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UNC scientist receives NIH director's New Innovator Award
Date:10/4/2010

Chapel Hill - Ben Major, PhD, assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, has been awarded one of 33 National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Awards, one of the NIH's most prestigious grants.

The $1.5 million grant will fund his work to address a significant medical science challenge: identifying the full complement of genes that functionally contribute to specific cellular and disease processes such as cancer.

Major, a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, notes that in model systems such as flies, yeast and mice, scientists can specifically inactivate a gene within the genome to ascertain its function on the cellular or whole animal level. Until now, similar gene-knockout approaches have not been possible for the human genome.

He will build on previous scientific work to quickly and inexpensively determine the function of human genes in the context of specific cellular behaviors. Using technologies that he has helped to develop, his work will focus on identifying the genes that control cellular growth, division and migration within tissue key factors in cancer's formation and spread.

"If you were to randomly remove one piece of your car," Major explains, "your car may not start, your radio may not work or perhaps your door would not lock. Because you know what piece you removed and how that piece functions, you have a pretty good idea of how that will affect your car. Because we do not know how each of the 30,000 or so human genes function, we do not know the full complement of genes that are important for cancer initiation, cancer growth or cancer metastasis. What we are proposing should allow us to ascribe a function to each gene in the human genome, thereby identifying sets of genes that control cancer and other human diseases. We believe that these data will provide a foundation for developing new cancer treatments and diagnostics."

If successful, the low-cost, e
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Contact: Dianne Shaw
dgs@med.unc.edu
919-966-5905
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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