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Dusten Unruh, 27, is a third-year graduate student in pathobiology and molecular medicine. He is a junior researcher, working in the laboratory of Vladimir Bogdanov, PhD, assistant professor in the division of hematology oncology. Unruh is a recipient of the Albert J. Ryan Fellowship and first-place winner in the basic science category of the Department of Internal Medicine’s 2014 Trainees’ Research Grand Rounds. He completed his undergraduate studies in medical technology and chemistry at North Dakota State University.
How did you get involved in this field of pathobiology and molecular medicine?
I went to undergrad as a medical technologist and I then worked in the clinical side of a hospital.
I got a job in a hematology oncology department and it was fun, but it wasn’t exciting enough. I decided I really liked science and hematology and would like to go into something a little more challenging. I applied for the program at UC in pathobiology and interviewed with Dr. Bogdanov. He studies tissue factor, which is a huge factor in coagulation. I got interested and it worked out because I ended up in his lab.
When did you first learn about UC?
It’s an odd situation how it worked out. When I was little I got burned and I was treated at Shriners Hospitals for Children–Cincinnati. They had to fly me from North Dakota to Cincinnati. It was the first time I heard about UC. I later checked the university for PhD programs, and it seemed to be a good fit for me. UC is really nice because it seems to be the perfect size. It’s not so large that you get lost as a graduate student, and has great research being done.
Tell us about your work with Dr. Bogdanov.
We primarily focus on a protein called Tissue Factor (TF), and study how it affects tumor spread and coagulation in pancreatic cancer. There are two forms of TF, and one that arises from alternative splicing is called alternatively spliced TF (asTF). It is unique in that it is upregulated in many different types of cancer, and is secreted by cancer cells. We recently published a paper showing that asTF promotes tumor spread and may contribute to a procoagulant state in pancreatic cancer. Currently, we are examining plasma for the levels of circulating asTF, and detected asTF in a higher proportion in patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer compared to patients with other diseases or healthy subjects. Dr. Bogdanov developed an antibody that can target asTF’s tumor promoting properties, and when we treated mice with this antibody we were able to decrease the pancreatic tumor size and metastatic spread.
How will it help patients?
Hopefully the antibody targeting asTF can be developed into a cancer therapeutic, and perhaps also a tool to screen plasma for asTF as a predictive or prognostic biomarker. Right now we are studying it in mice and are seeing very exciting results, and hopefully our findings can soon be translated into clinic.
After graduate school what do you want to do?
I would really like to stay in academics so I would hopefully do a postdoc. I am still trying to figure out exactly where I would do the postdoc. After a couple of years as a postdoc, I hope to get a job in academia. Research is what I like best.
What do you do for fun?
I love nature, fishing and going out camping and hunting. I am from North Dakota and was raised to enjoy the outdoors. I love winter sports like snowmobiling and skiing. This past winter in Cincinnati was really nice.
Tell us about your family.
I met my wife, Magaly, as an undergrad in medical technology. She is from Peru and currently works at Hoxworth. It’s nice having both us in a science field so we can talk science.
How would you describe yourself?
I am really friendly and outgoing. I like to help others and I like to ask questions, figure things out, solve problems and take on challenges. I like having something new every day. I would say I am bookish. I really like reading a lot.
Were you surprised to win Internal Medicine’s top award in the Trainees Research Grand Rounds?
I was extremely surprised. It was the second year I put my poster in the internal medicine competition. The first year was my first poster session ever, so I was really nervous and it got scored well. But this year I was amazed I got first place. It’s funny because the dean of medicine, Dr. Thomas Boat, came by and was one of my judges, which is very intimidating. It is really good for graduate students to participate in these competitions because it prepares you for future presentations. The feedback from judges is the best part, it shows you where you need to improve, and can give you new ideas for your research.