UCSD researcher pens ‘Stem Cells for Dummies’

Early last year, a literary agent phoned Lawrence Goldstein, Ph.D., and asked if he wanted to write a book. But not just any book. The agent wanted him to write “Stem Cells for Dummies.”

Director of the UCSD Stem Cell Program, Goldstein is a professor of cellular and molecular medicine, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and has testified in Sacramento and on Capitol Hill in support of stem cell research and biomedical research funding. Did it concern him that writing a “Dummies” book might be looked upon by his academic colleagues as less than dignified?

“Instead of thinking, ‘Why would an Ivory Tower guy like me do such a book,’ I thought ‘Why wouldn’t I do it?’ ” Goldstein said.

Goldstein recognized the need, and even before the agent’s call, he had been thinking of writing a book on the topic accessible to the public.

“What scientists do is important and matters,” Goldstein said. “But if we only talk to ourselves or to journalists, we’re not doing enough for the community at large.”

Author Lawrence Goldstein will discuss and sign copies of ‘Stem Cells for Dummies’ at 7 p.m. March 2 at

The Book Works

, Flower Hill Mall, Del Mar.

Goldstein also appreciated that with its brand recognition and easy-to-read format, a “Dummies” title would receive more visibility “than if I wrote a random book on stem cells.” He agreed to co-author the project.

Working against a six-month deadline, Goldstein collaborated with Sue Schneider, a professional writer and journalist based in upstate New York. Drawing on his scientific expertise, clinical Web sites, input from colleagues and real world examples, Goldstein provided the technical content that Schneider converted into prose. The pair, who have yet to meet in person, worked efficiently via phone and e-mail.

One or two rounds of edits were usually all that was needed to polish a chapter.

Published by John Wiley & Sons, “Stem Cells for Dummies” reached book sellers at the end of January. A plain-English guide to this politically charged topic, the book explains what stem cells are and what they do, the legalities of harvesting them and using them in research, the latest research findings from the United States and abroad, and the prospects for medical stem cell therapies in the short and long term. It also discusses the ethical and moral considerations involved.

“I hope people will read it, find it useful and will tell others,” Goldstein said.

He also hopes more scientists will take up the challenge of communicating their work to a broader audience. While acknowledging the efforts of science societies to focus on K-12 and undergraduate education, “there is a desperate need to bring more of what happens in scientific labs into the public square,” he said, a reference to citizens whose formal education ends with high school or college, having taken only one or two science courses.

“You’re out in the world another 50 to 60 years with no additional exposure to formal courses in science,” Goldstein said. “That’s the vacuum. This book is one little step.”

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.