Stem Cells in Focus

Member Spotlight on Aaron Levine, PhD

  • 17 April, 2017
At Georgia Tech, Aaron studies the effects of ethical controversy on biomedical research and healthcare. Read how his research has touched on many issues relevant to stem cell science, and why he traded pipetting and electron microscopy protocols for public policy.
Hometown
Seattle, WA, USA

Current Residence
Atlanta, GA, USA

Graduate Degree
MPhil in Biological Sciences, University of Cambridge
PhD in Public Affairs, Princeton University

Current Position
Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies, School of Public Policy, Georgia Tech
2016-03-levine-photo

What is the current focus of your research?

My research focuses on understanding the influence of ethical controversy and public policy on biomedical rthesearch and healthcare. Within this broad area, I have focused on understanding how these forces have shaped the conduct of stem cell research and the development of cell-based therapies specifically.


Over the years, this research has touched on many issues relevant to stem cell science, including the geographic distribution of stem cell research publications, the domestic and international mobility of stem cell scientists, the rise and oversight of unproven stem cell based interventions and the education of graduate students in the stem cell science and related fields. 

Much of this work has examined ethical controversy surrounding the acquisition and use of human embryos and oocytes for stem cell research and assessed how this has influenced the policy environment and, in turn, shaped the field.

My research also addresses a series of related questions relevant to the practice and oversight of assisted reproductive technology (e.g. IVF) in the United States and around the world.

In addition to research and teaching, I also run Georgia Tech’s MS and PhD degrees in Public Policy. These programs focus on the intersection between public policy and science and technology broadly defined and I would be delighted to talk with ISSCR members interested in graduate work in science policy generally or stem cell policy more specifically.

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

I have been interested in science, especially biology, as long as I can remember and, as an undergraduate biology major, I planned on a career in biological research. My undergraduate experiences pipetting and unsuccessfully attempting to navigate a lengthy (and frustrating) electron microscopy protocol convinced me to look outside the laboratory.

I moved first to computational biology, where, as a Master’s student at Cambridge, I developed algorithms to find rare U12 introns in the human genome sequence. Then, when I found the ethical and policy implications of the genome project more exciting than annotating the sequence itself, I moved on to my current focus at the intersection of public policy and biomedical science.

How do you spend your free time?

Free time is exceedingly rare these days, but if I have some, I can probably be found playing at one of Atlanta’s many parks with my two young children.

Outside of work, when time permits, I enjoy photography and once spent a summer hitchhiking around the south island of New Zealand “studying” nature photography. I have switched to digital for the vast majority of my photography today, but I really prefer the pre-digital era and, for many years, developed and printed my own black and white photos.

What do you like most about living and working where you do?

Atlanta is a fun city to live in. It’s affordable (compared to many similarly sized US cities), and has lots of good restaurants, parks and cultural amenities. It also has one of the world’s largest airports from which you can fly non-stop to more than 200 cities. This really makes travel to the ISSCR annual meeting a breeze.

Georgia Tech is renowned for its engineering programs, but is also an excellent place to study public policy, especially for someone with interests at the intersection of public policy and science and technology.

What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

ISSCR has been a great resource for me over the years, providing an opportunity keep up with cutting edge stem cell science and interact with members of the stem cell policy and ethics community. I’ve been glad to see ISSCR increase the policy and ethics content at its meetings in recent years and hope to see this trend continue, as public policy will need to play an important role if stem cell science is to reach its full potential.

Editor’s note: You might also enjoy Policy Director Kevin Wilson's bi-weekly Policy Brief newsletter, a brief look at global science policy news of interest to the stem cell community.