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Friday Evening Lecture Series


Stem Cells: A Paradigm Shift?
Wise Young, Ph.D., M.D., Professor II
Founding Director, W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience
Chair, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Introduction by John Dowling, Harvard University

Lecture Abstract:
The discovery that genes reside in DNA was a paradigm shift for biology, giving rise to molecular biology. Recent advances in stem cell research promise to produce another paradigm shift that revolutionizes our views of cells. When I was a graduate student in the 1970’s, I was taught three dogmas concerning cells. First, differentiation is a one way-street. Once a cell differentiates, it cannot go backwards (dedifferentiate) or become another kind of cell (transdifferentiate). Second, cells don’t fuse with each other, unless they are myoblasts or egg and sperm. Third, cells age with growth in vitro and in vivo, except when they are cancerous. Stem cells break all these rules: they dedifferentiate and transdifferentiate, fuse naturally with other cells, and some can grow long times in culture. During development, stem cells often have very distinct morphologies and markers. Recent findings suggest that an initial “default” state of many fetal and adult stem cells may be neuron-like. Stem cells appear to be differentiated cells that are highly specialized to produce multiple cell types. When transplanted into different tissues, stem cells have the remarkable ability to recognize and respond to a myriad of tissue factors, to produce the right types and numbers of cells that respect tissue boundaries, or else we would of course call them tumors. These surprising findings are turning cell biology upside down and are providing the impetus for a transformation of medical therapeutics.

Dr. Wise Young, founding director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience and a professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is recognized as one of the world's outstanding neuroscientists. He obtained a bachelor of arts degree from Reed College, a doctorate from the University of Iowa and a medical degree from Stanford University. He is an alumnus of the MBL’s Neurobiology Course. After a surgery internship at New York University and Bellevue Medical Center, he joined the neurosurgery department at NYU. In 1984, he became director of neurosurgery research. In 1997, as part of Rutgers' commitment to the future, Dr. Young was recruited to establish and direct a world-class center for collaborative neuroscience.

Dr. Young was part of the team that discovered and established high-dose methylprednisolone (MP) as the first effective therapy for spinal cord injuries. This 1990 work upended concepts that spinal cord injuries were permanent, refocused research, and opened new vistas of hope. This team also played a major role in Andy Blight's signal work on 4-aminopyridine (4-AP), which shows significant promise for increasing nerve conductivity.

Dr. Young developed the first standardized rat spinal cord injury model used worldwide for testing therapies, formed the first consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test promising therapies, and helped establish several widely accepted clinical outcome measures in spinal cord injury research.

Dr. Young founded and served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Neurotrauma. He organized the National and International Neurotrauma Societies as forums for scientists to share discoveries and collaborate on spinal cord injury and brain research. He serves or has served on advisory committees for the NIH, the National Academy of Sciences, and NICHD, and has served on advisory boards for many spinal cord injury organizations.

Well-known as a leader in spinal cord injury research, Dr. Young has appeared on "20/20" with Barbara Walters and Christopher Reeve, "48 Hours," "Today," "Eye-to-Eye," Fox News and CNN's news magazine with Jeff Greenfield. His work has been featured in a Life magazine special edition, in USA Today, and in innumerable other news, talk and print presentations throughout the world. His honors include: NIH Jacob Javits Neuroscience Award (1985-1992), Wakeman Award (1991), Tall Texan of the Year Award (1997), "Cure" Award (1998), Trustees Award for Excellence in Research (2001), 2002 Asian American Achievement Award, Douglass Medal for work with the advancement of young women in the sciences (2003), and Elizabeth M. Boggs Award for service to the disability community (2004). In August 2001, TIME Magazine named Dr. Young as ‘America’s Best’ in the field of spinal cord injury research. In 2005 he was the first researcher elected to the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame.

John E. Dowling received his A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He taught in the Biology Department at Harvard from 1961 to 1964, first as an Instructor, then as Assistant Professor. In 1964 he moved to Johns Hopkins University, where he held an appointment as Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Biophysics. He returned to Harvard as Professor of Biology in 1971, and he is now the Gund Professor of Neurosciences and a Harvard College Professor. Professor Dowling was Chairman of the Biology Department at Harvard from 1975 to 1978 and served as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1980 to 1984. He was Master of Leverett House at Harvard from 1981 to 1998 and currently serves as President of the Corporation of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.

Professor Dowling is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. He received the Friedenwald Medal from the Association of Research in Ophthalmology and Vision in 1970, the Annual Award of the New England Ophthalmological Society in 1979, the Retinal Research Foundation Award for Retinal Research in 1981, an Alcon Vision Research Recognition Award in 1986, the Von Sallman Prize in 1992, the Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research in 2000, and the Llura Ligget Gund Award for Lifetime Achievement and Recognition of Contribution to Foundation Fighting Blindness in 2001. In 1987 he received a National Eye Institute MERIT Award, and he was granted an honorary M.D. degree by the University of Lund (Sweden) in 1982.