Joseph L. Goldstein shares the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine with Michael Brown “for their discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism". They discovered the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors that remove cholesterol from the blood; when cells do not have enough of these receptors, humans develop hypercholesteromeia and become at risk for cholesterol related diseases. Their studies have led to the development of statin drugs used to lower cholesterol levels.

Goldstein is educated in public schools in Kingstree, South Carolina, a town of 5000 people, where the family owns and operates a clothing store.

Goldstein attends Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and receives the B.S. degree in chemistry in 1962.

Goldstein spends two years at the University of Washington in Seattle. There he conducts a genetic study to determine the frequency of hereditary lipid disorders in heart attack survivors. He and his colleagues discover that 20% of all heart attack survivors have one of three types of hereditary hyperlipidemia. One of them is the heterozygous form of familial hypercholesterolemia. It affects 1 out of every 500 persons in general, and 1 out of every 25 heart attack victims. 

Goldstein spends two years at the National Institutes of Health working on biochemical genetics. He works out the mechanism of action of certain proteins required for termination of protein synthesis. Also, while caring for patients with hypercholesterolemia, he becomes curious and discusses these cases intensively with Michael Brown.

Joseph L. Goldstein is born in Sumter, South Carolina, the only son of Isadore E. and Fannie Alpert Goldstein. 

Goldstein moves to Boston where he spends two years as an Intern and Resident in Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. There Goldstein first meets and develops a friendship with Michael S. Brown, his long-term scientific collaborator.

Goldstein returns to the University of Texas Health Science Center, where he is appointed Assistant Professor and head of the medical school's first Division of Medical Genetics. He becomes Professor in 1976. J. Goldstein and M. Brown work on the genetic regulation of the cholesterol metabolism, which leads to their Nobel Prize. Since then, they continue their involvement with hands-on research.

He then attends Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas where he is inspired to pursue a career in academic medicine by Donald W. Seldin. He receives the M.D. degree in 1966.