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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

Sam Lai, Ph.D.

Meet: Sam Lai

Project: Engineered Antibodies with Carefully Tuned Mucin-Affinity for Enhanced Mucosal Protection

Funded amount: $660,803

About project: All exposed organs not covered by skin are coated with a mucus layer; these mucosal surfaces are prime sites for infectious disease transmission. Building off of our pioneering discovery that antibodies can interact with mucins to trap pathogens, we are focusing on engineering novel antibody constructs that possess even greater ‘muco-trapping’ potency for protection against mucosal infections.

“Our work sharply contradicted the conventional paradigm at the time that antibodies have no appreciable interactions with mucins, and we were not able to attract traditional NIH funding to support the work.  The EII funding came at a critical juncture that allowed us to continue pushing the boundaries as the pioneer of this important immune mechanism, and firmly established the potential of our ‘muco-trapping’ antibody platform across major classes of pathogens and mucosal surfaces.  The technology has spawn two startup companies, and multiple clinical trials are on the way.  We would be years behind schedule without the EII support,” – Lai said.


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