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UNMC researcher Dr. Sam Sanderson dies at age 63

Remembering Sam Sanderson, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy: UNMC)

An exuberant scientist who for 27 years worked at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, died Monday at age 63.

Sam Sanderson, Ph.D., a familiar figure across the Omaha campus, was known for making an impression on all who crossed his path.

"You could always hear him coming down the hallway," said Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D. "His infectious laughter brightened the day for many of us.

"Sam exuded enthusiasm about his projects and about life," Dr. Vennerstrom said.

"He was like a brother to me," said Joseph Vetro, Ph.D.

"Or an uncle," Dr. Vetro decided, laughing one more time at an inside joke with his friend.

Their kinship was close, but not unusual.

"All of Sam's collaborators became his friends," said Paul Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at UNO. "For him, there was no distinction."

Dr. Sanderson and his collaborators had made a significant discovery -- an immune stimulating peptide called EP67, a "platform technology." The synthetic peptide works by stimulating and enhancing a more robust natural immune response to normal and resistant infections, and potentially other ailments such as cancer.

But there's often a decades-long chasm between making a discovery and that discovery making a difference in human lives. Dr. Sanderson sought to shorten that period by founding Prommune, Inc., in hopes industry might step in to help move the research forward to translation. He often worked closely with UNeMed, UNMC's technology transfer arm.

He never got to see his research reach the finish line. But he never stopped reaching for that goal.

"Sam believed in himself and his science when others did not," said Todd Wyatt, Ph.D. "It was his unyielding enthusiasm and drive that resulted in all his recent deserved successes in research."

After years of working toward his next breakthrough, Dr. Sanderson recently had earned a $2.25 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health. He also teamed with Dr. Vetro on another significant R01 grant.

"Yet, it was clear that Sam's highest priority was always his family," Dr. Davis said. "He prioritized them by spending time with them and spoke often of them."

Dr. Sanderson is survived by his wife, Anna; son Scott and his wife Annie and their two children; and son Brian and his wife Shelby.

Those who wish to memorialize Dr. Sanderson can donate to St. Stephen the Martyr Music Ministry in his honor, his family said.

A visitation will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 11, with a memorial service at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12. Both the visitation and memorial service will be at St. Stephen the Martyr, 16701 S St.

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