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The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy highlights the bold work of researchers who have received funding from the Eshelman Institute for Innovation (EII). The Eshelman Institute for Innovation is made possible by a $100 million gift from Fred Eshelman to accelerate the creation and development of ideas leading to discoveries and transformative changes in education, research and health care. To learn more about the EII’s impact, visit

Meet: Sam Lai

Project Title:  In Vivo Engineering of T-cells for CAR-T-based Therapy

Funded Amount: $472,152

Co PI: Gianpietro Dotti

“CAR-T” is a very promising form of immunotherapy for cancer, but is currently limited by time and costs to prepare the engineered T-cells ex vivo, as well as poor efficacy against solid cancers. Here, we seek to reduce the time and costs of CAR-T therapy while minimizing T-cell exhaustion from extended cultures ex vivo by directly modifying the T-cells in vivo.  If successful, we will greatly accelerate clinical adoption of CAR-T therapy as well as other adoptive cell transfer therapies.

“The EII funding was imperative to initiating this new line of research for our group, creating a platform technology with numerous applications beyond CAR-T.  We simply would have taken many more years if we had to rely on traditional means of grant funding through NIH.  We have now demonstrated proof-of-concept in small animal models, and are looking forward to further optimizing our platform to quickly advance the technology into the clinic,” Lai said.


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