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Nga Nguyen and Andrew Prince, MD, take home top prize as part of an interdisciplinary team competing in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy E(I) Lab’s “solving challenges in healthcare” program.

Team LiRA, which developed a lip-reading technology, was announced as the winner of E(I) Lab’s fifth annual awards ceremony for solving challenges in healthcare. While this was originally scheduled to be hosted in Kerr Hall, it was successfully relocated it to a fully virtual format, allowing the four teams who have been working over the past six months to present their work to a panel of judges.

Dean Kashuba of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy opened the ceremony with a rousing speech about the tenacity and resilience of our students during these uncertain times.

The winning team was made up of five graduate and professional students representing the School of Medicine, the Gillings School of Public Health, the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the UNC/NC State Joint Program of Biomedical Engineering. They worked on a project to restore voice to aphonic patients through the development of lip reading technology.

“This was a one of a kind opportunity to dig deep into the minds of customers and frame a solution that is intimately paired with reality,” said Nga Nguyen, a 2021 MD/MPH candidate and member of the winning team.

Dr. Sam Lai, founder of The E(I) Lab, set this experiential program up specifically for graduate students from various disciplines around campus to tackle unmet healthcare needs, gain first-hand training in prototype development and product design, learn about the latest methods in entrepreneurship and receive coaching and mentorship from our innovation community.

Each team was given six months to develop a marketable innovation that would serve an unmet need for health-care providers and patients. The E(I) Lab Program provides the financial support and access to various experts with the goal of removing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation the participants.

“Every cohort is different,” said Barbara Bell, MEd, Associate Director of the E(I) Lab. “In this cohort, all 19 members came together to support each team’s work. They asked questions, offered each other feedback and really came together as a collaborative cohort.”

LiRA restored voice and a higher quality of life to aphonic patients through the development of lip reading technology. After people lose their ability to speak, methods like writing notes are slow and often frustrating. LiRA gives them their voice back through tracking that reads their lip movements.

The four teams that participated in this cohort were:

1st Place: LiRA, cash prize of $3000

2nd Place: IM Fearless, cash prize of $1,500

3rd Place: Medicare Fair, cash prize of $750

4th Place: OTC Buddy, cash prize of $750

Andrew Prince, MD, a 2025 UNC Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery resident and PhD candidate at the School of Medicine and a member of LiRA, said of his experience, “This was a dream example of working on a team with diversity and balance.”

The E(I) Lab is an entrepreneurship and innovation lab launched out of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy more than five years ago and was the first inter-disciplinary lab of its type at the time.

Applications for Cohort 6 will open on August 1st. If you are interested in learning more, send an e-mail to Barbara Bell: