Philosophical Society of Washington

The Clinical and Intellectual Implications of Stem Cell Biology

Ronald D.G. McKay
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH

2134th Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 12, 2001 at 8:15 PM


The identification of stem cells in the fetal and adult mammalian brain has many scientific and clinical consequences. The evidence for a common stem cell generating the central and peripheral nervous system (CNS + PNS) will be presented. It is important to determine if stem cells give rise to functional neurons. Experiments will be presented showing that stem cells can generate synaptically active neurons. These results show that the events controlling the birth and death of neurons are increasingly understood. The clinical potential for this technology is now recognized. In our group we have initially focused on clinical models of neurodegenerative diseases. Experiments in tissue culture and in animal models will be used to illustrate how control of the origin of neuronal and glial cells will give new insight into Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and demyelinating disease. However, it is now clear that this approach has startling implications for many areas of medicine. In the most optimistic setting, these findings may also influence our thinking in cognition and complex systems.

About the Author:

Dr. McKay's early research in molecular biology led him to describe the first restriction fragment length polymorphism (RLFP) in man and subsequently to develop a quantitative assay to measure the interaction of proteins with specific DNA sequences. He pioneered the field of molecular neuroscience. His research has opened new approaches to understand the molecular and cellular biology of the brain. He is recognized internationally for his work on stem cells. His group has made major contributions to the recognition that stem cell biology will play a major role in medicine. They have demonstrated that embryonic stem cell techniques will be important in neurology, endocrinology, cardiology and oncology. There are no other stem cell researchers whose work has made such a fundamental contribution to biomedical research.

Dr. McKay's published work on his research has been published in Neuron, Cell, Nature, Brain Research, Trends in Biochemical Sciences, Science and the Journals of Comparative Neurology and Neuroscience. His lectures include the Salk Institute, Max Planck Institute, Society of Neuroscience and Harvard Medical School. Among Dr. McKay's numerous panel member and scientific advisory board positions are those in neurobiology with the NIH and the National Science Foundation.

He received a B.Sc. Summa cum Laude in Zoology in 1971 and PhD. in Chromosome Structure and DNA Organization in 1974 from the University of Edinburgh. As a graduate student, Dr. McKay worked in the Medical Research Council Mammalian Genome Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland. He has held positions at Oxford University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, MIT and NIH.

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