Chemistry student earns prestigious undergraduate research award


By Tom McGuire, Director of Communications and Media Relations

The Society of Toxicology Undergraduate Research Award goes to approximately 12 students per year.

Bloomsburg University senior Helena Eby has been awarded a Society of Toxicology (SOT) Undergraduate Research Award (SURA) to be presented at the 2022 SOT Conference in San Diego from March 27 to 31. Her poster is titled, "Evaluating the anti-proliferative effects of a PPAR-Beta/Delta ligand isosteric selenium replacement in a human melanoma cell line."

The SOT application process is highly selective, and this year Eby is the only awardee from a public, primarily undergraduate institution. Other SOT 2022 Undergraduate Research Award winners attend Duke, Rutgers, North Carolina State, Louisville, Kansas, Johns Hopkins, Case Western, Washington (MO), and Oregon State universities.

Helena Eby

Eby, a chemistry major, has been conducting research in the lab of American Society of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Education Fellow Michael Borland, BU professor of chemistry and biochemistry, since the spring 2021 semester. The research is funded by a PA State System of Higher Education Faculty Professional Development grant. Eby was also awarded a BU Chemistry & Biochemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant to support summer 2021 research.

Eby's work studies how a cellular receptor, called PPAR-Beta/Delta, can be targeted as a potential malignant melanoma therapeutic. She uses pharmaceutical activators of PPAR-Beta/Delta and cutting-edge laboratory techniques at BU to study cancer cell growth and tumor formation. Her studies have also examined how chemical changes to PPAR-Beta/Delta activators can alter the anti-cancer effects. Eby has been instrumental in developing new assays in Borland's lab, as well as mentoring new students to the lab group. Eby and Borland are currently preparing the work for publication in a toxicology — or cancer-related peer-reviewed scientific journal.

"Quite honestly, if you told me told four years ago when I started college that I would be working with melanoma cancer, I would not believe it," said Eby. "For a long time, it was a goal of mine to partake in research of some kind. I just was not sure how to get involved. I am very grateful that Dr. Borland offered me a chance to join his lab because I have learned so much and gained amazing opportunities."

"On behalf of the entire Bloomsburg University community, I congratulate Helena on this prestigious award," said BU President Bashar Hanna. "The application pool for this award is highly competitive, and for Helena to be recognized along with undergraduate students from large research institutions is a noteworthy accomplishment. I also congratulate Dr. Borland for his outstanding mentorship of Helena."

"Helena earning this award is a great testament to her hard work and dedication to the project, especially during the pandemic," Borland said. "Helena has leveraged the cutting-edge laboratory resources available in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department to grow this project by leaps and bounds."

The SURA covers travel, lodging, and attendance at the conference. She will participate in the Undergraduate Program and meet world-renowned toxicologists from industry, government, and academia. She'll have the opportunity to network and learn about future career opportunities and be recognized at the SURA awards ceremony.

"Helena's award is proof positive of the high impact research experiences that BU students can undertake as part of their Husky journey," said Borland. "Creating and maintaining the infrastructure to support these types of student opportunities is always challenging, and I am thankful for our university's continued investment in chemistry and biochemistry and student research campus-wide."

Eby, who will graduate in May, has big plans for the future.

"I plan to attend graduate school in the fall. My long-term goals involve medical school; however, I am not ready to give up research just yet — as Dr. Borland says, I 'caught the bug.' My plan is to pursue both an M.D. and Ph.D."