When Primal de Lanerolle’s family moved from Sri Lanka to Berkeley, Calif., in 1958, the transition was tough. “One thing that kept me going was that I became very involved with Young Life,” de Lanerolle said. “My friends there introduced me to Whitworth, and I decided to attend.”
De Lanerolle, ’68, came to Whitworth intending to go on to medical school. “My father wanted to be a doctor himself,” he said, “and he pushed me hard in this direction. But a freshman English class taught by Dean Ebner changed my life.” Ebner, along with English professors Ken Richardson and Don Frantz, taught the young scholar about consciousness, and about how one fits into the physical universe. “Although they taught it from a humanistic and Christian point of view,” he said, “it has been an important guiding principle for me as a scientist.”
After earning an undergraduate degree in English literature and chemistry, de Lanerolle completed a master’s degree in literature at San Francisco State University. He chose science over literature for his doctoral studies, believing that he was better at the former; he earned his Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego. He is now a professor of physiology and biophysics in medicine, and director of the vascular biology program, at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
De Lanerolle’s major scholarly interest is in the role of proteins known as molecular motors. His research team discovered the first molecular motor in the nucleus and showed that it was involved in the first step in gene expression. “In tangible ways, this discovery is changing how we think about the nucleus and gene expression,” he said. “I am proud of this achievement. But I think I am most proud of something else. One of the things I learned at Whitworth is that the most important thing is touching other people’s lives in positive ways. I think I have been a good mentor. That is what I am most proud of.”