Sam Lai, Ph.D.

Associate Professor Director, Pharmacoengineering Program

Sam Lai, Ph.D., was born in Hong Kong and spent his childhood in both Hong Kong and Vancouver. After completing high school at Phillips Academy, Andover, he attended Cornell University and received his BS in chemical and biomolecular engineering in 2003. He then undertook doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University, receiving his PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering in 2007. Following a one-year postdoc, he became a research assistant professor at Johns Hopkins in fall 2008 before joining the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in fall 2010.

Lai’s previous research focused on nanoparticle-based delivery of bioactive molecules to mucosal tissues. He helped pioneer the development of mucus-penetrating particle technology, a breakthrough that formed the basis of Kala Pharmaceuticals, launched in 2009 based on funding from a syndicate of leading VC firms. Since moving to UNC, he has established a rigorous research program at the interface of engineering, immunology, biophysics and biomaterials. His lab recently spun out Mucommune, LLC, a startup focused on harnessing antibody-mucin interactions to prevent or treat infectious diseases at mucosal surfaces.


Lai’s current research interests include mucosal immunology and mucosal barriers to infectious disease, antibody response to synthetic materials, targeted nanoparticle delivery using bispecific fusion proteins and computational modeling of physiological processes. For more info, please see his lab website.

Note that the Lai Research Group is actively recruiting highly motivated members at all levels (postdoc, graduate students, undergraduates) from across all disciplines.

Education, Entrepreneurship and Outreach

To promote entrepreneurship and innovation among graduate students, professional students and postdocs, Lai has created the E(I) Lab program, an 8-month long experiential education program that bring together students from diverse disciplines across UNC to conceive, develop and test innovative solutions to unmet needs in healthcare.

Lai has also collaborated with the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to develop laboratory module and education curriculum for middle school students titled What’s Snot to Like [PDF]. The curriculum is part of the Morehead Mobile Labs program.

Sam Lai News

  • PharmAlliance Inspires Student Researchers from Abroad

    Faculty at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy hosted four students from University College London School of Pharmacy as part of the international PharmAlliance partnership. All final-year pharmacy students at UCL are required to complete three months of research. PharmAlliance … Continued

  • E(I) Lab Names Winners in Second Annual Innovation Competition

    The E(I) Lab Program, a competition launched by the UNC Eshelman Institute for Innovation that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation among multidisciplinary teams of UNC graduate and professional student, wrapped up its second cohort on April 29. The winning team received … Continued

  • E(I) lab students make a final presentation.

    E(I) Lab Hosts Inaugural Final Presentations

    The Carolina E(I) Lab, part of the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, concluded its pilot year by hosting final presentations from the inaugural cohort of student teams on Oct. 1, with the top four teams awarded monetary prizes. The presentations were … Continued

  • Sam Lai, Ph.D.

    Sam Lai Promoted to Associate Professor

    Sam Lai, Ph.D., has been promoted to associate professor with tenure in the Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics. Lai’s research focuses on mucosal immunology and mucosal barriers to infectious disease, antibody response to synthetic materials, targeted nanoparticle delivery using bispecific fusion … Continued

  • Sam Lai, Ph.D.

    Mucommune Is Newest Resident of UNC Eshelman Institute MicroIncubator

    Mucommune, LLC, is the fourth company spun out of the research enterprise at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy to take up residence in the Eshelman Institute for Innovation MicroIncubator located at the School. Mucommune was born in 2015 from … Continued

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