Three years of experiments at Illinois State University, combined with over a dozen trips to collaborating laboratories at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, led the research of student Kevin Stanley, Ph.D. ’17, to be featured as “new and notable” in Biophysical Journal.

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Stanley has been researching with School of Biological Sciences Director Craig Gatto since Stanley arrived on campus in 2013. The Illinois State duo have been collaborating with Texas Tech researchers Dylan Meyer and Pablo Artigas to further explain the conformational changes that take place within the sodium pump, a protein found in all animal cells. The pump regulates and maintains a cell’s ion concentration by moving sodium and potassium across the plasma membrane.

“Researchers who have been in the field for years may never get this recognition.”—Craig Gatto

The sodium pump regulates salt balance through gradients, similar to a pulley system. When sodium rushes in, potassium moves out. New research has found that there is also a pathway for hydrogen ions, or protons, to move through the membrane. Stanley’s research focuses on these leaks of protons during gradient changes.

“There is something within these conformational changes that allows a proton to move from out to in, which in itself is something that we didn’t know this protein did,” Gatto said. “Kevin has isolated the protein confirmation that allows this proton movement through, and he has identified the state that the protein must be in in order for these changes to occur.”

Being featured as “new and notable” at 26 years old is no average feat.

“Researchers who have been in the field for years may never get this recognition,” said Gatto. “To be chosen as new and notable means that the leaders in my field recognized my student’s work as important.”

Stanley’s research is already providing immediate applications in heart and kidney physiology. Excess proton leakage may also cause migraines. Malfunctions in the calcium ion pump, which work similarly to the sodium pump, are known to cause a range of medical problems, including deafness.

“If we can figure out how these proteins do this, and then we can circumvent that somehow, we can cure a lot of diseases,”
said Gatto.

Stanley has been selected to be a postdoctoral student at the University of Wisconsin’s medical school.