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  May 15, 2000

Scholar Turns Personal Challenge
Into Exceptional Research Opportunity

For the past six months, University Scholar Rebecca Martello has been living her life's dream in a research laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute in Baltimore, Md.

High Achieving Graduates Look
Set for Promising Careers

She's been involved in hands-on research with mice and a chemical compound that could lead to a breakthrough in treating cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects some 30,000 children and adults in the United States.

An extraordinary passion for her honors thesis research in the University's School of Allied Health brought the May graduate to the world-famous hospital.

She has been living with the effects of the cruel disease, which attacks the lungs and the digestive system, for all of her

23 years.

"I know I can't cure cystic fibrosis, but I'm happy if there's some small part I can play in conquering the disease," says Martello. "I know people whose health won't allow them to do the things they dream of."

During the past six months, Martello's dream has unfolded in Johns Hopkins' Cystic Fibrosis Research Development Center, under the guidance of William Guggino and Pamela Zeitlin, in a new endeavor called the Therapeutics Development Network Program.

"My project involves testing a chemical compound called 4-phenylbutyrat e on both normal mice and mice with cystic fibrosis," says Martello. There's evidence, she adds, that the compound restores the protein trafficking defect associated with the most common mutation in cystic fibrosis.

"The key is that if we can get the mutant protein to its proper place in the cell membrane, it does a pretty good job at controlling the chloride flow," says Martello. "Part of my project is to determine, in the mouse model, whether or not the compound can accomplish this."

With a primary major in diagnostic genetic sciences and a minor in molecular and cell biology, Martello has already accomplished great things in her young life, winning the respect and admiration of everyone she meets.

"You have the opportunity to work with a student like Rebecca about once in a lifetime," says Ellen Darrow, director of the Academic Advisory Center in the School of Allied Health.

That strong sentiment is also expressed by Martha Keagle, director of diagnostic genetic sciences, who first met Martello when she was a high school senior.

"Rebecca is free and open about sharing her experiences as to what it's like to be a person with a genetic disability," says Keagle. "She has shown great determination in all that she has had to surmount. Instead of using her illness as a crutch, she uses it to strive to do more and to do better."

A long list of achievements, honors and awards give testament to this student's drive.

Within the University community and in addition to being a University Scholar, Martello is an honors student, a Presidential Scholar and, having achieved more than a 3.5 GPA in two consecutive semesters, a New England Scholar.

She was recently named the School of Allied Health's Outstanding Senior Woman Student, an award made in conjunction with the Women's Center and the Chancellor's Commission on the Status of Women. She is also the recipient of the School's "Courage Award," presented by its Executive Council to a student, in recognition of courage in overcoming extraordinary barriers in completing degree work.

She also has served as a Husky Ambassador for the admissions office and was a member of the University's award-winning Voices of Freedom gospel choir.

Beyond the University, Martello is a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society, the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and will soon be inducted into Alpha Eta, the national honor society for Allied Health.

She also received a student research traineeship financial award from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which made possible her Johns Hopkins experience.

When Martello looks on her life, particularly her UConn days, she turns often to the word "blessed." Blessed, she says, by family, friends and faculty.

"I've faced a few challenges during my journey," she says, "and I realize I haven't faced the last of them, either."

Her next challenge: making a career decision to take her further along on life's journey.

Claudia Chamberlain