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Chinomunso Ahanotu (left) and Lida Ghazanfari.

As part of the annual Eshelman Institute for Innovation (EII) student and postdoctoral grant process, the EII Rankin Innovator Acceleration Award is given annually to the student(s) with the highest rated, commercially focused proposal.

The 2021 recipients of this award are Lida Ghazanfari and Chinomunso Ahanotu.  Ghazanfari is a postdoc in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery, and Ahanotu is a first-year medical student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Each student will receive $5,000 to support their participation in entrepreneurism and business training opportunities. The award is funded by The Lawson and Gisele Rankin Endowment, and is currently matched with an annual gift.

“The Rankin Innovator Acceleration Award underscores the importance of supporting our emerging leaders in health care. We are so thankful to have the support of the Rankin family who truly understands the importance of translating scientific innovation into products that benefit patients around the world,” said John Bamforth, director of the EII.

Together, Ghazanfari and Ahanotu will work as a team to develop a strategy for delivering gene therapy to solid tumors and their surrounding environments.

Their research proposal utilizes the Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-macrophage approach by being more selective and efficient in delivering anti-tumor genes to the elusive tumor environment. The idea is to generate novel pre-clinical data that can be rapidly translated to clinical trials for patients with triple negative breast cancer, where existing treatment methods have a poor outcome, Ghazanfari said.

About receiving the award, Ghazanfari added, “I am honored to be a recipient of this award. I am extremely pleased to continue my research in the field of immunotherapy. This approach provides a timely solution to the challenges we face in cell and gene therapy demand. This award has also inspired me to help others and give back to the community.”

For Ahanotu, the experience of writing a research proposal and winning his first grant has been educational. “It has encouraged me to venture outside my comfort zone and try new things,” he said. “While the proposal writing process presented a lot of uncertainty, I was determined to do my best.”

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