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>  News Releases >   2002 >   January

For Dartmouth sophomore, scientific success comes early

Posted 01/23/02

Portland, Maine, native Alex Lankowski has opportunities most college sophomores only dream about: Not only is he conducting scientific research at Maine's famed Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) and in Dartmouth Medical School's Cystic Fibrosis Research Development Program, but he's about to have his name on an important new study that has implications for cystic fibrosis treatment in humans.

This summer the results of Lankowski's research will appear in the MDIBL newsletter. He and his advisor, Bruce Stanton, Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Development Program and Professor of Physiology at Dartmouth Medical School, are also in the process of writing about the study for other scholarly publications.

Lankowski studies the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein in killifish -- a small, estuary-dwelling animal that can survive in both salt and fresh water environments. CFTR is the same protein responsible for cystic fibrosis in humans, and understanding how this protein functions in killifish can lead to understanding how it malfunctions in humans.

"We see this system that breaks down in humans, where CFTR fails to do its job–which is to move salt in and out of cells–and we wanted to see how this same system worked in killifish," said Lankowski.

Lankowski says killifish are valuable to this research because of the amount of CFTR they produce, and the fact that they are abundant and relatively easy to catch. At Mt. Desert Island Lankowski found the best method of catching killifish was to wait until low tide when the fish become trapped in the upstream part of the estuaries, then to wade in with traps bated with bagel. This method sometimes yielded as many as 150 or more specimens. The fish were then dissected and a tiny piece of the gill was removed for study under the microscope.

Stanton, who has overseen much of Lankowski's work at Dartmouth, said Lankowski demonstrates exceptional capability as a scientific researcher.

"Alex basically conducts all of his own experiments," said Stanton. "Whether he's at MDIBL or here at Dartmouth he has his own ideas he wants to pursue, and we can count on him to do first-rate work."

Stanton said early this fall Lankowski traveled from the MDIBL to Dartmouth with hundreds of live killifish in his car in order to continue his research during the school year.

"It just gives you a sense of how professional he is about research," Stanton said.

However, scientific success did not happen overnight for Lankowski. He's been working at Mt. Desert Island for four summers now. He began the summer after his high school sophomore year, traveling there to work in the lab. Lankowski says he's been interested in biology since childhood.

"Growing up in Portland, the ocean and all the wildlife were always right there," he said.

Lankowsky said his early success as a researcher has given him much to think about in making his future plans. "I'd always assumed I'd be a doctor," said the bio-chemistry and romance language major. "But it's been such a great experience working at Dartmouth and the MDIBL that I've realized how much I love research. I'm now thinking of ways I can combine medicine and research in my future plans."

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