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Leading the Way

Ken Harewood (pictured left) is used to blazing new trails. Besides being the first one in his family to attend college, he was the first to clone bovine chymosin, an important enzyme in cheese production. This breakthrough led to Pfizer Inc. being the first pharmaceutical company to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a recombinant food ingredient in 1990. Dr. Harewood has been involved in many scientific discoveries that have benefited mankind, but perhaps his most important achievement is helping to prepare future scientists for biomedical research.

Dr. Harewood is currently director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute (JLC-BBRI) at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, North Carolina. He is proud that JLC-BBRI addresses the health research and training needs of underserved minority groups.

Opted for Industry

Dr. Harewood, a native of Barbados, moved to New York City after finishing high school. He received a B.S. in biology from New York University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in biochemistry from the City University of New York. After completing his postdoc at the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute at the New York Blood Center, Dr. Harewood considered research positions in academia and industry. While interviewing at Rockefeller University to study protein secretion, he met Dr. Gunter Blobel, another researcher interested in cellular transport.

Because Dr. Harewood was an expert on RNAs, the two talked at length about the presence of extra amino acids (building blocks of proteins) at the beginning of protein sequences. Despite his strong interest in the Rockefeller position, Dr. Harewood opted to join Pfizer. Although it was a large pharmaceutical company, it had a small research group in northern New Jersey, called the John L. Smith Memorial for Cancer Research, which seemed to be a perfect match. It turned out that Dr. Blobel went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1999 "for the discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell." Dr. Harewood never regretted his decision, however, and rightly so. He was destined for other accomplishments.

The John L. Smith Memorial for Cancer Research focused on the origin of human cancer and worked directly with the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. When Dr. Harewood joined the group in 1971, Pfizer was also looking at characterizing retroviruses and their possible involvement in cancer. "This was a very exciting time because our lab had the opportunity to study viruses isolated from anywhere in the world. Joining the fight against cancer early on was the most satisfying thing to me as a basic scientist," Dr. Harewood says.

When recombinant DNA technology, better known as "cloning," was introduced to the scientific community, Pfizer sent Dr. Harewood to its central research headquarters in Groton, Connecticut, in 1979 to establish the Department of Molecular Genetics. In its beginnings, the department had five employees including Dr. Harewood, but by the time he left in 1994, the staff had grown to over 200 people.

Career Options in Pharmaceutical Research

After helping Pfizer become a leader in biopharmaceuticals, he traveled to Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Florida, with a specific mission. Dr. Harewood says, "I wanted to tell students about career options in science outside of medical school. Pharmaceutical research can be a very rewarding career, but many students aren't aware of what's out there. I wanted to change that."

Dr. Harewood spent 3 years at FAMU before coming to NCCU to head the JLC-BBRI. Opened in 1998, the 40,000-square-foot facility contains 11 research laboratories, warm/cold rooms, and facilities for computer modeling, cell culture, and research animals. The main research areas include cardiovascular, drug abuse/neurology, cancer, and genetics. Students who follow the JLC-BBRI program acquire state-of-the-art skills in biotechnology and have access to information that will improve the health of the minority community.

Dr. Harewood has worked tirelessly to build programs that expose NCCU students to a variety of research experiences. For example, students completing an M.S. at JLC-BBRI may continue their doctoral work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, or Duke University. In addition, JLC-BBRI Schering-Plough Undergraduate Fellows conduct summer research at the Schering-Plough Corp. in Kenilworth, New Jersey, to see what industrial research is really like. The new Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Training Enterprise funded by a $19.1 million grant from the Golden LEAF (Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation) Board will provide additional opportunities for JLC-BBRI students to hone their bench skills.

Dr. Harewoods's vision of using an interdisciplinary approach to produce top-notch minority research scientists has positively impacted the state of North Carolina and the nation. When asked what advice he would give young scientists, he replied, "There are many people who play a role in shaping your career. These mentors may come in the form of teachers, coaches, or friends. Whoever they are, listen to them. They may help you change the world."

Robin Arnette is editor of MiSciNet and can be reached by e-mail at

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