Headshot of Christopher Counter

Counter Part of $25M Grant to Explore Origins of Cancer


Christopher Counter, PhD, associate director of Basic Research, DCI
Christopher Counter (at right), PhD, associate director of Basic Research, DCI, chats with Scott Soderling, PhD, then chair of the Department of Cell Biology at a 2020 reception celebrating the establishment of the Duke/Leica Center of Excellence in Microscopy.

A Duke Cancer Institute researcher is a member of a group receiving the prestigious Cancer Grand Challenges Grant, providing $25 million over five years to investigate the origins of cancer.

The nine-member, international research team includes Christopher Counter, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology and associate director of Basic Research in the Duke Cancer Institute. The research collaboration, called PROMINENT, focuses on how normal cells harbor mutations, and what triggers these mutations to become malignant or remain benign.

Counter’s role in the research group will build on his current work in mice and other laboratory models to determine the effects of environmental, metabolic, inflammatory, and genetic stresses that cause dormant mutations to become cancerous.

“There have been major advances in treatments for cancer patients over the last few decades, many of which Duke and the Duke Cancer Institute have been at the forefront of,” Counter said. “What this grant will allow us to do is to now determine how cancer first originates, with the ultimate goal of identifying ways of preventing this terrible disease before it even gets out of the starting gate.”

Counter’s research exemplifies the mission of a new program at Duke Cancer Institute, Cancer Risk, Detection, and Interception. The program focuses on cancer epidemiology, exposures, genetics, novel biomarker identification, and risk assessment strategies to promote early intervention and avoid cancer progression.

Headshot of Meira Epplein
Meira Epplein, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Risk, Detection, and Interception Research Program at DCI.

“We are thrilled that Chris Counter is an integral member of this major initiative to better understand early tumor development, which is truly on the cutting edge of cancer interception, seeking to prevent cancer just prior to its initiation,” said Meira Epplein, PhD, co-leader of the program.
Cancer Grand Challenges grants are awarded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US. The joint effort supports a global community of diverse, world-class research teams that work together, think differently, and take on cancer’s toughest challenges.


The PROMINENT study is led by principal investigators Allan Balmain (University of California, San Francisco), Paul Brennan (WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, France) and Nuria Lopez-Bigas (Institute for Research in Biomedicine Barcelona, Spain), along with six co-investigators, including Counter, and 2 patient advocates.

This page was reviewed on 06/17/2022