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UMPI professor awarded Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory fellowship

A University of Maine at Presque Isle Biology Professor will take part in a two and a half month research project at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory after earning a Visiting Scientist Fellowship from the prestigious research institution. Her fellowship is being funded in part by the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence [INBRE] program.

Dr. Rachael Hannah is working at the MDIBL from May 15 to July 31, and will focus her research on creating a central nervous system injury model in the zebra fish to better understand neuron regeneration. Dr. Hannah will work with the researcher Dr. Voot Yin, an expert in limb regeneration, on her project. According to Dr. Hannah, nothing like this has been reported thus far. She explained that using zebra fish for her research will help to answer basic questions regarding what happens to our brains after an injury.

“Zebra fish on their own are a very powerful model system because of the ability to modify their genes,” she said. “Instead of mice where it takes two to three years to achieve a genetic model, zebra fish take two to three months to create viable genetic models.”

If her model provides information that leads to further study of neuron regeneration in zebra fish, Dr. Hannah hopes to bring it north so she can do research at UMPI, and engage students in the research work. She said she’s quite excited to have support from the MDIBL for her initial research.

“I’m a young investigator and this is a risky idea, and for somebody to fund this idea is a unique opportunity for me,” she said. “It’s not often that you get to go out on a limb and say, ‘Hey, can we try this without any preliminary data or preliminary experimentation to see if this might work?’ This is a blind step, a leap of faith on their part, and it’s an amazing opportunity for me.”

Dr. Hannah earned two Bachelor’s degrees in Molecular Biology and Marine Biology in 1994 from the Florida Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. in Anatomy and Neurobiology from the University of Vermont in 2010. She is currently a part time Biology faculty member for the University, but will be a full time faculty member with the program in Fall 2011.

Dr. Hannah has completed several abstracts and peer-reviewed manuscripts including two publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her article in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism was selected as a feature article, and one of the images that illustrates her findings will be on the cover of the May issue of this journal, part of the Nature publishing group. Dr. Hannah also has delivered several conference presentations and is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the American Physiological Society. She is the recipient of two awards, both given in 2009: the award for Graduate Research Excellence from the New England Chapter of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET); and the Graduate Student Travel Award from the Society for Neuroscience, Women in Neuroscience (Eli Lilly).

Dr. Hannah is looking forward to working with world class researchers at the MDIBL and hopes that it strengthens connections between the University and the laboratory, especially for future researchers.