hero image
Sam Lai, Ph.D. - UNC-Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC, US

Sam Lai, Ph.D. Sam Lai, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Eshelman School of Pharmacy | UNC-Chapel Hill


Professor Lai’s research focuses on nanoparticle-based delivery of bioactive molecules to mucosal tissues.






Sam Lai: Stopping Viruses in Mucous Membranes




Sam Lai 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. Lai remains an adviser to Kala.

Industry Expertise (3)

Research Education/Learning Laboratory Services

Areas of Expertise (5)

Infectious Disases Particle Technology Biotechnology Chemical Engineering Biochemical Engineering

Education (2)

Johns Hopkins University: PhD, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering 2007

Cornell University: BS, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering 2003

Media Appearances (1)

Pharmacy researchers show vaginal mucus may prevent HIV

The Daily Tar Heel  online

A new study, led by UNC Pharmacy Professor Dr. Sam Lai, offers new prospects for protecting women from HIV. The key to this new discovery — a bacteria present in the cervical vaginal mucus of certain women. “The HIV was either highly mobile or effectively trapped. It was two extremes.” Lai said when the research team tried to find a connection between the samples and their ability to block HIV, they could not find a clear correlation.

view more

Articles (5)

Modeling Neutralization Kinetics of HIV by Broadly Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies in Genital Secretions Coating the Cervicovaginal Mucosa PLoS ONE


ABSTRACT: Eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAb) in cervicovaginal mucus (CVM) represents a promising “first line of defense” strategy to reduce vaginal HIV transmission. However, it remains unclear what levels of bnAb must be present in CVM to effectively reduce infection...

view more

Evading Immune Cell Uptake and Clearance Requires PEG Grafting at Densities Substantially Exceeding the Minimum for Brush Conformation Molecular Pharmaceutics


ABSTRACT: Coating nanoparticles with polyethylene glycol (PEG), which reduces particle uptake and clearance by immune cells, is routinely used to extend the circulation times of nanoparticle therapeutics...

view more

Mucus-penetrating nanoparticles for drug and gene delivery to mucosal tissues Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews


ABSTRACT: Mucus is a viscoelastic and adhesive gel that protects the lung airways, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, vagina, eye and other mucosal surfaces. Most foreign particulates, including conventional particle-based drug delivery systems, are efficiently trapped in human mucus ...

view more

Micro-and macrorheology of mucus Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews


ABSTRACT: Mucus is a complex biological material that lubricates and protects the human lungs, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, vagina, eyes, and other moist mucosal surfaces. Mucus serves as a physical barrier against foreign particles, including toxins, pathogens, and ...

view more

Rapid transport of large polymeric nanoparticles in fresh undiluted human mucus Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


ABSTRACT: Nanoparticles larger than the reported mesh-pore size range (10–200 nm) in mucus have been thought to be much too large to undergo rapid diffusional transport through mucus barriers. However, large nanoparticles are preferred for higher drug ...

view more