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From Mr. Wesleyan to Successful Science Researcher

From Mr. Wesleyan to Successful Science Researcher
Posted
Aug 18, 2020

West Virginia Wesleyan College has long list of highly successful graduates throughout its 130-year history.  The private residential school is also known for its role in transforming the lives of its students.

Huntington, WV native Joel Patrick Gue ’15’s recent success exemplifies the Wesleyan tradition. As a freshman in 2011, he was nominated and then won the title of “Mr. Wesleyan.”  Nine years later, Gue is a talented scientist.

He is currently the Laboratory Manager of the Ramon Bataller, MD, Ph.D., Chief of Hepatology, Lab at the University of Pittsburgh that is located in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Pittsburgh Liver Research Center in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Last summer, he was one of several co-authors in Nature, the world’s leading multi-disciplinary science journal.  The article was a two-year summary of a project to identify the underlying mechanisms of alcohol hepatitis (AH), a life-threatening condition characterized by profound hepatocellular dysfunction for which targeted treatments are urgently needed.  “Currently, the only treatment for a person with acute chronic hepatitis is supportive in nature, chiefly steroid administration to reduce inflammation,” noted Gue.

“Our work, if successful would have identified key molecular pathways that could be targeted for pharmacologic therapies. We were able to identify a new mechanism of alcoholic hepatitis,” Gue added. “In principle, the mechanism centers around two isoforms of the HNF4-alpha gene, the P1 form and the P2 form.  From our work we were able to determine the upregulation of the P2 isoform, and consequently the downregulation of the P1 isoform, which are chiefly responsible for promoting the modulation of downstream genes that lead to profound hepatocellular dysfunction that promote progression to alcoholic hepatitis. We were able to demonstrate this through the use of a liver enriched transcription factor called TGFb which we exposed to immortalized hepatocarcinoma cell lines.  TGFb increases P2 and decreases P1 allowing us to analyze the downstream effects of this via RT-qPCR and Western Blot analysis.  What was shown is that certain genes that are known to be good for liver cell health were severely diminished and genes that are known to be bad for liver cell health were increased after exposure to TGFb.”  

He is quick to credit his Wesleyan experience for his success to date.  My chemistry professor, Dr. Bruce Anthony, was a terrific mentor,” Gue stated.  “When I came to Wesleyan, I was on track to pursue a double major in biology and chemistry.  During my senior year, the school introduced the biochemistry major and I was one of two people to earn that degree.  Dr. Anthony, in addition to instructing me in the ways of biochemistry in the classroom and required associated labs, gave me the opportunity to conduct research under him.  We were able to generate data and compile it into a poster for presentation at the West Virginia Academic of Sciences Meeting. It was under these circumstances that I really developed a passion for research and learned invaluable skills as a researcher from a hands-on perspective.”

“Though Dr. Anthony was paramount to where I am today, the totality of my Wesleyan experience was absolutely vital,” Gue continued. “Wesleyan provided an incubator of sorts to really develop myself in a holistic manner.  The science faculty and programs at Wesleyan are incredible.  Dr. Luke Huggins, Dr. Ed Wovchko, and Dr. Melanie Sal were terrific. Outside of science, I studied piano under Dr. Linda Sabak and took classes in philosophy and ethics/religion from the late Dr. Robert Hull, Dr. Debra Murphy, and political science from Dr. Rob Rupp.  He tried to convince me to give up biochemistry and pursue law school.  All of them were absolutely wonderful professors.”

Gue also loved his student life experiences.  “I was a member of Theta Chi fraternity and served as the president in 2013-2014,” he added.  “We did many service projects, but my favorite one was implementing the brotherhood serving dinner at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church each week.  We even cooked some of the dinners for members of the congregation as well as those in the community.  We loved the experience because after we were done serving, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with people in the community about Wesleyan, Theta Chi, and life in general.”

As for the Mr. Wesleyan title, Gue says he will always cherish that moment.  “Mr. Wesleyan” was a pageant of sorts consisting of a question & answer segment and then a talent portion, “he recalled.  “I had met many people on the Orientation outdoor recreation trip prior to beginning school, which was the only way a freshman could have ever been nominated.  I was a pretty good piano player and performed a medley of radio bops and it really brought down the house.  I still have the sash and crown from that day.”

Gue’s ultimate career goal is to complete his master’s degree and pursue a Ph.D. likely in a field related to alcohol centric organ dysfunction.  “Eventually, I would like to have my own lab with my own team and serve in a tenure-track professorship appointment.”

The entire Nature article can be found at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-11004-3.