Q&A: THE NOBEL EFFORTS OF DRS. GOLDSTEIN & BROWN

On the morning of October 14, doctors Joe Goldstein and Michael Brown were awakened by phone calls from Dr. Donald Seldin, professor and chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Southwestern Medical School. Seldin, still wiping the sleep from his eyes, was calling to share the news he’d just received from Sweden, news he’d hoped for and half expected: Researchers Brown and Goldstein had been selected for a Nobel Prize.

Goldstein, professor and chairman of Southwestern’s Department of Molecular Genetics, and Brown, professor of medicine and genetics and director of Southwestern’s Center for Genetic Diseases, were to be recognized for their research leading to a new understanding of cholesterol metabolism-and to increased hopes of finding a way to prevent atherosclerosis. D spent 30 minutes with Dr. Brown to ask him a few questions about himself, his work, his research partner and the environment that made the pair’s noteworthy accomplishment possible.



D: What purposes do you feel Nobel Prizes serve?

Brown: I hope this award can both honor us and provide for more research to be done. Prizes like this educate people, single out advances that have been made and bring them to the attention of the public.



D: Obviously someone must be singled out to receive the kudos for breakthroughs in science, but do you think your research is significantly different from that being done elsewhere?

Brown: Medical research is totally interdependent, with everybody interacting and using one another’s discoveries. With awards like the Nobel Prize, things appear more isolated than they really are. We couldn’t possibly have done what we did without first, other people working before us, and secondly, other people working with us.



D: Is the environment at Southwestern one that encourages research?

Brown: I don’t think you could do research like this within a private practice, and that’s one of the great advantages to this medical school, because since we care for the patients at Parkland Hospital we don’t have to have a private practice in order to earn our salaries. That makes it easier to do the kind of research we do and still stay active in medicine.



D: So the fact that Parkland is a university hospital-that you in a way have the best of both the academic and clinical worlds- was important in your decision to come here?

Brown: Yes, and that’s largely because of Donald Seldin. He’s been able to build, within a few years, a department of medicine that is able to reach an achievement like this, and it comes because this man created a department in which the physicians were encouraged-in fact it was demanded-that they think deeply about the diseases with which they were dealing. Superficiality was not tolerated. We’d get into conversations with Seldin and he would challenge us about why we were dealing with a particular patient in such a way. And that’s very different from many places where people justify their actions simply by quoting an article. Here you had to really understand the article and the basis of it. Seldin uses clinical medicine as a laboratory. I don’t mean to say patients are guinea pigs-our first job is to make Parkland Hospital the finest hospital in the world, to take care of each patient-but we also learn here to think about the patients in a more analytical way.



D: What do you enjoy most about your work?

Brown: When I discover something that no one has seen before, it is the greatest thrill I’ve ever had.

The advantage of working with someone else is that you have someone else with whom to share that thrill. There have been times in the last 12 years when we’ve made an observation that has been electrifying. It’s not always world-shattering in importance, but it means we’ve solved a problem that was a real block in our research. I can’t imagine doing anything more exciting.

D: What’s next?

Brown: Well, I can tell you that in the last week in our lab, people have done experiments that are just as exciting, to us at least, as the one for which we’ve being honored. The pace of our research has not slowed in the slightest. As for where our research will take us next, well, in the Texas vernacular, you got to dance with the guy that brung you. We’re going to stay with what brung us, the LDL (low density lipoprotein) receptor for cholesterol. We’re going to stay with that for a while.

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