A team of Virginia Tech researchers led by Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor of cellular and molecular biology in the College of Science, has been honored with the 2019 J. Shelton Horsley Research Award from the Virginia Academy of Science.  

The J. Shelton Horsley Research Award is the highest honor given by the Virginia Academy of Science for original research, with recipients selected via a peer-reviewed competition for an outstanding research paper to be presented at the academy’s annual meeting.

Finkielstein and her team, based in the Department of Biological Sciences, were honored for a 2018 paper that showed the molecules tasked in protecting people from cancer initiation and progression are directly involved in regulating the function of one’s daily circadian rhythms – the internal clock that drives us from daily wake cycle to night sleep cycle.

Finkielstein’s team of post-doctorates, graduate and undergraduate students, and fellow professors includes:

·       Jingjing Liu, a former Virginia Tech graduate student, now a postdoctoral associate at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

·       Tetsuya Gotoh, a former postdoc who worked in Finkielstein’s lab and is now a chief scientist at the Wako-Riken Institute’s Department of Research and Development in Japan.

·       Liang Jiang and Xianlin Zou, graduate students in Finkielstein’s lab.

·       Esther Wisdom, a rising senior in the Department of Biological Sciences and a recent winner of the Goldwater Scholarship.

·       Anne M. Brown, an assistant professor in research and informatics in University Libraries and an adjunct professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

·       Jae Kyoung Kim, an associate professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who regularly visits Virginia Tech for collaborative efforts with Finkielstein.

Wisdom and Zou attended the awards banquet with Finkielstein, who is also a faculty researcher with the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

The paper was published in Science Signaling in fall 2018. The research team found that while healthy cells share a circadian rhythm with the rest of the body, tumors often have a different rhythm than the healthy cells surrounding them. Tumors divide differently than healthy cells and at different times, according to Finkielstein.

Since publication, the work has been presented at the Center for Circadian Biology Symposium in San Diego, the KAIST Institute in South Korea, and at the Global Breast Cancer Conference in South Korea, among other academic conferences. Finkielstein and her team were due to present the paper at the Gordon Conference in Chronobiology in Barcelona, Spain, as of press time.

“This work was truly a team effort done by a really great group of committed and curious researchers that enjoy discovering new ways for our cells to connect with their ever-changing environment,” Finkielstein said.

The Horsley Research Award honors the work of Richmond surgeon, philanthropist, and academy founder J. Shelton Horsley, who established the academy’s research grants program in 1928. 

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