Ben Major wants to figure out what each of our 20,000 genes do, how they work together, and what that means for fighting against cancer.
By inactivating genes one at a time or in all possible combinations, Dr. Major hopes to find what their role is when they are removed from the action. If that works, he says researchers can define which genes are important for the uncontrolled growth and metastasis seen in cancer—and which genes to consider for targeted drug discovery efforts.
An assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, Major came from the University of Washington and chose Carolina over other prestigious universities in 2009. The University Cancer Research Fund helped Major decide. The General Assembly created the fund in 2007 to support basic research in medicine, pharmacy and public health, as well as basic science departments of the College of Arts and Sciences through the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Not only was I able to get my laboratory and research up and running quickly at UNC, but I am also able to interact on a daily basis with top-notch colleagues who encourage me to take the kinds of smart risks that pay off with big rewards,” Major says.
Support from the research fund made it possible for Major to secure a prestigious $1.5 million grant – the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, which goes to “highly innovative research that has the potential for significant impact.” He was the only North Carolina recipient. Major also is a Sidney Kimmel Scholar, recognized for being one of the country’s most promising young cancer researchers.