It was spring 2018 when I learned of the inaugural SOT Undergraduate Faculty Grant Program. My first reaction was pride that SOT recognized the importance of undergraduate faculty in recruiting new toxicologists and would now begin supporting undergraduate research experiences to this end. My immediate next thought was “How can I apply?”
It was shortly thereafter that Ms. Taylor Runkle was recruited to be part of a collaborative project between Dr. Ellen Kehres (Chemistry and Biochemistry) and me. Ms. Runkle was just the right candidate to support through this grant; she was a rising sophomore in the Honors Program and the BS Chemistry—Biochemistry Option program in my department at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Runkle has career aspirations in the biomedical sciences and had previously shown interest in my research because of its interdisciplinary focus on biochemistry, molecular toxicology, and skin tumorigenesis. We decided that Ms. Runkle would begin a project investigating an isosteric selenium-substituted PPARβ/δ ligand as a novel human malignant melanoma therapeutic. Ms. Runkle would compare the dose-response effects of GW501516 (Cardarine) and its selenium-substituted analog (termed Se-GW501516) with respect to cell proliferation, clonal expansion, caspase-dependent apoptosis, and modulation of PPARβ/δ target gene expression. These effects would be studied in the UACC903 human malignant cell line, as well as stable transgenic UACC903 cell lines that overexpress PPARβ/δ. In total, this project would provide Ms. Runkle the opportunity to conduct original and highly impactful research in molecular toxicology. While the $500 grant award did not cover all the project costs, the Society’s support of this worthwhile undergraduate research experience meant the world to this Primarily Undergraduate Institution (PUI) educator.
Ms. Runkle began working on the project this past fall semester and has continued work into the spring. She has learned the nuances of sterile cell culture, study design, executing diverse in vitro analyses, data collection, and biostatistics. The preliminary results of her project have shown great promise and opened new lines of research for my lab. I’m happy to report that Ms. Runkle will submit an abstract for the SOT 59th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo! I could not be prouder to have Ms. Runkle seek the high-impact experience of presenting at an internationally attended conference in my profession. Ms. Runkle concurred, stating, “This exposure in toxicology has expanded my awareness of many possibilities available to me in the future. The most intriguing aspect of this research has been the real-world practicality and what future implications it could have on cancer treatment.” Ms. Runkle also has been an excellent role model and female advocate for STEM at Bloomsburg University. She inspires those around her to work hard and was a perfect inaugural benefactor of the SOT Undergraduate Faculty Grant Program.
I close with thankfulness and advocacy. Thank you to Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (@BloomsburgU) for supporting my academic career, and thank you to SOT (@SOToxicology) for supporting faculty-mentored research at PUIs to recruit the next generation of toxicologists. And now for those undergraduate educators reading this … please consider applying for the 2019 SOT Undergraduate Faculty Grant Program. You may be just one short proposal away from an influential undergraduate research experience that recruits a future toxicology colleague!
Michael G. Borland, PhD
Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Member, SOT Undergraduate Education Subcommittee
Education Fellow, ASBMB