An assistant professor of Biomedical Genetics and Biology, Murphy describes himself as “an abstract thinker, an artist, a weirdo.” As a teenager, he dreamt of escaping his working-class hometown, the tiny village of Angola, south of Buffalo. Science presented an opportunity. Murphy’s high school biology teacher lobbied for him to attend the esteemed Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholars program for two summers at Villanova University.
He was one of 30 kids in the world chosen, and “I was just blown away,” he says, by medical research.
He started to think big. He graduated in three years from St. John’s University in New York City, conducted research at the National Institutes of Health, and attended graduate school at Cornell University. Spending hours in a lab, he was intrigued by discovering things, even if they were small insights, because no one had seen them before.
As a post-doctoral fellow at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah, Murphy investigated DNA packaging into chromatin in zebrafish, a model organism with similarities to humans. A mentor taught him that the most likely way to solve complex problems like cancer meant diving into deep fundamental questions, such as how cells transition from one type to another through epigenetic regulation. In Rochester, he uses the fish to study how cells divide and change inappropriately, what genes are turned on and off in cancer, and why drugs that target epigenetic changes work in some cancers and not in others.
Murphy’s expansive mind has allowed him to hone many skills: computer programming, bioinformatics, computational analysis of big data. “Science is the answer,” he says. “I’d like to do this for the rest of my life... Retirement sounds awful to me.”