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The winner of the 2021 Sharp Award was Bhawana “Suruchi” Shrestha (Lai lab). The D. Gordon Sharp Graduate Innovator Award, established in 2014, is given annually in memory of Dr. D. Gordon Sharp, recognizing his innovation, curiosity, and mentorship to graduate students. Students receiving this award exhibit exceptional creativity, perseverance, and the independence in their research. These students demonstrate an ability to think broadly to take their research in new directions. Nominees also show a commitment to sharing knowledge and mentoring. An award of $500 is given to an outstanding MCRO graduate student who is judged to have carried out the most innovative research project during their career at UNC.

Shrestha started a new project in the Lai lab, developing anti-sperm antibodies for non-hormonal contraceptives. This involved engineering multidomain antibodies that can be easily manufactured, are stable, effective, and inexpensive. Shrestha moved her research forward in a field that had been stalled for decades. She earned a patent on her research that has been licensed by several biotech companies for initial phases of clinical trials. She has three first-author publications on her research, which has been featured in the journals Science Translational Medicine and Proceedings of the National Academies of Science of the USA.