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Wesley Legant, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of pharmacology and biomedical engineering, earned a $300,000 Searle Scholars award for his work creating new fluorescence microscopes for rapid three-dimensional imaging.

Wesley Legant, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and the UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, was one of 15 exceptional young faculty members from across the United States to be named 2019 Searle Scholars for their pursuit of fundamental, ground-breaking research in chemistry and the biomedical sciences. Each scientist will receive an award of $300,000 in flexible funding to support their work over the next three years.

Legant’s lab creates fluorescence microscopes for rapid 3-D imaging to improve current observations of living organisms and push forward new research in cell biology. He received his PhD in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania and completed postdoctoral research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn Virginia. He is also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Searle Scholars Program makes grants to selected universities and research centers to support the independent research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry who have recently been appointed as assistant professors on a tenure-track appointment. The Program’s Scientific Director appoints an Advisory Board of eminent scientists who choose the Scholars based on rigorous standards aimed at finding the most creative talent interested in pursuing an academic research career. This year, 195 applications were considered from nominations by 137 universities and research institutions.

“Can anything be more gratifying than helping to kick-start the research programs of such meritorious women and men?” said Doug Fambrough, Scientific Director for the Searle Scholars Program. “Our Scientific Advisory Board has chosen these fifteen from a pool of the most promising young chemists and biomedical scientists in the country. Their research goals include: designing light-activated enzymes and super-safe pain-killers; understanding how the nervous system handles sensory information and how the brain provides precision control over movements; discovering the basis of tissue damage in leprosy; working out the molecular details of how DNA is organized for gene repression and expression; and exploring the ways in which bacteria defend against the viruses that attack them. From past experience, we know that these new Searle Scholars are virtually guaranteed to make major contributions to their fields over long careers in research science.”

Since 1981, 617 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Including this year, the Program has awarded more than $174 million. Seventy-nine Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Nineteen Scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant,” and a Searle Scholar has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Check here for more information about the Searle Scholars Program, including the other award winners.

UNC’s past winners of the Searle Scholars Program award are Brian Kuhlman, PhD, an Oliver Smithies Investigator and professor of biochemistry and biophysics; Dale Ramsden, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics; Kevin Weeks, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; Mark Zylka, PhD, the W.R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology and director of the UNC Neuroscience Center; Nancy Allbritton, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor and Chair of the UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering; Jay Brenman, PhD, professor of cell biology and physiology; Rob McGinty, PhD, assistant professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy with a joint appointment in the department biochemistry and biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine, and Mark Peifer, PhD, the Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Biology. All are members of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.