved in this overall program. There are some thirty THOUSAND genes in each cell (and we have a whole bunch of cells).  Diseases that can possibly be treated include hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis.  The problem is how to get the needed genes into cells, and viruses provide the carrier.  In other words, the therapeutic genes replace the malfunctioning genes already there.


You need an almost perfect match to tolerate a bone marrow transplant.  A blood relative can provide this match, and in that case the cure rate is almost 100%.  However, if a relative is not available, the success rate drops to 50%.  The procedure with a baby, for instance, is to remove their bone marrow, isolate the cells, and then reintroduce them back into the baby.  This is one of the ways that stem cells can be used – they provide almost the same success rate as true relatives.  In the 14 cases covered in her study, 13 were first successful, and then 2 of them came up with cancer.  That means that 11 of the 14 did work – and that’s a pretty good average if your life is on the line.  These studies are currently being carried out in Milan, Paris, London, and in the U.S. at St. Judas and Duke University.  Gene Therapy Trials were suspended in 2002, and are now again permitted. 


They treat cancer by blocking the blood supply to the cancer – this is called Angiogenesis.  Some slides of laboratory mice were shown.  Viral vectors were introduced into one side of the planted cancer, and it turned out that both sides of the cancer were reduced.  I asked when Stem Cell Research was ruled out.  There are 8 cells in an embryo, and the treatment is potentially very powerful – but embryos are human, and thus only those now in the laboratory can be used.  This total is about 30, which allows some experimentation.  PP MIKE NEWMAN asked what was the most likely disease that could be eliminated by these treatments, and the answer was Parkinson’s, in perhaps five years – but a decision to move ahead is first needed.  ELLIOTT TURNER asked if stem cells are studied in a dish in the lab, and the answer was yes.  WOW, this is high tech stuff – and we thank Dr. Cannon for sharing her research with us.

                                                                                              YOE, Ernie Wolfe