CEAS

CEAS

Biomedical Engineering Student Working With a Splice of Life

By: Ashley Duvelius
Photography* by: Dottie Stover
                        UC Photographic Services

Biomedical engineering senior, Richard Godby, performs groundbreaking vascular biology research as an undergraduate and narrows the gap between aspirations and cures.

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Richard Godby

University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science biomedical engineering senior Richard Godby is collaborating with some of the best minds in his field to explore new links between basic hematology (the study of blood and the circulatory system) and pathophysiology of cancer.

Among his mentors is his advisor, Vladimir Bogdanov, PhD, Director of the Hemostasis Research Program and UC Department of Medicine assistant professor. Together, they perform vascular biology research and try to better understand how blood-vessel generation fuels the growth of malignant tumors.  

Tissue Factor (TF) is the primary trigger for blood clotting, which initiates the coagulation cascade. Godby works with an alternatively spliced form of TF, named “asTF,” which was recently found in tumor lesions and shown to induce the growth of new blood vessels.    

Tumors grow due, in part, to neovascularization—the process by which new blood vessels grow into a tumor. This new vasculature allows the primary tumor to metastisize and spread throughout the rest of the body. Godby’s researching “asTF,” which is a naturally occurring protein in the circulatory system, as it may serve as an important link between blood-vessel generation and cancer progression. 

In 2011, researchers determined that “asTF” induces monocyte transmigration as a result of the increase in the expression of monocyte adhesion molecules on the surface of endothelial cells (EC’s), processes highly relevant to tumor progression. Currently, “asTF” is of particular clinical interest to researchers as a therapeutic target to battle cancer. It is also being approached as a potential biomarker for cancer.

The research by Godby and Bogdanov is ultimately driven by two key applications:

  • If “asTF” levels are increased in certain types of cancer, can we measure its concentration to accurately screen for the presence of a tumor and/or predict its stage and response to therapy/prognosis? 
  • If increased levels of “asTF” induce neovascularization, can we design a drug to selectively inhibit its effects?

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Richard and Professor Bogdanov study a data plot.

Godby headed a research project for his first UC undergraduate cooperative experience in which he assessed the functional properties of murine (mouse) “asTF,” and compared these properties to human “asTF.” His results show that murine “asTF” is quite similar to human “asTF,” not only structurally but, more importantly, functionally. Like human “asTF,” murine “asTF” induces angiogenesis (the ability to induce the growth of new blood vessels from the existing ones).

Godby also found that both forms of “asTF” elicit comparable gene expression patterns in murine EC’s. He published his findings in “Molecular Medicine,” in a paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22481268) titled “Non-Proteolytic Properties of Murine Alternatively Spliced Tissue Factor: Implications for Integrin-Mediated Signaling in Murine Models.” Godby’s results substantiate the use of murine models in future “asTF” studies.

Godby will complete his senior capstone studying the mechanical and molecular mechanisms of aortic valve disease at Children’s Hospital with Robert B. Hinton, MD, director of the Heart Institute BioRepository and UC Department of Pediatrics assistant professor. He wishes to pursue medical school upon graduation.

“As a future physician, I hope to use my engineering perspective in the clinic. Additionally, I want to leverage my skills gained during co-op work in both industry and research to serve as a liaison between the bench and bedside, facilitating an expedited integration of multiple disciplines to improve clinical outcomes and accelerate biomedical innovation,” Godby says.

Godby advises future research students to prepare themselves for the investment. He explains, “Research takes a lot of time and dedication, so be ready for that level of commitment. Also, take the time to carefully select an appropriate mentor. I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors who exemplify professionalism and have truly taken me under their wings, providing excellent foundations for an up-and-coming physician-scientist. Cincinnati is a research powerhouse rich with outstanding scientists, so find the one who’s right for you.”

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Richard reviews a sample.

In the next 10 to 20 years, Godby plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. He wishes to explore different specialties, but he is currently considering a field in vascular biology. In spite of his successes as a young undergraduate, Godby reflects, “As a soon to be first-generation college graduate, I am extremely thankful to my family and friends for their unwavering support.  I would not be who or where I am without them.”

Bogdanov published a paper in “Nature Medicine” (2003), while he was a post-doctoral fellow at Mt. Sinai. Bogdanov’s article and research focus on alternative pre-mRNA splicing, a process that allows a single gene to code for multiple proteins. More specifically, he discovered “asTF,” and more recently, the ways in which its production is regulated.

He brought his ideas and talents to UC’s College of Medicine in 2009 to continue his research on alternative splicing. After conducting further research in collaboration with his colleagues based at the Einthoven Laboratory for Experimental Vascular Medicine in the Leiden University Medical Center of the Netherlands, Bogdanov found that “asTF” possesses the ability to induce angiogenesis (i.e. the growth of new blood vessels). This particular discovery was the catalyst that led to his and Godby’s recent research.

It is revolutionary research like this that continues to make UC a pioneer in engineering and medicine.

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