Assistant Professor Sam Lai, PhD, is a recipient of a 2013 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, a five-year, $875,000 award that recognizes the nation’s most innovative young scientists.
Lai is one of only sixteen recipients nationwide selected from a pool of 100 scientists who are nominated by fifty major research universities. His work combines biophysics and immunology to investigate how antibodies secreted into mucus may interact with mucus constituents to reinforce the body’s first line of defense against pathogens. Lai’s goal is to harness these insights to engineer next-generation antibodies and vaccines for improved protection and therapy at mucosal surfaces.
“This is a very well deserved honor for Dr. Lai,” says Bob Blouin, dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “His approach to exploring the mechanisms of infection and disease prevention is truly inventive, and I have nothing but the highest expectations for him.”
The Packard Foundation established the fellowships program in 1988 to provide young scientists early in their careers with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields of study. Each year, the Foundation invites fifty universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration. The Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel, a group of twelve internationally-recognized scientists and engineers, evaluates the nominations and recommends Fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.
Lai came to the School in 2010 from Johns Hopkins University where he had earned his PhD, completed a postdoctoral fellowship, and served as a research assistant professor. That same year he received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More recently, Lai won a Career Award from the National Science Foundation, the NSF’s most prestigious award for the development of junior faculty. He is an assistant professor in the School’s Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.