“People are not aware that science is a very social activity [and that] labs are usually a very social environment,” he said.
According to Goldsby, immunology, his area of research, is such a far-reaching subject because it spans molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology and much more. “My feeling is, I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t study immunology,” he said.
Goldsby has taught immunology at Amherst since 1982, and is currently teaching Biology 33: “Immunology,” and Biology 8: “The Biology of Catastrophe: Cancer and AIDS.” “I have always taught immunology,” said Goldsby. “The dirty little secret is that if they didn’t pay me to teach immunology, I would probably pay them, but I wouldn’t want that to get out.”
Goldsby’s current project, for which he was just awarded a grant of $104,787 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is an attempt to stimulate the diversification of human antibodies in bovine cells. The project is a cooperative effort with his wife, Barbara Osborne, a professor of veterinary and animal sciences at UMass, colleagues in Japan and James Roble at Hematech. Goldsby, whose laboratory developed one of Hematech’s most critical procedures, is currently a senior consultant and director for the company.
“What I do in the lab and the things that I learn from my students and graduate students help keep me abreast in immunology,” Goldsby said.
Both cattle and humans, like all animals, have antibodies capable of recognizing all pathogens. Human cells “shuffle” a finite number of genes to make an infinite number of different antibodies. “We’ve been working on this now for maybe 15 years, and it’s been a gradual process of learning more and more,” said Goldsby.
The project is a fraction of a much larger project also funded by the NSF. According to Goldsby, the United States produces 17 tons a year of gamma globulin, a solution of antibody-rich blood protein fraction, that is used to provide immunity against some infectious diseases. If cattle cells injected with human genes could produce human antibodies, they might satisfy this medical demand.
“Science is very collaborative [and] very cooperative,” he explained. “It’s never done nowadays with one group of people; it’s always done with other groups in the neighborhood and around the world.”
Combined with an earlier NSF grant, Goldsby will receive a total of $204,102. The grant will also contribute to the training and education of undergraduate students participating in this research at the College. “I got involved in immunology many, many years ago, and most of the research grants I’ve gotten in the past 10 or 15 years have been to study the immune system of cattle,” said Golsby.
Goldsby was very pleased to receive the grant. “This is an area of biology in which if you obtain results, you can have a huge impact on medicine,” he said.
Goldsby has also worked at Yale University, the University of Maryland and UMass. He is no stranger to the Five-College community. “If you look at students as a group, students at Yale and students at Amherst are very much the same kind of students, but I guess there’s a pleasure every now and then to see students at UMass who are really as good as students from Amherst,” said Goldsby.
His laboratory is a mixture of Amherst students and undergraduate and graduate students from UMass. “When you have Amherst students in your labs, you get to know them extremely well,” said Goldsby.
Jason Roh ’01, an honors student working under Goldsby, is working to see if cattle genes can be used to rearrange immunoglobulins and will be presenting his work in Orlando, Fla, to the American Association of Immunology. “He’s brilliant, first of all, and he always makes time for his students,” said Roh. “He pushes us and he’s one of those guys that always makes you do the best you can.”
By looking at tumor cell formation in cattle, Libby Koehler ’01, Goldsby’s other thesis honors student, is testing the hypothesis that humans have evolved more anti-cancer defenses than rodents because of their larger size and longer life spans.
Courtney Wieland ’02E is doing research on the deletion of bovine genes intended to produce antibodies.
Goldsby disclosed another secret teaching pleasure. “It’s very easy to teach at Amherst because you have a group of students that are intellectually energetic, and so all you have to do is really expose them to the interesting ideas, and they go on,” said Goldsby. “You don’t have to worry about students who can do the work or who have the capacity to be interested by ideas because you are presented with a room full of people who are able to do both those things on the first day of class, and I don’t think I’d be the only person who’d say that.”
As an immunology specialist, Goldsby has published several books, including “Race and Races,” about the biology of race, and “Thinking Aids” with Mary Catherine Bateson, a former dean of the faculty at Amherst. He has also co-authored “Kuby Immunology,” a major textbook in the field of immunology that is used across the country and at Amherst, with his wife and Thomas J. Kent, director of the intramural program at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.