Lawrence Wang '14 Selected for Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
The recent Oxford graduate, who discovered a monoclonal antibody that potentially prevents malaria, will use this fellowship to help support his final two years of medical school at the University of California, San Diego.
It’s been an exciting year for Lawrence Wang '14. Not only did he earn his D.Phil. in biomedical sciences from the University of Oxford via a partnership program with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but he was also chosen from a field of 1,800 applicants as one of only 30 recipients of this year’s Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. That fellowship gives each recipient up to $90,000 in funding to support their graduate studies. Wang will use his funding to help support the final two years of his medical school training at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), which he paused to pursue malaria vaccine research in graduate school.
The New American Fellowship was created to support green card holders, naturalized citizens, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, individuals born abroad who graduated from both high school and college in the United States, and the U.S.-born children of immigrants. Wang, the first Ford to receive one, was eligible as the child of Taiwanese immigrants. He applied for the fellowship as a way to honor his parents and grandparents, “whose grit and sacrifices and hard work made it possible for me to grow up in America with all the resources I needed to succeed,” he said.
“I was filled with pure elation when I got the call from the Soros Fellowship’s director saying I had won the fellowship in March 2022,” said Wang. “I had just gotten off my flight from London to Los Angeles and saw that I had some missed calls and emails from the Soros folks. … [After I got] the good news, I just stood there blinking in the bright sun, jetlagged and fatigued after my 11-hour flight, surrounded by people dragging suitcases and staring expectantly at passing cars outside the Arrivals terminal, restraining myself from dancing because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in public, and waiting for my mom to pick me up so I could give her the good news. It is one of those moments in life that has been indelibly etched in my memory.”
Since his Haverford graduation, the chemistry major and biochemistry concentrator has been busy, working in public health from many different angles. Before starting medical school at UCSD in 2016, he undertook a two-year post-baccalaureate fellowship at the NIH, researching immunity against HIV/AIDS. During a summer spent working in Uganda after his first year of medical school, he learned of the ongoing prevalence of malaria despite the availability of antimalarial drugs. That experience is what led him to pause his medical education in California and apply to the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program (known as OxCam), which allows U.S. graduate students to pursue a D.Phil. at both the NIH in Bethesda, MD and either Oxford or Cambridge in the U.K. He began OxCam in 2018, and shortly thereafter, during his graduate research in Robert Seder’s NIH lab, he discovered a monoclonal antibody—called L9—that potentially prevents malaria. Wang says this breakthrough discovery was “beginner’s luck,” but it has already led to a publication in the journal Immunity (an image of a malaria parasite being killed by L9 was selected as its October 2020 cover), interest from the Gates Foundation, and recently completed Phase I testing at the NIH. Phase II clinical testing in infants and children will begin in Mali and Kenya this summer.
“It’s been a crazy experience being part of all this” he said, “and my head still spins when I realize that something I discovered by pure luck as a ‘grad skewl noob’ completed Phase I clinical testing before I even finished my D.Phil. and is being tested in Africa as I graduate and transition back to medical school.”
It’s especially incredible when you consider that Wang never intended to be a doctor or study immunology at all. He entered Haverford planning to major in English or psychology, but Professor Judy Owen’s first-year writing seminar, “Writing in Public Health”—in particular, her assigned reading of Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography of infectious disease physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer— sparked his interest in medicine. That interest was nurtured by former Professor Iruka Okeke, in whose lab he studied E.coli for two years. He wrote his senior thesis, advised by Okeke, on a protein toxin produced by diarrheagenic E.coli to inhibit other competing bacteria—for which he won Haverford's Lyman Beecher Hall Prize in Chemistry.
“Besides excellent mentors like Judy and Iruka, I think the idealistic vibes of peace, social justice, and belief in one’s ability to change the world pervading the conversations and curricula at Haverford solidified my desire to go into medicine and science so I could use my talents to benefit the less fortunate,” said Wang.
Once he returns stateside and completes his medical education, which is, in addition to the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, funded by the UC San Diego Medical Scientist Training Program, he hopes to complete a residency in internal medicine and a sub-specialty fellowship in infectious diseases. Eventually, he hopes to be a physician-scientist at an academic medical center, where he can split his time between patient care and vaccine development in a lab and in clinical trials.
The prestigious community of past Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship recipients includes U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Olympians Amy Chow and Patricia Miranda, U.S. Ambassador to Spain Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, Stanford AI leader Fei-Fei Li, computational biologist Pardis Sabeti, composer Paola Prestini, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah, Aspiration CEO Andrei Cherny, award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang, and more than 715 Fellows. And, to Wang, joining their ranks is the most valuable aspect of the fellowship.
“It is a distinct honor to be included in this group,” he said, “and I am sure the people I will meet and the connections I will make as a Soros Fellow will prove invaluable down the line in my work (i.e., vaccine development), which is inherently collaborative. After all, COVID has shown that making vaccines and protecting people with them is a complicated endeavor that really requires an entire village of people from all walks of life.”