Carla Finkielstein wants to know why women who work night shifts or jobs with odd hours have higher rates of breast cancer, and the Avon Foundation is helping her find out. The associate professor of biological sciences in Virginia Tech's College of Science recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the annual Avon Walk and receive a check for $150,000 in support of her research.

Finkielstein and her team are looking into the relationship between circadian rhythms -- the body’s natural clock, which synchronizes physiology and behavior to a 24-hour cycle -- and the natural processes of cell growth, division, and death. They hope to identify the molecular mechanisms by which the body’s clock suppresses tumors, which could point the way toward finding additional therapeutic targets, thus providing a valuable new resource for drug discovery and development.

By defining the right time of the day at which treatments need to be delivered to have the greatest effect, Finkielstein’s work also has the potential to improve how current therapies are administered.

At the Avon Walk’s closing ceremony on May 6, 2012, the Avon Foundation for Women announced new funding for 10 organizations. The grants cover a wide range of purposes, but of the five universities receiving grants, only Virginia Tech received direct research funding.

Finkielstein says that, while the funding is very important to her work, the greatest benefit of her relationship with Avon is that company's connection with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's Army of Women program. Created by Susan Love, a breast surgeon, and supported by a grant from the Avon Foundation, the Army of Women organizes women volunteers across the country to participate in studies and contribute tissue samples for research.

Finkielstein said the ability to receive tissue samples from healthy women for comparison purposes is valuable because, in most cases, local hospitals are reluctant to perform biopsies on non-patients, so obtaining samples would be very difficult.

The Army of Women put Finkielstein in touch with the Komen Tissue Bank in Indiana, which can collect samples from volunteers and ship them to Virginia overnight.

“Such a resource is invaluable since there is literally no bank that can provide us with samples from healthy volunteers whose major difference is in their work schedule,” Finkielstein said. “It enables us to use human samples, rather than animal tissue, so outcomes from our research will be directly relevant to human medicine. This is a great advantage. Having access to human tissue donated by willing volunteers will help us get accurate results, accelerating discovery.”

The Avon Foundation focuses its grant making on prevention, and encourages researchers to utilize the resources of the Army of Women.

Marc Hurlbert, executive director of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, praised Finkielstein and her fellow grant recipients in a press release that read, in part: “Our beneficiaries are leaders from your communities in the fight against breast cancer. They represent organizations that offer life-saving services to patients regardless of their ability to pay and they’re doing cutting-edge research to find better treatments, prevention strategies, and ultimately a cure. These new grants will literally help them save lives.”



Written by Charles George.

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