Dain Ruiz

Dain Ruiz is a rising sophomore majoring in biology and a Chancellor’s Science Scholar within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. He studies expansion disorders caused by repetitions in DNA — like Huntington’s Disease, Friedreich’s Ataxia, and Myotonic Dystrophy — to develop therapeutics to treat them.

photo by Megan May
June 23rd, 2021

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: In elementary school, there was not one day where I didn’t play pickup football with my friends during recess. I’ve always had an immense love for sports, and football is by far my favorite. My dream as a child was to be an NFL player. I played competitive football in middle school and high school, but unfortunately stopped growing a foot short of the NFL’s average height.

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A: At age 9, I vividly remember learning about little jumping genes known as transposons. I was intrigued by this biological entity that could hop from cell to cell transferring “healthy” DNA to places where “bad” DNA existed. As an elementary school student, I imagined all the cures that could be created from this simple biological process. I would spend hours formulating hypotheses using transposons to find cures for the most pressing diseases and conditions — cancer, muscular dystrophy, you name it, I had a cure! From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a scientist.

Dain Ruiz and his family

In June 2019, Ruiz (second from right) stands with his sister, mother, and father before his graduation from Cary High School.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A: As a young researcher working on therapeutics for Huntington’s Disease, I went through a stage where I did lab work but did not understand the end goal. I struggled to find the motivation and passion that I currently have now. To fix this problem, I joined the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. I was able to meet many patients with the disease and understand I was doing the research to help them. These patients know they have Huntington’s from a young age and that there is nothing that can be done to stop it. I was able to empathize with the patients and learn that the end goal of my research was to be able to give them hope and a better life. This realization allowed me to find my calling and sparked my passion for rare disease research.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: Creating therapeutics for rare diseases.

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A: I absolutely love music. I am a fan of rap and R&B, but I am trying to immerse myself in all genres. I have recently got into collecting vinyl records and have a collection of over 100. My favorite thing to do is go to the record store to buy and listen to random $1 records to learn more different types of music.

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