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Governor Honors Menaker as Top Scientist
Michael Menaker
Photo by Rebecca Arrington

February 12, 2003 -- Gov. Mark R. Warner and Science Museum of Virginia Director Dr. Walter R.T. Witschey announced Tuesday that Michael Menaker, Commonwealth Professor of Biology, is one of six Outstanding Scientists and two Outstanding Industrialists of 2003. The awardees include six university scientists and two corporate chief executive officers. They will be introduced to the General Assembly on Feb. 18 and receive their awards at a banquet at the Science Museum in Richmond on April 1.

"These recipients are at the cutting edge of their fields," said Gov. Warner. "Their creativity, contributions, and dedication are aimed at making life - in Virginia and beyond - better for us all."

Menaker's research focuses on circadian clocks - the internal timers that regulate rhythmic behaviors and functions of organs. Menaker’s laboratory has provided the best evidence that a specific part of the brain is the "master clock" regulating the activity-rest cycle in mammals, and that this clock is synchronized to day and night by special photoreceptors (light sensing cells) in the eyes that are not used for image formation. These cells have recently been identified by other laboratories as a completely novel set of photoreceptors in the retina that are likely to be important to normal synchrony of humans.

Menaker’s lab has discovered circadian clocks in most peripheral organs, such as the lung and liver, and are investigating the way these clocks interact with the master clock in the brain and with the environment to control organ function.

Research in biological timing has implications for many areas of human life, from jet lag to shift work. A better understanding of the internal clock could reduce accidents due to fatigue.

Researchers also are investigating ways to deliver drug treatments for cancer and other diseases timed to the peak rhythms of body clocks. This new area, chronopharmacology, holds promise for more effective treatment of emotional disorders, hypertension, cancer and insomnia.

For more on Menaker’s research, check the following Web links:

Clock stops on NSF biological timing center, but the momentum carries on

Years weaken signal of body’s master clock

Jet lag problems may be related to meals

Study shows internal body clocks become desynchronized under jet-lag

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