It’s no wonder that Goldstein is the author of Stem Cell for Dummies because he really has a knack for simplifying complex topics. One of my favorite segments in this video is when Goldstein uses an iPhone analogy to answer the question, “why can’t you just inject stem cells directly into the brain to treat Alzheimer’s or other neurological disorders?” He points out that simply injecting the unspecialized cells into the brain would be like injecting metal into a broken iPhone and expecting it to be repaired:
Ordinarily when the brain is built is when you’re a fetus. And there are all sorts of signals that say how to build the brain that aren’t there when you’re an adult. So let’s take an example of your iPhone. So when your iPhone is being built there are all sorts of manufacturing instructions for wiring up pieces of the circuit boards but once you’ve bought the phone, those “signals” those manufacturing instructions don’t come along with the phone. That’s the “adult” phone. And so if part of it breaks just injecting metal into the phone is not necessarily going to repopulate the circuitry of the phone in a proper way even though metal is the raw material that built the phone. So we have to do something much more sophisticated than just putting the raw materials in.When asked about his own lab’s Alzheimer’s research, he drew another intriguing analogy. This time he made the comparison between a black box data flight recorder and his lab’s recent work in human brain cells to study Alzheimer’s disease. It might seem like a no-brainer (pun intended) to study human cells for a human disease but as Goldstein explains:
that’s harder than it sounds. I can’t just take a sample of your brain out and study it and you [may not] have developed the disease yet anyway. And once somebody’s died of the disease it’s like studying a plane crash after the plane’s hit the ground. You can learn a lot of about a plane crash from studying the pattern of wreckage on the ground but what you really want is the black box. You want a record of what was happening in the cockpit when the plane was getting ready to go down or just before it did.To get at that black box, Goldstein’s lab takes skin cells from Alzheimer’s patients and reprograms them back into a stem cell-like state. Those cells are then matured into brain cells, providing a human model of Alzheimer’s disease. This cellular reprogramming technique is the very same that won Gladstone scientist Shinya Yamanaka the 2012 Nobel Prize in medicine earlier this month (see our previous blog). With these cells in hand Goldstein is in a position to identify, at a biochemical and genetic level, abnormal behavior of the cells that may be indicative of Alzheimer’s and to test drugs that could slow down or even reserve disease progression.
All of this is to say we enjoyed our visit with Larry and we hope people out there learn a lot from these videos. So far, the first Ask the Expert video has well over 1000 views so we take that as a good sign and we’re excited to continue this video series.
In fact, later the month we’ll interview Xianmin Zeng, a CIRM grantee who is developing stem cell-based treatments for Parkinson’s disease at the Buck Institute for Age Research. If you have questions about stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease, post them in the comments section here, to our Twitter feed @CIRMnews with the hashtag #askCIRM or to our Facebook page.