Eli Soyfer: Recipient of the 2018 Danny Brower Memorial Scholarship

Tucson native Eli Soyfer has known about Dr. Danny Brower for a while. When Brower, former MCB Department Head, died unexpectedly in 2007, there was a story in the paper, Soyfer recalls.

“I remember reading about this great person who passed away,” explains Soyfer, a rising MCB senior and recipient of the 2018 Danny Brower Memorial Scholarship.

The MCB Department, where Brower had worked for many years, established the named scholarship to commemorate the life of a beloved colleague and professor.

“To be associated with him is an honor and a privilege,” Soyfer states with pride. “This scholarship will help me focus even more on my studies and less on financial burdens, as well as having a role model for how to act and how to be a PhD. It confirms MCB is definitely the right place for me.”

A first-generation college student, Soyfer has taken full advantage of all that MCB and the University of Arizona have to offer, reflecting the same enthusiasm and interest in cross-pollination of ideas that Brower was known for.

“I like the big environment—there are so many opportunities and people to meet. Even though [U of A] is really big, it’s easy to make it smaller,” Soyfer assures. As he names the organizations he’s involved in, it’s easy to see that he’s making a big impact.

If Brower is a role model for Soyfer, Soyfer has already established himself as a model for other students through his involvement in various campus organizations. Within MCB, he sets a standard for academic excellence while guiding and supporting newer students first as a preceptor, then TA, for the MCB 181 lab.

Down the road from Life Sciences South, Soyfer supports fellow students outside of class as a Resident Assistant in the Arbol de la Vida honors dorm. And if you can’t find him there, he’s probably pulling an overnight “C” shift as an EMT with the University EMS team, volunteering his medical knowledge to help the U of A community. Or, maybe he’s showing a prospective student around a lab in his role as a College of Science Ambassador.

“I think I have a unique ability to be responsible for many things at the same time,” Soyfer admits. It’s no surprise he’s a fan of Muhammad Ali’s exhortation “don't count the days, make the days count.”

Soyfer has made himself at home at the U of A, but is quick to point out that the home he grew up in is most important of all, “I am very fortunate to have my family—without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

Family has supported his pursuit of a career in medicine, and it was family that initially inspired his interest in the medical profession. Soyfer realized he wanted to be a doctor when his grandmother was sick with cancer and he accompanied her to chemotherapy appointments. His time in MCB has fostered that passion, while sparking an interest in research as well.

“I wanted to help people who were in pain and suffering,” Soyfer explains. “I wasn’t sure if research was for me. Then, working in [Dr.] Lisa [Nagy’s] lab made me realize that it was for me.”

“He passionately loves science,” Nagy observes, confirming “It didn’t take him long in the lab to realize he really enjoys doing research!”

Soyfer counts himself lucky that he has had Nagy for both MCB 305 and now MCB 572A—a graduate course he is able to take as an Accelerated Masters Program (AMP) student.

“She got me interested [in research] and set me up with a foundation,” Soyfer enthuses, adding research “really connected the academic world and application, making the knowledge all the more engaging.”

Soyfer spent three semesters in Nagy’s lab, examining how development evolves by looking at the gene regulatory network that patterns the development of segments in the flour beetle. With some basic science research under his belt, Soyfer looked to expand his understanding of translational research.

“His heart lies in doing clinically relevant research,” Nagy explains, “so I counseled him to try to get some experience in exactly what he wanted to do with his future.”

Soyfer headed to MCB Department Head Joyce Schroeder’s lab at the cancer center, where he has spent the past semester researching proteins that help move other proteins, sorting nexins (especially SNX1), in the context of a cancer drug trial.

“The drug we’re working on could be used on cancer patients next door at the hospital!” Soyfer points out, excited by its potential to help patients once clinical trials conclude.

Soyfer’s project has focused on optimizing the design of the drug, which aims to prevent the EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) protein from moving to the cell nucleus, where it promotes cell growth.

Soyfer joined the lab in January, and has impressed Schroeder already as “a bright, focused and enthusiastic student.”

“Joyce is a great research mentor—she’s helping me figure out what I want to do,” Soyfer explains. “The research she does is fascinating and applicable. [Graduate student] Ben Atwell really showed me how graduate courses work and about graduate student work life inside and outside the lab. He loves the work he does so much it’s infectious.”

As Soyfer steps into that graduate student world to complete his AMP, he has his own support network, which now includes the memory of Danny Brower, and the example he set.

Zoja Bazarnic
Publish Date: 
May 15, 2018