Dr. Lawrence Goldstein is Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.
In 2006 he was named director of the Stem Cell Research Program at San Diego. He is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of intracellular movement in neurons and the role of transport failure in neurodegenerative diseases.
We were so excited to have the opportunity to interview one of the leading doctors in stem cell research when he recently spoke at a conference at Sloan- Kettering Hospital. Here are some of the questions he answered in our interview along with a video of some of his responses.
What are stem cells exactly?
Stem cells are special kind of cells in a human or in an animal that have one remarkable property which is, when one cell divide to make 2, the 2 daughters cells are not identical, which is unusual, one cell becomes a stem cell, the other becomes a special cell, like a pancreatic cell or heart cell.
so in a sense stem cells are like plastic, they can make more of themselves and then they can make special organs and tissues in the adult.
How do you use the stem cells?
There are a lot of different kind of stem cells, from different tissues and organs. In an adult, there are stem cells in the bone marrow, stem cells in a liver, in the brain. Those cells can sometimes be extracted (like in the bone marrow), but for the brain it’s almost impossible because brain extraction is very complicated. So for brain diseases, we use embryonic stem cells that are generated in a lab by a method called reprogramming, to generate human brain cells in a dish that we can use then to study how the diseases of the brain work.
For embryonic stem cells we are very early in the process of learning how to best use these cells to treat diseases, and a lot of labs around the world are working on methods of how teaching these cells to make specific cell types to replace damaged cells or cell death in a disease, or learning how to use the cells to understand what goes wrong in a disease so that you can make better drugs or invent better therapies.
What use for Alzheimer’s disease?
AD is a special kind of problem, in part because we don’t truly understand what are the mechanisms of the disease. we dont know why brain cells loose the connections from each others. There are some dominant ideas that may or may not turn out to be correct, so because of that, we don’t at the moment intend to use stem cells to replace cells that are lost in disease but instead we use stem cells to generate human brain cells that have AD in a dish, and use those cells to understand what goes wrong and find better drugs to cure this disease.
Goldstein became such an advocate for stem cells he helped write the California proposition that created a $3 billion funding organization in 2005 to support human stem cell research in the state. Voters supported the initiative because human embryonic stem cell research has been curtailed nationwide; the federal government has limited its financial support of research with these cells, citing the ethical problem of destroying embryos in performing the investigations.