While doctors currently perform surgeries and subjective tests to diagnose patients, chemistry professor Steven W. Graves is working to invent a way to predict diseases before they develop.
“My work as of late is defining molecules present in the blood that are diagnostic or predictive of later disease,” Graves said.
Graves’s research is geared to find a more effective way to not only diagnose, but also predict various diseases before they occur. This will allow doctors to take extra measures to fight against the disease.
His hope is that by performing a simple blood test, doctors will be able to predict Alzheimer’s disease, easily diagnose endometriosis, and foresee if a woman could give birth prematurely. The current tests that are done to identify these issues do not exist in some cases, or they are long, tiresome, and sometimes a painful process.
“It would be helpful . . . having an actual test that’s not subjective and gives you an actual readout of a set of compounds that the body produces when it has this disease,” Graves said. “It would save a lot of time and a lot of risk to the patient.”
Not only could this research greatly benefit the medical world, it has also led to Graves receiving the University Technology Transfer Award. Given by the BYU Technology Transfer Office, this award recognizes those whose research has made a significant contribution and has led them to develop a useful invention.
“I’m flattered that they would consider my particular research to be interesting to them and something that they think is valuable,” Graves said. “There are a lot of really bright people on campus and a lot of really great ideas coming to the transfer office.”
Graves expressed his gratitude to the college, the Technology Transfer Office, and especially to the graduate and undergraduate students who work with him on this research.
“I’m very grateful for the students who have really made this happen,” Graves said. “The idea may have started with me, but they really made it happen.”
As students work with Graves, they do far more than just help with his research. They also gain valuable knowledge in chemistry and biochemistry, and they learn how research takes place in real life. It may even seem surprising to hear that much of their learning comes from making errors.
“These are hands-on, practical, real-life questions,” Graves said. “It’s not a laboratory procedure that’s been done a hundred times. This is all brand new and we make a lot of mistakes.”
As strange as it may sound, mistakes are not a sign of failure, but a sign of potential progress.
“It’s very valuable for them to see [their mistakes],” Graves said. “It gives them a much better sense of what real-life work and real-life research are all about. . . . [It] equips them with certain tools that they can use hereafter.”
During his 17 years at BYU, Graves has seen many of his students accomplish goals and do great things in their careers.
“It’s always very gratifying to see somebody who became a committed learner . . . interested in asking questions about the world.” Graves said.