Stem cell research and other bed time stories

Dr David Schaffer

Bedtime stories in Dr David Schaffer’s childhood home were often not standard fairy tales. With both parents in careers as biomedical researchers (his mother in drug development and clinical trials for a major pharmaceutical company and his father, in cardiovascular research and a pharmacology professor) much of the conversation as far back as Schaffer can remember centered on biology and science. “I remember being five years old and sitting on my father’s lap, while he was teaching me the names of microorganisms,” says Schaffer. In many ways, a life dedicated to solving biological problems seemed predetermined, but Schaffer did deviate slightly from the examples and influences of his parents and initially concentrated on the engineering aspects of the field.

Schaffer completed his undergraduate work at Stanford University in chemical engineering and graduate work in chemical engineering at MIT. His postdoctoral work was in the laboratory of Dr Fred Gage, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. “For two years, I was the only engineer at the Salk Institute, and had immersed myself in the rich world of biology in a lab that had been making some paradigm-shifting discoveries in the field of neural stem cells and understanding how the adult brain continues to add neurons,” says Schaffer. It was during this pivotal period that Schaffer became fascinated with applying engineering approaches to the study of problems in stem cell biology.

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