Charlotte, North Carolina — Indian American researcher Pinku Mukherjee, an Irwin Belk Endowed Professor of Cancer Research at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was recently named a 2015 recipient of the O. Max Gardner Award, the highest faculty honor given by the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina, according to a press release.
The award, established by the will of North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner, recognizes faculty who have “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race.” It is the only award for which all faculty members on the 17 UNC campuses are eligible.
The 2015 award carries a $20,000 cash prize and was presented April 10 by UNC president Tom Ross and board vice chairman Lou Bissette.
Mukherjee, who joined the UNCC faculty in 2008 and teaches immunology and carcinogenesis courses in the biological sciences department, also conducts research that is transforming the diagnosis and treatment of certain cancers.
The researcher has devoted more than 25 years to the study of breast and pancreatic cancers and developed novel, more reliable early detection methods and therapies.
In 2011, Mukherjee founded a spinoff biotechnology company through UNCC called OncoTab Inc. (previously CanDiag Inc.). The company aims to improve the quality of cancer care by identifying and measuring novel “markers” of cancer as a means of early detection.
A simple and inexpensive blood test can identify patients with elevated marker levels, alerting doctors to the need for further imaging and appropriate treatment. The company will eventually offer a range of clinical products that will address cancer at multiple stages — from diagnosis to treatment to monitoring for recurrences.
Mukherjee’s innovations have already led to one U.S. patent and the filing of 12 others. Her research has attracted grants totaling $10 million from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, American Association for Cancer Research and Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Born and raised in India, Mukherjee received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology/biochemistry from Bombay University and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of London.
Prior to joining UNCC, she held faculty appointments at Pennsylvania State University and the Indiana University Medical Center, and spent a decade at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she began extensive work on pancreatic cancer.