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Craig Fletcher has been contributing to research at Carolina for 14 years.

 Craig Fletcher standing outside of a building with glass windows, facing the camera and smiling
Photo by Megan Mendenhall


Craig Fletcher has worked for UNC-Chapel Hill in a variety of roles, most recently as associate vice chancellor for research and director of the Division of Comparative Medicine within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. He is also a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine within the School of Medicine (SOM) and an assistant dean for animal research resources in the SOM Office of Research.

What brought you to Carolina?

I fell in love with Carolina during an internship after my undergraduate studies at N.C. A&T State University. I was part of a summer program that allowed veterinary students with an interest in lab animal medicine to shadow veterinary and biomedical scientists. It was my first experience with research, and I was fascinated that investigating animal models could lead to the development of cures for human disease.

The nurturing environment I experienced during that internship was one of the best experiences of my career. It inspired me to apply to a graduate program, and I went on to the University of Florida to complete my doctoral training in veterinary medicine. I pursued formal doctoral research training at Johns Hopkins University. After receiving my PhD in pathobiology and infectious disease, I joined the faculty at Hopkins.

During this time, I served on a National Institutes of Health scientific review group — academic scientists that review grant applications from fellow scientists. I served alongside a UNC-Chapel Hill faculty member, Virginia Godfrey, who remembered me from my internship. She recruited me to join Carolina.

How has your role here changed over the years?

In 2009, I started in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, where I continued my studies on why certain people are predisposed to having inflammation in blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. I also helped move labs and animals into the newly constructed Genetic Medicine Building and continued to develop programs for the facility to advance preclinical translational research at Carolina.

In 2012, I became the director of the Division of Comparative Medicine. Comparative medicine is the study of disease in humans and animals, examining similarities and differences between the two. This integrated approach ultimately makes basic, medical, and clinical research more efficient and effective. Because animals are imperative for this research, I was also appointed attending veterinarian for UNC-Chapel Hill, responsible for the health and wellbeing of these animals.

At this time, UNC-Chapel Hill’s research scope and prominence was growing quickly, and our division grew with it. When I started as director, our group had 80 people in it. Today, we have more than 200. We expanded our comparative medicine programs and support while maintaining compliance and working with other entities like the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and the Office of Animal Care and Use.

In 2017, as a result of my work developing and supporting our comparative medicine and preclinical translational research programs, I was promoted to the newly created position of associate vice chancellor for research (AVCR) and maintained my position as director of the Division of Comparative Medicine. I was also appointed vice chair of the SOM’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. In these roles I have continued my work developing our research strategy and infrastructure, in addition to growing partnerships with key stakeholders.

One of our biggest current endeavors is the Translational Research Building, which will expand our ability to perform basic science research along with therapeutic drug discovery and development. As a part of this project, I have received an $8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to open a core for UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus for high containment research. We will break ground on the Translational Research Building in 2025.

What’s kept you at Carolina?

Carolina’s programs create a unique training and educational environment that enhances the diversity of scientists and educators and provides opportunities for individuals to dramatically increase their knowledge in the sciences. This environment has shaped one of the best and most respected comparative medicine programs in the country.

What contribution are you most proud of?

In 2021 I was awarded the Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture for my strategic planning involving research animals and new initiatives and programmatic activities. This recognition has honored our most eminent faculty members. I was so unbelievably humbled by this recognition, and it would not be possible without tremendous support from the staff and faculty.

What is a uniquely Carolina experience you’ve had?

One of my first meetings at Carolina was with Oliver Smithies, UNC-Chapel Hill’s first full-time faculty member to win a Nobel Prize. Smithies’ work made possible the creation and use of knockout mice, which have contributed significantly to scientists’ understanding of how individual genes work. He embodied Carolina’s culture as a true scholar and colleague in pursuing research excellence for societal problems.

We are a public institution and providing for the people of North Carolina is at the forefront of our work. Our faculty and staff reflect the people of the state. It is an honor to work alongside my colleagues, and I am grateful for the collegiality and culture at Carolina.

Rooted recognizes long-standing members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community who have aided in the advancement of research by staying at Carolina. They are crucial to the UNC Research enterprise, experts in their fields, and loyal Tar Heels. Know someone we should feature? Nominate a researcher.

Read more Rooted stories here.

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