Virginia Tech's Burruss Hall. Courtesy of Ben Schumin.

Here’s a round-up of education briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Want more education news? There’s no full-time education reporter west of Richmond. You can help change that. Help fund us.

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Virginia Tech to livestream board meetings

Beginning with the first full board meeting of the 2022-23 academic year — which will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 23 in Newport News, Virginia — Virginia Tech will livestream all full board sessions held in open session, including information sessions for the full board, Virginia Tech has announced.

Access to the livestream will be available on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors website.

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Mathew Weston. Courtesy of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

Fralin Biomedical Research Institute recruits neuroscientist to study childhood epilepsy

The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion recently recruited neuroscientist Matthew Weston to investigate childhood epilepsy, particularly how specific genetic variants that cause childhood epilepsy regulate brain activity.

Weston’s laboratory, slated to open in August, studies a handful of genes that encode proteins to regulate healthy brain function. Abnormal protein levels or impaired function can trigger uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain.

“Hundreds of genes can give rise to some of these childhood seizure disorders, but we focus on ones that largely effect synaptic transmission or neuro-excitability,” said Weston in a statement. He also holds an appointment in Virginia Tech’s College of Science in its School of Neuroscience.

His laboratory studies one gene that encodes a potassium ion channel protein. These important molecular structures allow potassium to enter and exit neurons. The research team focuses on a rare mutation in this gene, KCNT1, that allows too much potassium to flow outward through the channels, particularly in a certain type of cell – the brain’s inhibitory neurons – causing severe seizures in children.

The research team also examines a gene that encodes a molecule, dynamin, that brain cells use to shuttle signaling chemicals across the synaptic gap between two neurons. Weston and his collaborators at Columbia University recently found that this variation also appears to impair inhibitory neurons, resulting in hyperactivity.

The laboratory also investigates how two complexes of a protein, mTOR, influence brain cell proliferation, growth, migration, connectivity, and cell death. In 2020, Weston and his team published a paper in eLife about how mTOR may be involved in neurological diseases.

Previously an assistant professor at the University of Vermont School of Medicine, Weston completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and his doctoral degree in neuroscience and postdoctoral training at the Baylor College of Medicine at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.

Weston has received a K99 Pathway to Independence Award and a fellowship training grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. He also was awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship by the Epilepsy Foundation.

He has begun recruiting to fill postdoctoral associate, research technician, and graduate student roles in this lab.

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Dennis Smith. Courtesy of Southside Virginia Community College.

Smith steps down as men’s basketball coach at Southside Virginia Community College

Dennis Smith has announced that he’s stepping down as head coach of the Southside Virginia Community College men’s basketball team.

Smith departs as the all-time winningest coach in school history with a 284-144 record over 18 seasons. He led the Panthers to four USA National Prep Postgrad titles with the most recent coming in his final game at the helm on March 5, 2022 when SVCC topped Tennessee Prep 65-52 in the West National Collegiate Prep title game in Myrtle Beach, SC.

The other national championships for SVCC came in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The SVCC Panthers also won Virginia Community College System state titles in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 under Smith and captured VCCS division titles and finished as the state runner-up in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Smith’s best season in terms of victories came in 2007 when SVCC went 27-5, part of a run when the local program won 20 or more games in four out of five seasons.

SVCC won four of the six national title games it played in under Smith, finishing as runner-up in the USA National Postgrad division in 2020 and as runner-up in the 2010 ACIS National Championship at North Carolina State University. SVCC also captured the ACIS Mid-Atlantic Regional title in 2007 at the University of Virginia.

Smith said that while he is stepping away from coaching, he still plans to be actively involved with the athletic programs at SVCC as well as continuing to serve in his primary position as Director of Workforce Development.