Dr. Richard Keithley wins Baxter Young Investigator Award

by roanokecollege on October 17, 2013


This past month Dr. Richard Keithley won the Baxter Young Investigator Award from the Baxter Healthcare Corporation. This award is given to highlight a young scientist’s accomplishments and he presented his research project, “Ultrasensitive Single-Cell Analysis of Glycosphingolipid Metabolism”, at their worldwide headquarters in Deerfield, IL. He is one of five recipients out of fifty-eight applicants.

For this project Dr. Keithley wanted to find out why the chemical makeup of cells that are spatially, genetically, and functionally identical can vary up to 35%. He constructed equipment that allowed for the detection of glycosphingolipids in single cancer cells.

“Glycosphingolipids are a promiscuous group of specialized molecules that reside on the outside of cells and are involved in a variety of functions including cancer progression.  Single cells are microscopic so we need very sensitive instrumentation to measure the small amount of glycosphingolipids inside of them.   Borrowing from the technology used to sequence the human genome, I constructed an instrument that was capable of detecting fewer than 100 glycosphingolipid molecules.  Once the instrument was constructed, I then studied the differences in glycosphingolipid metabolism among single cells within cancerous tumor mimics.”


Dr. Keithley plans to bring this same innovative technology here to Roanoke College to research glycosphingolipid metabolism in neuronal tissue.

“There is some evidence that these molecules could play a role in the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  I am eager to work with [students here] to investigate this further.  Moreover, this technology will provide students a distinct opportunity to work with instrumentation that isn’t available at any other liberal arts college in the country.”

Dr. Keithley advises students considering research opportunities here to

“Jump in with both feet!  Roanoke College provides students with unique opportunities to perform cutting-edge research across multiple disciplines that students at other institutions do not have.  I believe research is the art of conducting science without an instruction manual.  Life doesn’t come with one either so research can provide students an avenue to explore their creative side while making important contributions to the broader field of knowledge. “


This project was recently published in Analytical Chemistry and can be viewed here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ac402262e

More information on the Baxter Young Investigator Award can be viewed here: https://www.baxter.com/about_baxter/scientific_excellence/young_investigator/index.html

Students interested in learning more about this work are encouraged to email or drop by Dr. Keithley’s office (Trexler 179)

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