David Bodine ’76 was a sophomore at Colby when he walked into biology professor Miriam Bennett’s office with his class schedule for the coming semester. Running late, he wanted Bennett’s quick signature on the form.
“I was hoping she wouldn’t even look at it,” he said.
Bennett did look at it, however—and she wasn’t having it. She ripped up the form and started a new one, adding challenging classes she told Bodine he could handle, such as physics and organic chemistry. It was a pivotal vote of confidence.
“I was a better student when I left that room that day,” Bodine said. “And I’ve been trying to pay that forward ever since.”
Bodine has done just that, in spades. Now a chief and senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health who is focused on hematology, he has been bringing Colby students and alumni in to work with him in his lab for 30 years. Bodine is continually in touch with faculty, including Oak Professor of Biological Sciences Judy Stone, Dorros Professor of Life Sciences Julie Millard, Professor of Biology Frank Fekete, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Kevin Rice ’96, who send him promising candidates.
Rice has been recommending students to Bodine for summer and post-baccalaureate internships for several years. The two also have collaborated on scientific research, exploring the role of specific enzymes in the onset and treatment of cancer.
“What he’s done for Colby students is nothing short of astounding,” Rice said of Bodine. “He’s very passionate about this place and about our students. One of my favorite things about him is, he does not let that [passion] blind him to the responsibility that he has in training them.”
Last year, one of those students was supposed to be Sam Marchant ’21. Marchant, on a referral from Rice, was set to intern with Bodine at NIH over the summer. The coronavirus pandemic changed that, keeping Marchant at home in Massachusetts. But even though the internship didn’t happen, Bodine and Marchant continued to talk about ways to collaborate—and Marchant had an idea.
He wanted to study laromustine, an experimental drug used to treat leukemia. Laromustine works by interfering with a cancer cell’s ability to replicate by locking up its DNA strands. In some cases, however, cancer cells can repair the damage laromustine causes and continue replicating. Rice and Bodine are studying a specific repair mechanism, the Fanconi anemia pathway, which is one way leukemia cells may overcome the effects of laromustine.
Marchant wanted to explore the potential of curcumin—a compound found in turmeric—and the antipsychotic drug Pimozide as inhibitors of the Fanconi anemia pathway. If either one could keep cancer cells from repairing the damage from laromustine, then they might be used in conjunction with laromustine to boost its efficacy in some patients.
“Sam is incredibly focused and bright,” said Bodine. “He came up with [the idea] all on his own. I thought that was really unusual in an undergraduate.”
Marchant took on the project as his senior thesis, treating cells supplied by Bodine with the experimental inhibitors and consulting with him along the way. By April, Marchant was seeing promising results with curcumin, and he was working on replicating those results before heading off to the University of California San Diego, where he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry and biochemistry.
Of Bodine, Marchant said: “I know I will forever keep in touch with him, as he is a great mentor.” The work on Marchant’s project will be continued by another chemistry major, Helen Wang ’23.
Marchant added that he loved the atmosphere in Colby’s Chemistry Department. “It’s been so inclusive,” he said. “It’s just like one big family. It’s been such a great experience and one of the reasons I love being on campus.”
Bodine continued to take on students as he could at NIH during the pandemic, sometimes having them use his lab in shifts. Most recently, he has mentored Stanley Clarke ’20 and Lily Wain ’19, who are working in Bodine’s lab before heading to grad school. He enjoys seeing students learn to multitask in a lab environment and also to present their work. And he finds that Colby produces plenty of quality internship candidates.
“The sciences are doing very well at Colby. These kids are really well-trained,” he said, but he added that Colby’s liberal arts setting is what really sets students apart, both then and now. “I hated writing. I didn’t like any part of the distribution requirements, but they served me well. And they are serving this generation of kids.”
Pay It Northward and DavisConnects
Pay It Northward, overseen by DavisConnects, is the Colby campaign to provide postgraduate opportunities to the Class of 2020. Last year’s graduates entered a job market profoundly impacted by Covid-19. Hiring freezes, withdrawal of jobs and fellowships—all of this threatens to derail graduates’ careers and keep them out of the workforce when the world needs their talents most.
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