Trevor Boram’s heroes have always been scientists, and now the 20-year-old Indiana University East junior from Arcanum, Ohio, is joining them as he helps to “lay the foundation” for research into skin cancer avoidance and/or cures.
Boram has spent the last year working with physicist Yu Kay Law, IU East assistant professor of chemistry, to research and study the excited state dynamics of adenine tract.
Adenine is one of four bases of DNA, along with guanine, thymine and cytosine.
“This was a good opportunity to get to do some good, hands-on research,” he said.
When Ultra-Violet (UV) light hits skin, it sometimes causes DNA damage to cells which replicate, causing skin cancer. Boram and Law are studying the mechanism that causes that damage to occur. While the damage can often be reversed or corrected, base stack damage cannot always be fixed. They are trying to understand how the mechanism works.
“You can’t fix something until you understand how it’s broken,” Boram said.
Boram’s abilities and search for understanding make him particularly well suited for research.
“Trevor is a very inquisitive student who is extremely talented in understanding both conceptual and mathematical reasoning, and he is extremely able to apply his understanding and what he has learnt in his reading to master new skills and tasks,” Law said.
In his research, Boram “zaps” DNA molecules with energy (UV light, for example), which puts the DNA in an excited state. “Kind of like loading up a five-year-old with sugar,” he laughed. This causes the electrons to move more erratically. He then uses IU’s supercomputers – Karst and Big Red II – to monitor charge transfers (electrons jumping from one base to another), a phenomenon indicative of base stacking. “There’s a higher likelihood of damage when base stacking occurs due to the minimal distance electrons have to travel. It’s easier for electrons to move,” he explained.
The initial results were unexpected. “We saw less charge transfer than we thought we would,” based on other studies, Boram said.
As a 2015 Summer Research Scholar, Boram spent a week at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), studying molecular dynamics with Paul Nerenberg, “to better understand different methods we could try in our research.”
Boram then spent the summer trying out different ideas.
“As of now, we’ve come to the conclusion that the way we’re looking for charge transfers is not the most effective way,” Boram said.
Although this field of research has been active for 10 or more years, there are so few researchers studying it that little progress has been made in nucleotide molecular dynamics, so Boram is essentially helping to blaze a trail for others to follow.
Boram, a biochemistry and mathematics double-major, has been interested in science and math since grade school, and credits his high school chemistry teacher, Shelia Reichard, with inspiring his interest in chemistry. He also acknowledges a deep debt to Hitesh Kathuria, IU East School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics associate dean and associate professor of chemistry/biochemistry, for inspiring him to become involved in research, and providing him with not just the education, but the confidence needed to get into graduate or medical school.
Boram also works hard to assist others in their endeavors. Law added, “He is always willing to participate in class and in the laboratory, and his mastery of laboratory techniques has been impressive, and he works well both with faculty mentors and other classmates to further knowledge.”
He plans to attend medical school, and aspires to be a neurosurgeon, but he is much more than just another big-brained science guy. He is also highly involved in Campus Life, as president of both the Honors Club and the Pre-Professionals Club, vice president of the Math Club, and chair of Service Learning and Engagement for the Student Government Association, as well as a member of the Service-Learning Club. He has organized widely-varied events, from a dodgeball tournament to cultural events to organizing and giving talks on a number of topics.
Boram also plays lead guitar in a local band, “Gyruss” which played at the 2016 Mid-East Honors Association (MEHA) conference held at IU East in April, and mentors eighth grade students about stopping bullying.
Boram presented on his work as part of Student Research Day held April 8.