"I remember a counselor saying essentially, 'You are not going to amount to anything. Why waste your money on college?' I was sort of a mediocre student, with no real expectations of anything."
This mediocre student, John Gearhart, is now one of the most eminent scientists in the United States. A leader in the field of genetic research, he shares responsibility for one of the most significant -- and controversial -- developments in contemporary science, the successful isolation and cultivation of human stem cells, the undifferentiated components from which all human tissues and organs develop.
John Gearhart's early years were full of hardship. His father died when he was only six, and Gearhart spent the following ten years in an orphanage. He entered college with the intention of studying horticulture to help farm families like his own, but once in college, he "fell in love with genetics," and embarked on a career in research that led him all the way from the breeding of trees and flowers to the genetic causes of human birth defects. For the past 20 years, he has studied the cellular function of Down's Syndrome in mental retardation. This research led him to see the need for identifying and studying human stem cells, a goal that had eluded science for decades.
The stem cell research John Gearhart has pioneered could lead to incalculable benefits for humanity in the form of new treatment for heart ailments, diabetes, and cancer, as well as for diseases like Huntington's and Parkinson's.