Scientist, physician, Nobel Laureate. Goldstein was born on April 18, 1940, in Sumter, the only son of Isadore E. Goldstein and Fannie Alpert. Goldstein’s research with Michael Brown into cholesterol metabolism and the discovery of low-density LDL receptors brought them joint award of the 1985 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
Goldstein was educated in the public schools of Kingstree, where his parents owned and operated a clothing store. He graduated summa cum laude in 1962 from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. In 1966 he received his medical degree from Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas.
Goldstein and Michael Brown served in the internship and residency program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Together, they discovered the receptor molecule, a structure on cell surfaces that regulates cholesterol levels in blood. They found that the molecule indicates some correlation between blood cholesterol level and heart disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), partly because of Goldstein and Brown’s work, recommended the lowering of fat in the diet. For their work, the two men received awards from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society, the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, the American Heart Association, and the American Society for Human Genetics.
At the NIH biochemical genetics laboratory, Goldstein studied the molecular biology approach to human disease. He was interested in patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetically acquired disease that involved a genetic defect causing a metabolic error that results in high blood cholesterol levels and heart attacks. Goldstein then spent two years (1970–1972) as a Special NIH Fellow at the University of Washington at Seattle. There he initiated and completed a population genetic study to determine the frequency of the various hereditary lipid disorders in an unselected population of heart attack survivors.
Goldstein and his colleagues discovered that twenty percent of all heart attack survivors have one of three single-gene-determined types of hereditary hyperlipidemia. One of these disorders was the heterozygous form of familial hypercholesterolemia, which was found to effect one out of every five hundred persons in the general population and one out of every twenty-five heart attack victims. During his fellowship in Seattle, Goldstein became conversant with tissue culture techniques, which proved to be invaluable in his subsequent studies with Brown. Goldstein returned to the University of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas in 1972, where he was named Professor of Medicine and Genetics and Chairman of the Department of Molecular Genetics.
The illuminating research of Goldstein and Brown on the activity of LDL receptors and their function in the management of cholesterol levels has had far-reaching effects. Not only has their work increased understanding of an important aspect of human physiology, but it has also had a practical impact on the prevention and treatment of heart disease.