June 22 marked a special milestone for scientific and medical research on the Rensselaer campus, with the opening of the New York State-funded Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research. The new facility is located in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). New York State Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson joined with CBIS Director Jonathan Dordick and CBIS Operations Director and professor of practice Glenn Monastersky to cut the ribbon at the new labs. Monastersky, who earned his doctorate in cell and developmental biology at Rutgers University, is the principal investigator at the new center. He also wrote the funding proposal for the New York NYSTEM program.
As he gets the new center ready for the beginning of formal research next month, we spent a few minutes with Glenn:
Q: What inspired you to study molecular genetics and cell biology?
A: I got hooked on biology during high school—I still remember my teacher, Mr. Gatti. I followed the path from there with a bachelor’s in biology (general), a master’s in developmental biology (i.e., embryology), a doctorate in cell and developmental biology (neurobiology), and two postdoctoral fellowships (reproductive biology and then molecular genetics). The sum of all this training was the ability to do everything necessary to design and create genetically engineered (i.e., transgenic) research animals and study stem cells.
You put together the proposal for the NYSTEM funding from New York, which led to creation of the new center. What is the promise of stem cell research?
Research in stem cell biology has been around for more than 40 years, but new techniques for producing them and a clinical trial have been very recent events. Initially, stem cells will be used in assays for the discovery of new miracle drugs. Next in line is the possibility to enhance the repair of damaged tissues. And finally, stem cell therapy may be applied to curing metabolic and genetic diseases.
What is the biggest challenge standing in the way of progress in stem cell research today?
Hopefully, the political and ethical pressures and restrictions that we experienced from 2000-2008 will not return, because the impact on U.S. stem cell research and investigator retention was significant. On a scientific level, the biggest challenges will be to be able to reliably guide the development of stem cells into specific cell types (e.g., cardiac muscle, brain nerve cell) and to maintain the stability of these cell fates in the body.
When you’re not directing operations at CBIS or doing research or teaching, what do you like to do for fun?
Spending time with my daughters and my friends. I also enjoy live music, wilderness hiking, and I have been a die-hard Mets baseball fan for over 40 years.