Deborah Kelly honored with Outstanding Research Award

Deborah F. Kelly, Ph.D.

Deborah F. Kelly, Ph.D.

Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences honored Deborah Kelly with an Outstanding Research Award on May 5. Kelly serves as an assistant professor in both the Department of Biological Sciences and at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

The award is given annually, “in recognition of a research program with international acclaim, leading to significant new discoveries, and excellent training for students.”

Kelly, a structural biologist, develops novel methodologies to study complex biological machinery. She focuses on combining structural and functional tools to understand how signaling pathways influence human development and disease. Kelly uses cryo-electron microscopy to examine small biological complexes, including mutated BRCA1 proteins that can give rise to breast cancer.

Electron microscopy has long been the standard for imaging biological samples at high resolutions. The challenge scientists, including Kelly, face with electron microscopy is that the samples must be frozen to image properly. Working in collaboration with private industry, Kelly is perfecting a chip that captures the biological sample for imaging without freezing it. The sample can move as it would in nature, and Kelly can visualize those movements at unprecedented resolution.

Kelly applies her work to cancer research, virology, and early processes in cell development.

“Dr. Kelly is an outstanding structural biologist who has advanced both the technology and the conceptual understanding of fundamental biological processes with unparalleled levels of insight,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “She has almost single handedly developed the field of structural oncology, advancing our ability to look at cancer processes dynamically.”