The award, established last year by the Battle Foundation of Rocky Mount, recognizes exceptional cancer research at the medical school and comes with a $25,000 prize. The Battle Award fund is a permanent endowment held by The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.
Zhang, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, is an internationally recognized scientist in the area of chromatin, a genetic material. He received the Gertrude Elion Award in 2003 from the American Association of Cancer Research and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
Zhang and his colleagues study how DNA is packaged in different cell types into chromatin. The differences in chromatin affect almost every cellular process from gene expression through the shape and differentiated function of cells and tissues. Chromatin dynamics help explain why nerve cells and skin cells – which have the exact same DNA – differ in shape, size and capabilities. When the enzymes that control chromatin are deranged, cancer can develop.
Zhang’s lab has discovered and characterized many of the proteins that regulate chromatin structure. A testament to the high impact of his work came recently from the research information company, Thomson Scientific, which ranked Zhang 7th worldwide in numbers of high impact citations in the area of molecular biology and genetics.
Hyman L. Battle (1896-1972) established the Battle Foundation in 1946. His grandfather, Kemp Plummer Battle, was an early president of UNC-Chapel Hill.