This article was originally featured on Authority Magazine, a Medium publication, devoted to sharing in-depth, and interesting interviews, featuring people who are authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. David Scadden.
Dr. David Scadden is a hematologist/oncologist focused on bringing stem cell therapies to patient care. Dr. Scadden co-founded and co-directs the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and founded and directs the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is one of the founders and chair of the scientific advisory board to Harvard Stem Cell Institute company, GoodCell.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! I had bad allergies as a kid and got to know our family doctor well. He was a wonderful man whose job seemed to be to help people have better lives. I thought that was pretty great. My parents had not been to college so I didn’t think I could go to medical school, but my dad built me a lab in our basement, taught me that you can do what you dream of in America and my doctor encouraged me as well, so I managed to apply and get into medical school. I’ve loved every minute of being a doctor. The only issue was that we just didn’t have enough that we could do for our sickest patients, so I ended up doing more and more research to try and change that.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I haven’t had many boring days, but two stand out. First, I stopped in a wine shop one day coming home from a rough stint in the ICU, taking care of patients dying of leukemia or going through the hell of stem cell transplant for leukemia. The guy in the store noted my beeper; we started talking and it turns out he was alive, living a full, happy life because of a stem cell transplant. The miracle of stem cells was chatting and smiling and going about life right in front of me. I knew I had to be connected to that in my career.
The second was when as an intern I had tried and tried and just couldn’t save an elderly man in the ICU. When his daughter came in, she wanted to know why I hadn’t just let him go. She taught me in an instant the difference between extending life and prolonging death. I’ve never forgotten that the job of doctors and researchers and the whole health care industry is not just combatting disease, its protecting life and the quality of it.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Much of what happens to us in regard to our health is related to our body being designed to scar when injured. That isn’t true for all animals. Some regenerate rather than scar and therefore can grow a new part of the heart, kidney, or limb for example, if injured. Humans can regenerate some tissues like the blood, but many tissues don’t regenerate in us, even though we have the stem cells needed to accomplish that. I work on figuring out how we can do better in getting humans to regenerate what is damaged by age and disease. I think stem cells are the key to that. I work on them and GoodCell works on making it possible for people to store their cells undamaged by age and disease to help them later: a kind of biologic insurance.
How do you think this might change the world?
Cells are the basic units of life. If we can give people a chance to have their own healthy cells stored while science works on making better and better cell-based therapies, I think that may give people a very personal resource to improve their health later in life. Thousands of cell and gene therapies are now being tested. I’m betting that those will fundamentally change our health and our health care.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Certainly, there’s a dark side to every new technology. That’s partly why I like GoodCell. It is built to give the individual complete control over their own cells and their own health information. It will be controlled by the client not a hospital, doctor, or insurer.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
One of the things that we have learned over the past 10 years is that cells are extremely programable, they have a lot of inherit plasticity and you can convert them from one cell type to another — the cells then become a much more flexible resource and that is now turning up in clinical studies. As those studies play out, its more and more likely that there will be therapeutics that will become available, and patients should be able to have their most pristine population of cells available to them.
Cell therapy to date is taking an existing cell from one individual and passing them to another, not reprogrammed. CAR T, which is basically taking a T-cell and now putting a new gene into it, makes you able to now give the cell new properties that is doesn’t endogenously have. And that starts to say, yes, we can engineer cells to make successful therapies. So, if you carry that forward to other kinds of properties that cells can have, there will be lots of different ways you can envision that playing out. Especially as we get better about modifying cells and defining what the properties are that would make them superheroes.
I believe in GoodCell because I think people should have complete control of their own health, but they often don’t. GoodCell is like a biological insurance policy and ultimately, as GoodCell rolls out diagnostics, will allow members to not only control their personal biobank but to understand their acquired and accumulated genetics.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
As soon as we get comfortable with the safety of gene-modified cells and reprogrammed cells under conditions where the clinical trials are currently testing. Once we get the first approved therapies out there, then that whole field will take off.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
My area of expertise is the research and science behind stem cells. We have a wonderful team getting the word out on the benefits of cell storage.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been lucky to be part of institutions where there have been other great people with a shared mission of trying to use science to better people’s lives. The sciences are collaborative by nature, and I was lucky enough to become a part of that tradition and my colleagues made me better and more motivated through the various institutions I have had the good fortune to be affiliated with. My mentors are many and include patients, friends and family.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Medicine’s purpose and mine is to try and heal the world. That’s what my research is about and that’s what these companies are about, trying to change people’s lives for the better. My goal is to relieve misery and improve health.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- There is no formula, you have to be willing to take risks and chart your own path: I got a D in high school chemistry, so I went to study English and realized that I like the humanism of English, but I’d rather be a humanist than write about it. I then decided to try to keep going for medical school, a lot of pre-med advisors said it was ridiculous but here I am.
- People want to help you, asking for advice is not a sign of weakness: There were hundreds of times where I didn’t ask for help and found out that I should have only after stubbing my toe.
- No ideas are crazy but falling in love with your ideas could be deadly:You have to be open to realizing you’re wrong. I’ve written papers and thought the conclusions were absolutely correct based on the tools we had at the time. Then with subsequent information, I realized I misunderstood what I was looking at. It’s kind of the beautiful thing about science; people think that it’s all settled questions. These settled questions are what we learn when we’re studying science. But science is really all about discovery and trying to put information that you’re getting in context with what you know, only to find out later that you don’t know a critical piece.
- Always ask what’s next and what’s beyond the first level of conclusion:What often is the most revealing is when you get something that does not compute and when you hear someone say, “that’s interesting”. That is what you pursue, not the easily solved.
- Do what is important and do the right thing: Early on, I felt pretty compelled to do what I thought was important. When I was an intern, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so I knew I had to contribute to something better for people and their families than what we experienced due to my mother’s illness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Use science to relieve misery and to improve healthy aging, creatively.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” Having a draw to a certain area, I’ve remade myself several times because directions can change. That’s one of the great things about my career, which is also probably true for most.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I would say that cells are the ultimate programmable unit of life and that’s going to be a huge part of medicine going forward. So, preserve your best cells now for later use.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please follow us at @mygoodcell on Twitter and Instagram and check out the GoodCell pages on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
By Fotis Georgiadis