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Breakthroughs in Science

Helen Hobbs, Goldwater Scholarship Recipient

April 16th, 2013

“I am so glad I came to OSU,” says Helen about her college experience so far, “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

When confronted with the life altering choice of where to go to college, Helen Hobbs knew that she wanted to study at a university that offered more than just lectures.  This revelation guided Helen to Oregon State University and the beginning of a great research career.  After her high school graduation, Helen packed up her bags in Butte, Montana and headed to Corvallis.

Helen Hobbs

Helen Hobbs, Goldwater Scholarship Recipient

Helen was the daughter of scientists and her own inquisitive mind was drawn to chemistry.  She really enjoyed the idea of applying chemistry to biological systems.  This fascination lead to her choice to study biochemistry in the College of Science at OSU. Biochemistry isn’t offered as an undergraduate major at many universities, and coupled with so many opportunities to conduct research as an undergraduate, Oregon State was a natural fit.

Thanks to HHMI, Helen was able to work with Dr. Barb Taylor in Zoology during the summer between her freshman and sophomore years.  At the Undergraduate Research Symposium she presented “Bacterial Colonization of Drosophila Larvae”.  She enjoyed her time in Dr. Taylor’s lab, but wanted to do more cellular research and actually focus on her field of choice, biochemistry.  Helen was driven to work with Dr. Tori Hagen of the Linus Pauling Institute.

Helen’s project in the Hagen laboratory focuses on the protein aldehyde dehydrogenase 3 (ALDH3), which is secreted in human saliva in order to begin the conversion of reactive aldehydes, that can cause damage to proteins and DNA, into relatively non-toxic alcohols. ALDH3 is also of interest because it is linked to a transcriptional regulator, Nrf2, whose activity has been observed to decrease as organisms age, resulting in an increased susceptibility to oxidative damage.  Feeding rats the dithiol compound, lipoic acid (LA), reverses the age-related loss of Nrf2 gene transcription.  However, the effectiveness of LA in the Nrf2 mediated stress defense in humans remains untested. This is the aspect at which her research has been directed as she is measuring the quantity of ALDH3 and other stress response proteins in clinical saliva and white blood cell samples.

Before being involved in undergraduate research, Helen was interested in becoming a medical doctor.  Now she has found a passion in research and wants to continue this career trajectory by eventually obtaining her PhD so that she may teach as well as conduct research. Her dream school for graduate studies is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and she will have the opportunity to experience what the campus has to offer as she will be spending nine weeks this summer at MIT for an internship.

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