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Undergrad Project Lands on National Stage

Three Palm Beach Atlantic students have earned a spot in a national research conference to present their work studying the cancer-fighting potential of oregano. 

The students (from left in photo above) are Amanda Calderon, Allison Cool and Annie Hernandez. They will present “Anti-Cancer Properties Association to Thymol: A Plant-Derived Bioactive Molecule” at the National Council on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) conference in April. 

The conference is a highly recognized annual interdisciplinary conference that provides a stage for undergraduate students to share with the world their talents and advancements. This marks the first time PBA students will present at the conference.

For Calderon, the recognition holds both personal and professional significance. She reached out to her professors upon learning of her uncle’s diagnosis with stage 4 stomach cancer, and they helped her understand his condition in detail, she said. After her uncle overcame cancer, she took the course Biology of Cancer. Soon after, Dr. Chris Hickey, assistant professor of biology, offered her the opportunity to work in the lab.

"Trials the research team faced paved the way for their success," Calderon said.

“This honor has shown me that our hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed,” she said.

Her fellow undergraduate researcher Cool said, “It is truly a wonderful feeling to be a part of something so much bigger than myself.”

“After working so many hours in the lab, it is rewarding to see my contribution to cancer research being recognized while bringing attention to Palm Beach Atlantic University,” Cool said.

Hernandez views the conference presentation as an opportunity to represent PBA — and the Lord — in front of the national scientific community. The platform will allow the students to demonstrate that Christianity and science can be “impactfully connected,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez transferred to PBA from a large state university because she desired more personal connections with her mentors and a more faith-based learning experience, she said.

 “From the moment I first stepped on this campus, I could tell that I wouldn’t be just a number,” Hernandez said. “The professors here genuinely care about their students and invest in them, and that authentic concern for my education is what opened me up to learn as much as possible from them. Ultimately, that led to the chance to join this research team.”

The students work in the lab of Hickey and Dr. Cidya Grant, associate professor of chemistry. Hickey said the researchers have discovered that bioactive molecules in oregano actively target ovarian cancer cells and leukemia cells, resulting in cell death. The same molecules do not target the healthy cells, signaling a promising development in the fight against cancer, he said.