Rebuilding muscle and generating hope

Name: Whitney Pavalko
Major: Animal science (biotechnology concentration)
Year: Senior
Hometown: Greenwood, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Shihuan Kuang, assistant professor, Animal Sciences

Improving quality of life: Whitney currently is working on synthetic stem cell microenvironment. It is one of the most active and innovative research areas in stem cell research. She has helped identify a novel combination of chemical and physical properties that enhance stem cells' contribution to muscle growth and regeneration. Her research has the potential to have a “critical impact on the treatment of age-related muscle atrophy and degenerative muscle diseases.”

Java, my inspiration: As a teenager, Whitney had a racehorse named Java. Together, they participated in eventing, an equestrian competition. “Java had issues with his hind knees. Even after a year of treatment, the veterinarians could not figure out how to repair his muscle.” This personal experience encouraged her to pursue stem cell and muscle repair research once she got into the Muscle Lab at Purdue.

“You got a llama”: As a kid, Whitney got a card from her aunt that said, “You got a llama." Her aunt had donated a llama in her name to Heifer International, which works with communities to end hunger and poverty. Instead of short-term relief, this organization provides families a source of income by giving them livestock and teaching them how to take care of their animals. Whitney’s passion for animals and her desire to help people led her to join the organization. Currently, she is president of the Purdue chapter of Heifer International.

Wedding bells: Whitney is looking forward to graduating in May and getting married to her fiancé, Gil, who is graduating from civil engineering at Purdue. She plans to start graduate school in fall 2011 and continue her research.

By Atul Todi

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