The Graduate School

PhD Student Brings Joy to Patients in the Georgia Cancer Center

Langley, South Carolina, just 10 miles down the road from Augusta University, is the hometown of third year Vascular Biology PhD candidate, Caleb Padgett. Growing up in a town with a population of 1,309 residents, Caleb got to know and love his neighbors. He also had the misfortune of losing several people he loved due to obesity and cardiovascular disease. This loss is in part what led Caleb to pursue his PhD at Augusta University with a focus in cardiometabolic research. Caleb said, “This is one of the things that drew me to Augusta University: their focus in cardiometabolic research.”

Caleb’s research, in Dr. David Stepp’s Vascular Biology Center lab, focuses on increasing our understanding of the link between metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. They are studying the effects of obesity on the vasculature and exploring how obesity causes endothelial dysfunction which, according to Caleb, is a precursor to many cardiovascular diseases. Currently, in Dr. Stepp’s lab, they are observing the balance between enzymes within the blood vessel wall, more specifically within the endothelium, the impact of obesity on these enzymes, and if there are any potential therapeutics that could help break the link between obesity and cardiovascular disease.

When asked the purpose of this research, Caleb gave the following example, “Everyone thinks losing weight is easy: just go to the gym and eat a little healthier. Obesity is a complex disease, some of it is behavioral, some is genetic and some epigenetic. There are some people who just can’t exercise for one reason or another. We are looking for a way to potentially free these individuals from some of the cardiovascular complications of obesity.”   He said, “Hopefully at the end of my time here, this research has contributed to lowering the disease burden.”

While Caleb is very passionate about his research, he also enjoys playing the piano in his spare time. His uncle taught him how to play at a young age and his first opportunity to play in public was at Langley Bible Church. As an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina (USC) in Columbia, he minored in music, and had the opportunity to play with various ensembles, including the USC Gospel Choir.

When he moved to Augusta to begin his PhD program in Biomedical Science, he found he didn’t really have an outlet for music. One day, while volunteering at Augusta University Health, he learned about a program called “Music at Midday” in which volunteers play the piano in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia or the Georgia Cancer Center. Caleb began playing to the patients in the Cancer Center on Friday afternoons, during his lunchbreak. He said, “[playing at the Cancer Center] has been a great experience. I have always believed music is something that can bring people together.” Caleb has not been back to play at the Cancer Center since the beginning of the pandemic due to COVID-19 restrictions. When remembering his experience playing the piano for the patients in the Cancer Center, he said, “It was heartwarming to see people who might have been exhausted and sick, but were smiling because they heard a song they liked or simply enjoyed hearing music” and he is really looking forward to once again being able to bring joy to patients through his music.

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