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Carla Finkielstein, Ph.D.

Carla Finkielstein, Ph.D.

Director, Molecular Diagnostics Lab
Interim Director, Cancer Research Group

Carla Finkielstein, Ph.D. headshot

“For years now, we biologists have been working tirelessly to understand the processes that lead to cancer development and progression. We’ve elucidated the molecular basis by which cells grow, divide, talk to each other, relate to the environment, and die. However, it has not been enough to cure cancer. Now is the time to do something different. We need to branch out to other disciplines and tackle this problem through interdisciplinary efforts.”

Connecting scientific disciplines to cure cancer

Does the body's internal clock hamper the effectiveness of radiation therapy? 

Finkielstein’s lab studies the molecular clocks that tell cells when it’s time to grow, divide, and die. Cells in our body have a predictable 24-hour cycle of division that is regulated by a mix of genetic and environmental cues, such as exposure to light, temperature, and hormone levels. At around sunset every day, freshly divided daughter cells undergo rigorous review, during which DNA replication is completed and an average of 20,000 daily mutations are repaired.

When a cell’s repair system is impaired, cancerous mutations accumulate – particularly if those mutations involve the network of genes that regulate cellular repair and tumor suppression. These mutations disrupt the clock mechanism that keeps cells running in a 24-hour cycle and, as a result, cell division occurs at unscheduled times throughout the day. Left unchecked, cancerous cells are permitted to grow and divide at their own pace, resulting in tumors.

In a series of studies by the Finkielstein lab, her team reported the unexpected link between a key circadian protein responsible for keeping the cell’s molecular clock running, a tumor suppressor molecule that makes sure cells do not carry harmful mutations when they divide, and an oncogene that influences the speed of the cell’s clock. These findings emphasize the important relationship between the molecular circadian clock and key catalysts involved in cancer initiation and progression.

Finkielstein’s research offers a critical foundation for the emerging field of chronotherapeutics – the study of time-of-day medicine. This new discipline integrates the cellular and molecular biology of circadian rhythms to inform decision-making about when a therapeutic should be administered to yield the best results.

  • Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute 
  • Scientific Director, Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute 
  • Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science
  • Roger H. Moore and Mojdeh Khatam-Moore Faculty Fellow
  • Director, Integrated Cellular Responses Laboratory, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Co-Director, Virginia Tech Cancer Research Alliance
  • Interim Director, Cancer Research Group, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute
  • Associate Director of Research, Academy of Integrated Sciences (AIS), College of Science
  • Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, School of Medicine
  • Virginia Tech
    Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
  • University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
    Postdoctral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, School of Medicine
  • University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
    Research Associate, Department of Pharmacology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • University of Buenos Aires: Ph.D., Molecular Biology
  • University of Buenos Aires: B.Sc., Molecular Biology
  • Ut Prosim Scholar Award, Virginia Tech, (2021)
  • Luther and Alice Hamlett Junior Faculty Fellow (2020)
  • J. Shelton Horsley Research Award, Virginia Academy of Science (2019) 
  • Mitzi L. Frank Memorial Endowed Fund (2018)
  • Mary Louise Olds Andrews Cancer Award, Virginia Academy of Science (2017)
  • College of Science Dean’s Discovery Fund Award, Virginia Tech (2017)
  • Molecular Biology Society of Japan, Best Research Work (2016)
  • Institute of Society, Culture, and Environment Scholar Award, Virginia Tech (2015)
  • Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence, Virginia Tech (2015)
  • Nanotechnology Entrepreneurship Challenge Award, Institute for Critical Technologies and Advance Science (2014)
  • College of Science Outreach Excellence Award, Virginia Tech (2013)
  • Research Scholar of the Week, Virginia Tech (2013)
  • Appalachian Community Cancer Network Scholarship (2012)
  • Karin Decker Noss Scholarship Award, Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (2011)
  • American Association for Cancer Research Minority Scholar Award in Cancer Research, AACR (2010)
  • National Breast Cancer Coalition Scholarship (2010)
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award, NSF (2009)
  • Carl Strom Underrepresented Minority Fellowship (2009)
  • Nominated by Virginia Tech to SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award, Rising Star (2009)
  • Pulmonary Hypertension Association Postdoctoral Fellowship. Awarded and declined (2002)
  • American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship (2002)
  • Lucio Cherny Foundation Award. Outstanding PhD dissertation award (1997)
  • Thalmann Fellowship for Teaching and Research Excellence (1995)
  • University of Toronto Fellowship to Scientific Visitors (1995)
  • University of Buenos Aires Award. To scientific, teaching and technical achievement (1993 – 1997)


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