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Ledford Scholarship Recipient Cody Rogers Utilizes Bioinformatics to Study Addiction and Metabolism of Nicotine

Cody RogersBRISTOL, Tenn., October 12, 2016 – Abingdon, Va., native Cody Rogers applied for and was awarded the Colonel Lee B. Ledford Scholarship by the Appalachian College Association (ACA) of $6,049. The scholarship funds provide recipients with funds to perform summer research across a variety of fields.

Rogers, a King senior majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology, worked with mentor Dr. Kelly Vaughan, Ph.D., assistant professor and chair of the Biology Department at King University, to identify new genes and pathways associated with the addiction and metabolism of nicotine. The funding from the Ledford Scholarship allowed Rogers and Vaughan to conduct this research using bioinformatics throughout the summer.

“For any study that has ever been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the data is publically available,” said Vaughan. “There are thousands upon thousands of genetic studies out there waiting for people to come and ask interesting, novel questions – to look at the data with new eyes. With this research project, Cody was the driving force. He wanted to learn more about nicotine addiction, nicotine metabolism, and how genetics are involved because he has a family history of nicotine addiction.”

Researchers were once limited by their ability to generate data. Technological advances have made it possible to both generate and analyze massive amounts of data. The US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health defines bioinformatics as conceptualizing biology in terms of macromolecules and then applying "informatics" techniques (derived from disciplines such as applied maths, computer science, and statistics) to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules, on a large-scale.

Vaughan commented, “One of the blessings with bioinformatics research is you can do cutting edge, high-powered research anywhere you have a computer [and internet access], along with the skills and drive to do it.”

“Over the summer, Cody worked with me to conduct a thorough literature review of nicotine metabolism and addiction and identify all the genes known to be associated with nicotine through mining publicly available databases,” added Vaughan. “He then conducted additional bioinformatic analysis to take that long list of genes and add context in an effort to identify any patterns or trends in the data. Cody identified a subgroup of genes that consistently showed statistical significance, and, with those genes, built a network to visualize the connections between them. Cody’s research will be a part of his Senior Thesis, which will allow him to work toward Honors in Independent Study in Biology.”

Rogers presented his work at both the Appalachian College Association Conference Sept. 29-Oct.1 at Meadowview Conference Center in Kingsport, Tenn., where he was recognized as one of the top presenters, and the Annual Undergraduate Research Conference Oct. 8-9 at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics hosted by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biology Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn. “[At NIMBioS] Cody was unique among all the students in that he conceived the project, was awarded his own grant, and conducted the work himself. Cody's growth as a student through this process has been remarkable. He has developed independence, gained important research skills, as well as the opportunity to foster and grow his innate sense of curiosity. Through this experience, he has shifted his focus from attending pharmacy school to pursuing a doctorate in molecular biology looking at drug design. Graduate Schools weigh research experience heavily for applicants. This opportunity has truly opened doors for Cody and set him up for success in the future, and we are looking forward to seeing what Cody can accomplish in the future.”

“[The] research this summer went great; it has opened many doors for me in the research side of science,” said Rogers. “I have recently accepted [an offer] to collaborate with Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis. We have decided to take my computational research and implement it into the wet lab. Overall this research opportunity has opened up my academic career and allowed me to define myself as a researcher.”

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