A first-generation college student, Goydel attended Jupiter High School in 2009 and earned her doctorate working alongside her mentor, UF Scripps Immunology Professor Christoph Rader, Ph.D.
“Cancer immunotherapy research not only lets me help the future of science and medicine, but it also allows me to honor my father. I know he would be so proud that I’m helping others to not go through what he went through.”
The Frenchman’s Creek Women for Cancer Research supported her graduate fellowship. For her Ph.D. thesis, Goydel helped develop antibody-based treatments for ovarian and other cancers.
Her father’s struggle with stomach cancer spurred her interest in developing better, more targeted anti-cancer treatments.
Rebecca Goydel, Ph.D.
I moved to Florida my sophomore year of high school because my dad lived there, and he was pretty sick at the time with stomach cancer. At the time there weren’t really many treatments. It was, ‘OK, there’s nothing left for you unless you want to go into a clinical trial.’ He was bedridden at that point, so he couldn’t.
I am the first in my family to go to college. I had a college-prep class and the teacher was phenomenal. I knew I liked helping people, I liked science, I liked math. I thought I should teach. My teacher said to me, ‘If you go to college you can get your PhD and become a professor.’ That’s all it took.
I knew if I was going to go to college I was going to have to apply for every scholarship I could get. Fairmont State University, a small school in West Virginia, invited me down. I loved it. I got a full scholarship. I majored in chemistry with a minor in biology. My professors really encouraged us to do summer internships. I thought it would be really cool to check out Scripps in Jupiter, FL, since it was close to my dad’s family. Before I even had a chance to apply I heard about the Diverge program. They brought in underrepresented students from across the country. They had a poster session and there were two that involved using the immune system to attack cancer. I ended up coming. I worked with (then graduate student) Alex Nanna, who was in both Chemistry Professor Bill Roush’s and Immunology Professor Christoph Rader’s lab. So I did biology during the day and chemistry at night. I put in long days, and it was great, because it showed me what I really wanted to do.
When my dad had cancer, Gleevec had just came out, it was the first specific therapy. It gave him five years. The next one was brutal. He had rashes all over his body, it deformed his muscles and hands, and he eventually decided to stop taking it. I don’t want other people to have to go through that. I know my dad was always strong for me, for me to have to take care of him, it just really bothered him. I was 16 when he died.
My dad was everyone’s friend. He wanted to joke around, make people smile. For most of my life he was the bread man, he would wake up at 2 in the morning to deliver bread. Sometimes he would take me in the truck and all the people loved him.
It’s hard for me to imagine what he would think about what I’m doing now. My thesis project is working on a bispecific antibody. It would bring a T cell to a cancer cell and cause the T cell to kill the cancer cell, only in the presence of the tumor microenvironment. I am working with ovarian cancer cells. In ovarian cancer, something like 43 percent of patients have a five-year survival rate. We can do so much more.
If I could talk to my father, I would tell him that it makes me so excited to work on this. We are capable of so much, the research I am working on could help so many people. Cancer immunotherapy research not only lets me help the future of science and medicine, but it also allows me to honor a man that I looked up to and hold close to my heart.
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