Murray Junop, PhD, is fascinated by one of the most important biological molecules — DNA. His current research involves trying to understand how cells overcome the constant threat of DNA damage that helps to prevent disease-causing mutations associated with neurological disorders and cancer.
In this Q&A, the new faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry discusses the impact of his current research, how his career in academia unfolded, and what he enjoys most about working with graduate trainees.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Pembroke, Ontario, which is located just north-east of Algonquin Park on the Ottawa River. When I was six years old, we moved to Nashville and then to London, Ontario when I was 12.
What is your education background?
I completed a BSc in Chemistry and Biology in Toronto at Ryerson University and then moved to Western University to complete a PhD in the Department of Biochemistry. My postdoctoral work was completed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where I picked up my current research interests in understanding DNA repair mechanisms.
What brought you to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry's Department of Biochemistry?
My first academic appointment was in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University. Although the research environment there was outstanding, when the opportunity arose two years ago to move back to Western University and be closer to my family, I decided to take it. In addition, the Department of Biochemistry here at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is a natural fit for the research interests my group has in the proteins that direct DNA repair.
Tell me about your current research.
The primary research interest in my lab is understanding how cells overcome the constant threat of DNA damage that is essential for preventing disease-causing mutations typically associated with various neurological disorders and, more notably, cancer. Gaining this sort of understanding opens up opportunities for developing new chemotherapeutic interventions.
Why are you passionate about this work?
DNA is perhaps the most important biological molecule — it’s responsible for sustaining all life as we know it. It’s hard not to get passionate about understanding such a fundamental molecule and the ways it is prevented from being damaged. The mechanisms involved in repairing DNA damage are also rather challenging and therefore scientifically very interesting to study.
What do you enjoy most about conducting your research at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?
Western, and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in particular, fosters a collegial and collaborative environment that is somewhat unique in academia. My favourite part of being here so far is the many opportunities that exist to engage with other researchers with common — and sometimes not so common — areas of interest.
What do you enjoy most about working with graduate trainees and postdoctoral fellows?
Working with trainees at all levels inspires and energizes me. They tend to bring fresh perspectives and insight that is essential for staying at the forefront of cutting-edge research.
When you're not working, what do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Most of my free time seems to be spent on activities centred around the busy extracurricular schedules of my four kids. Once in a while, I manage to convince them to do something I really enjoy — backcountry canoe tripping.