Dr. Zhao Lai to Receive NCI R50 Funding

Zhao Lai, PhDThe National Cancer Institute (NCI) has recently awarded an R50 Research Specialist Award to Dr. Zhao Lai, Associate Professor/Research, Director of the Next-Generation Sequencing Shared Resource (NGSSR) in the NCI-designated Mays Cancer Center (MCC). This award, over five years, supports the development of a stable research career for Dr. Lai, an exceptional scientist who will continue pursuing cancer-oriented methodology development, application innovation, service improvement, and career development in cancer genomics.

Dr. Lai’s NCI R50 proposal received a perfect score of 10 from NCI’s scientific review panel. The proposal is built on her outstanding leadership in building Genome Sequencing Facility at GCCRI. As the founding director, Dr. Lai was recruited as a highly qualified genomics scientist to lead the NGS facility in 2011. In 2014, the core was integrated into the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) as a Shared Resource. As the NGSSR Director since its inception, Dr. Lai has guided the development of every aspect of this highly regarded Shared Resource. She has developed and executed strategic plans for technology assessment and implementation. Equipment updates (2 successful NIH S10 Shared Instrumentation grants), trained and supervised staff scientists, created all standard operating procedures, and interacted with investigators ranging from experimental design through subsequent interpretation of experimental results. Under her scientific leadership, the NGSSR has quickly become an essential component in the MCC and fundamentally transformed the genomics research environment for its members.

There has been a continuing shift in how research is organized, with increased reliance on Research Specialists, such as Dr. Zhao Lai’s expertise, in scientific support facilities. Receiving this NCI R50 award is a recognition of Dr. Lai’s exceptional service to the community and her independent funding capability to remain the best scientist to serve the community. Her outstanding research support and knowledge of genomic technology provide an example of a viable career path for highly trained researchers who will play an increasingly important role in advancing biomedical research at UT Health San Antonio.

Congratulations, Dr. Lai!

About the NCI R50 Award:
The NCI Research Specialist Award encourages the development of stable research career opportunities for exceptional scientists who want to pursue research within the context of an existing cancer research program but not serve as independent investigators.  These scientists, including researchers within a research program, core facility managers, and data scientists, are vital to sustaining the biomedical research enterprise.  The Research Specialist Award is intended to provide salary support and sufficient autonomy so that individuals are not solely dependent on NCI grants held by others for career continuity.

About Greehey CCRI:
Since 2004, UT Health San Antonio, Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute’s (Greehey CCRI) mission has been to advance scientific knowledge relevant to childhood cancer, contribute to understanding its causes, and accelerate the translation of knowledge into novel therapies. Greehey CCRI strives to have a national and global impact on childhood cancer by discovering, developing, and disseminating new scientific knowledge. Our mission consists of three key areas — research, clinical, and education.

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