DVM: What are you working on now?
Brinster: I am still studying the mammalian germ line and germ line cells. One area of investigation is related to human spermatogonial
stem cells. About 80 percent of children with cancer are cured, but almost one-third of the prepubertal boys that recover
become infertile or severely subfertile, which is a serious quality-of-life issue. About one in 5,000 reproductive-age men
currently are cancer survivors with seriously impaired fertility. One method to alleviate this problem is to obtain a testicular
biopsy before cancer treatment begins, and then use the stem cells from this cryopreserved biopsy at a later time to correct
infertility. To be successful one must be able to expand the number of stem cells in the biopsy. Therefore, one of the main
areas on which we have been working, in collaboration with researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is the
cultivation of human spermatogonial stem cells. This has proven to be very difficult, but I am sure we will be successful.
DVM: You are the only veterinarian to ever receive the National Medal of Science. What was that day like for you, meeting
President Obama in the White House?
Brinster: It was extremely rewarding to be recognized by such a distinguished jury as the one that selects National Medal of Science
winners. The ceremony itself was exceptional, and winning the Medal of Science brought well-deserved recognition to the School
of Veterinary Medicine, my department and Penn.
DVM: What do you think your legacy in the veterinary and the broader scientific community will be?
Brinster: I think I will be recognized for my work on transgenics, in part because it has been tremendously important as a scientific
breakthrough. However, many believe that it represents more, because it provides a method by which man can experimentally
modify the germ line of species and thus change the "program of life." This ability is a major change in man's relationship
to other species.
DVM: What changes have you seen in your 50 years teaching in veterinary school?
Brinster: The diversity of opportunities for students in their veterinary education and the many areas in which they can use their
training following graduation is now enormous. They can contribute to many aspects of society now, and veterinary medicine
has become critical to a wide range of problems. One particular area in which veterinary medicine will be especially important
is related to zoonotic diseases. Approximately 70 percent of new infectious diseases affecting humans currently arise from
animals, which represent the reservoir. This is just one example of an area in which veterinarians are critically important
to societal health.
Donna Loyle, MS, is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who specializes in medicine and veterinary science.