Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ask the stem cell expert: your questions answered on Alzheimer’s disease

A few weeks ago we asked people to submit questions for the first video in our Ask the Expert series. Well, you submitted questions and we asked stem cell expert Lawrence Goldstein, PhD, at the University of California, San Diego to answer them.

I’ve spoken with Dr. Goldstein in the past about his ALS research and about his involvement in preventing stem cell tourism. This was the first time we’d discussed his Alzheimer’s research. What I hadn’t known is that Goldstein’s mother had the disease, so he understands first-hand the devastating emotional and financial burden on the family.
It was just a terrible thing to go through. It was hard on my brothers, it was hard on me. It was very hard on her. And to be honest, I just got angry about it, you know, personally. And so, I've sort of resolved to do the best I can to hopefully develop something that will be meaningful in the lives of people who develop this terrible disorder.
When we started talking about the disease and why it’s so important to find a cure, one thing that struck me was the disproportionate amount of money that the disease costs compared to the amount being spent on finding a cure. In the video Goldstein says,
There’s a direct economic cost of about $200 billion per year in the United States and there’s probably an indirect economic cost of $200 or $300 billion would be a reasonable estimate so somewhere in the range of $400 to $500 billion a year in cost to the nation—all of us—and we only spend $500 million a year on research into finding what’s going wrong and finding a way to treat it. We’re outnumbered 1,000 to one.
In answer to a question about stem cell therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Goldstein admitted that there are still a lot of unknowns in the field. His lab works on studying stem cells in a lab dish to better understand how the disease unfolds (we blogged about his work here). He’s hoping that research will result in a drug that can treat the disease. However, he says that the best way to find a cure is to have scientists trying many different approaches.
If somebody can figure out some way of reversing the course of this disease using stem cells themselves, great, I’m all for it. We have to do the work to find out—there’s no substitute for doing the research work.
Here is an exerpt of our conversation. We’ll be posting more answers as well as a full length version of the conversation on our YouTube channel.



Dr. Goldstein has several awards from CIRM, including a Comprehensive Award and an Early Translational III award focused on Alzheimer's disease, a Tools & Technology II Award to develop disease-specific stem cell lines and Disease Team Award working toward a therapy for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

A.A.

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