John (Jack) Finlay ’18 was one of sixteen students across the country to receive a Churchill Scholarship for the 2018-2019 academic year.
Established in 1959, the Churchill Scholarship Program offers American students of “exceptional ability and outstanding achievement” the opportunity to pursue one year of graduate study in engineering, mathematics, or the sciences at the University of Cambridge.
At Cambridge, Finlay will pursue a master’s degree in medical sciences, conducting neural stem cell and oncology research under Dr. David Rowitch. Finlay, a molecular biology concentrator with a certificate in neuroscience, plans to eventually pursue a joint Ph.D./MD program.
“My research interests are primarily in molecular oncology, and more specifically in brain cancer biology,” said Finlay. “I love cell biology and think it's cool how studying cancer brings together a lot of important concepts in the field, like development, genetics, and evolution.”
When Finlay was in high school, his father passed away due to brain cancer.
“I know exactly what it's like for [cancer] patients and their families, which really helps motivate me to push through some of the tasks and experiments that can very easily seem monotonous,” Finlay said.
Finlay has conducted research in the lab of molecular biology professor Yibin Kang and in the Washington University School of Medicine’s departments of neurosurgery and molecular oncology.
“When I do research, I really like to ask myself 'how will this help the patient?,‘” said Finlay. “It helps me remember the end goal and pushes me to at least try to exploit some of the basic science findings to serve a therapeutic or clinically relevant purpose.”
For his senior thesis, Finlay is working in the lab of molecular biology professor Jean Schwarzbauer, studying how elevated glucose conditions stimulate excess deposition of extracellular matrix by kidney cells.
“Jack did not want to simply follow up on previous results and take an obvious path for his thesis research,” said Schwarzbauer in a statement to the University. “Instead, he proposed to do something completely new to my lab.”
At Cambridge, Finlay will be studying neural stem cells.
“The goal is to take advantage of unique properties of these cells and target them with therapeutics like drugs and possibly engineered viruses,” Finlay said.
For Finlay, the chance to study at Cambridge is appealing not only because of the university’s rich history, but also for the chance to spend a year living in another country.
“I am curious to see how medical research is conducted in different countries, whether the structure of how one gets funding for a project really changes the way people think and approach science,” Finlay said.
Finlay has completed an internship at the César Milstein Hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, publishing two case reports as a result of his research there.
A year with the Churchill Scholarship Program is also a chance for Finlay to gain direction before continuing his education in the United States.
“It's nice to be able to have a year to try out a very specific niche within brain cancer biology and see if it's something that I would want to work on for at least another four years,” Finlay said.
“Even though I'll have seven to eight years of school in the US when I come back, for me this extra year at Cambridge will be well worth it,” Finlay said.
The Churchill Award covers full tuition, a stipend, travel costs, and the chance to apply for a $2,000 special research grant.
Staff writer Coco Chou ‘20 contributed reporting.