Featured Student: Jan Frankowski

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Major: Biology

Future Plans: To apply for pharmacology and neuroscience Ph.D. programs

UF-HHMI Science for Life Awards:

  • UF-HHMI Science for Life Intramural Awardee
  • Undergraduate research in Dr. Eduardo Candelario-Jalil’s Lab
  • Sponsored Travel to the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference
  • Sponsored Travel to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Symposium at Emory University

Additional Awards:

  • Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Awarded March 2014
  • Florida Opportunity Scholar, Awarded August 2011

Publication and Presentation Awards:

  • 3rd Place Poster Presentation – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Symposium, Emory University, March 22-23rd, 2014
  • 3rd Place in the Health Category of Oral Presentations—20th annual SAEOPP McNair/SSS research conference, June 27-June 31, 2014
  • Hawkins, K. E., DeMars, K. M., Singh, J., Yang, C., Cho, H. S., Frankowski, J. C., &
    Candelario-Jalil, E. Neurovascular protection by post-ischemic injections of the lipoxin A4 receptor agonist, BML-111, in a rat model of ischemic stroke. Journal of Neurochemistry 2014; 129, 130-142. PMID 24225006.

Fun Fact about Jan: He brews kombucha tea. He also likes to grow plants and succulents.

Jan’s Advice to new students interested in research:
“It’s impossible to tell whether or not you like this kind of work unless you try it. Any predisposed notions you have about what it’s really like are probably wrong, I’ve learned this firsthand. You’re here at the university to develop as a scholar and as a professional and this is one of the best ways to further those means. Even if you find it’s not for you, finish on good terms and you’ll have someone that can speak highly of you.”

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Frankowski and his research mentor, Dr. Eduardo-Candelario-Jalil talk in the lab.

Jan Frankowski, Featured July Student Post

By Rachel Damiani

Jan Frankowski is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Eduardo Candelario-Jalil’s lab in the Department of Neuroscience, researching anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce damage from strokes. After two years in Candelario-Jalil’s lab, Jan has been very successful, co-authoring one publication and winning multiple presentation awards. In addition to his UF-HHMI Intramural Award, Frankowski is also a McNair Scholar.

An Early Curiosity for Science
Jan Frankowski spots a bone in his neighbor’s yard as he walks home from school. Bending down in the grass, he finds more bones, which create a full skeleton of an animal he cannot identify. He races to his house, grabs a roll of toilet paper, and returns to the discovery site, delicately wrapping each bone in tissue.

The next morning, he carries the bones in a plastic bag to the desk of his 5th grade science teacher and he tells her confidently that he has found the remains of an undiscovered creature. His teacher tells Jan that he has done great work and that she would send the bones off to a testing center for results. Meanwhile, his teacher probably had no idea what to initially do with the dead opossum remains Jan had placed on her desk.

“For months I would ask her, ‘so what are the results’? It took me years to figure out that she just threw it away,” Jan said and laughed.

 

Discovering a Research Niche
When Jan first entered UF, he hoped to conduct research involving plants, so he took a vegetable gardening course. Jan’s interest in plants stemmed from his mother, who always had elaborate gardens during his childhood. Jan, too, grows whatever he can in his backyard in Gainesville today.

During his courses, he listened to a couple of professors speak about their work with plants, one who breeds 50,000 plants a year, another person who was trying to make the spiciest peppers in the world. Although both researchers were interesting to Jan, neither one was a perfect research fit. It wasn’t until he heard Dr. Eduardo Candelario-Jalil speak about his stroke research during the Science for Life seminar that Jan had found his specific research aims.

When Jan was two years old, his father had a stroke and lost most of his ability to talk and walk. Jan helped take care of his dad from an early age. In high school, Jan had an affinity for science and he wanted to understand how processes in the body worked, especially the biological basis of behavior and disease. He also wanted to better understand stroke, which was fostered by a fascination with chemistry and neuroscience.

Jan resonated with Candelario-Jalil’s work, realizing that his lab could provide him a space to directly research the underlying mechanisms that reduce stroke damage. He contacted Candelario-Jalil and began working in his lab in April 2012. Entering Candelario-Jalil’s lab for the first time was intimidating for Jan, as this was his first research experience.

“You walk in the lab and think ‘ah cool, this is some sweet equipment. I have no idea what any of it does’” he said. “You’re learning techniques and the whole time you’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to mess up because they’re actually going to use my data.’”

Despite his initial fear, Jan’s data was productive. In December 2013, Jan was a co-author on a paper published in the Journal of Neurochemistry.

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Understanding Damage from Strokes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the 4th leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, which is when one of the blood vessels carrying blood to the brain becomes blocked because of a clot. Without a blood supply, tissue in the brain dies very quickly, forming the infarct core. Surrounding the infarct core is tissue known as the “ischemic penumbra.” Secondary injuries to the ischemic penumbra are potentially preventable, and this is the target of neuro-protective drugs.

One of the major reasons why the penumbra is damaged is due to the disruption of the blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier separates blood from extracellular fluid in the brain. Blood vessels in the body are lined with endothelial cells. Typically, endothelial tissue in the body is somewhat permeable, allowing molecules to flow through it, Jan said. The blood brain barrier is different.

“Basically, if you took a thread and stitched all of the endothelial cells together so that they don’t leak, those threads are the blood brain barrier,” Jan said.

This sealed barrier in the brain keeps unwanted molecules that are circulating in the blood from entering the brain. However, after a stroke, the stitches are degraded, allowing toxic substances into the brain, which damage the ischemic penumbra. Jan’s research in Candelario-Jalil’s lab focuses on developing drugs to reduce inflammation and damage in the blood brain barrier following a stroke. The paper that he recently co-authored found that one anti-inflammatory, BML-111, resulted in decreased infarct core size and reduced blood brain barrier disruption, among many results.

 

Beyond the Research Lab
Jan’s parents and his siblings were born in Poland, but moved to the United States four years before he was born. Regardless, Jan grew up embracing both Polish and American cultures. At home, he speaks Polish with his family and every couple of years Jan travels to Poland to visit his family.

“I go back and everyone remembers me,” Jan said. “The sense of community there is just a lot stronger than anywhere else I have experienced.”

Besides traveling, playing music is a favorite past time for Jan and “quiets the mind” in the middle of his busy schedule. Jan enjoys playing the guitar and the ukulele. He has a ukulele hidden in the lab that he plays when no one is around. One day another undergraduate student walked into the lab while Jan was playing. He pretended the ukulele lab playing was normal, answered the student’s question, and kept playing.

Jan also specifically likes to play flamenco music. Ironically, Jan’s interest in flamenco originated because he liked heavy metal music. But then, he wanted something more.

“I was trying to find music that took the guitar and projected a lot of emotion without lyrics,” said Jan. “Then, I got into flamenco because it’s just one guy and his guitar making it all happen.”

 

Research Awards and Future Plans
In the past six months, Jan has received many prestigious awards, including a third place poster presentation award at Emory’s STEM Symposium, a third place winning oral presentation in the health category at the 20th annual SAEOPP McNair/SSS research conference, and a McNair Scholar Award. And this is just the beginning.

Now entering his senior year in August, Jan is currently working on another publication. Also, he plans to apply for top graduate programs in pharmacology, including one at Harvard University. If accepted at Harvard, he would be working at Massachusetts General Hospital, the same hospital where Jan’s father was treated. Jan is passionate about pursuing a career as a researcher to try and prevent damage from strokes.

 

Jan plays his “hidden ukulele” outside of his lab and in front of his winning research poster from the SAEOPP McNair/SSS research conference.

 

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Photographs by Rachel Damiani

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