Scientist Spotlight

Get to know our research team! A look into the scientists in and around the Tissue Engineering Resource Center.

Maria Samaritano
Maria Samaritano

Research Assistant

Twitter: @mariaSamaritano

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

I grew up in Huntington, NY and remember wanting to join my high school's science research program after being amazed by the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing. My senior project investigating platinum-based chemoresistance in ovarian cancer then prompted me to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. There, I learned both about the fascinating field of organs-on-chip (OOC) engineering and about the historical negligence of women's health in biomedicine. Thus, for my capstone project, I decided to apply OOC methods towards studying this underserved area and created the first design for a 'vagina-on-chip' model. All this led me to become a research assistant at the GVN lab, where I get to work on the most incredible, cutting-edge OOC development!

What are you working on now?

In the GVN lab, I am on the organs-on-chip team, where we use a multi-tissue platform to study cancer metastasis. I am currently working on how to use this platform to study patient-specific metastasis and evaluate different treatments in a high throughput manner.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

The first tissue-engineered, 3-D human ovary!

Fun fact about yourself? 

In my free time I love exploring NYC, reading, and trying out new plant-based cooking recipes :)

What are you most excited about for the future?

I hope to pursue a PhD where I can continue working at the intersection of organs-on-chip engineering and women's health research.

Panpan Chen, M.D.
Panpan Chen, M.D.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

In 2013, I received by BA in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. I earned my medical degree at Albany Medical College in 2018. I joined the lab in July 2021 after completing three years of General Surgery residency at NYP-Weill Cornell and am currently taking time off for research prior to returning to residency for the final two years of training.

What are you working on now?

I joined the lab to study whole lung tissue engineering and induction of immunotolerance in kidney transplantation and also in a xenotransplantation model. On the lung team, I am currently working on ex-vivo lung regeneration utilizing the cross-circulation platform developed in the lab.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

3D printing

Fun fact about yourself? 

I enjoy backcountry ski mountaineering in my spare time.

What are you most excited about for the future?

I am interested in vascular surgery, and am looking forward to seeing how advances in tissue engineering can translate into potential therapies for vascular patients.

Hagar Kenawy
Hagar Kenawy

Ph.D. Candidate

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

As a child, I had wanted to be a pediatrician. However, during my college years, I realized that I'd rather help with inventing new medical solutions. I ended up majoring in Chemical Engineering, International Studies, and Spanish at Lafayette College. My first experience in tissue engineering was my summer internship at Virginia Tech with Dr. Aaron Goldstein attempting to create a novel biomaterial for ACL repair. I then joined the Clark Hung and Nadeen Chahine labs to pursue my PhD at Columbia University.

What are you working on now?

In the Hung Lab, I am helping with a canine tissue engineering study in which we are assessing if there are any differences in donor sex when it comes to tissue-engineered cartilage constructs.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

Air pods!

Fun fact about yourself? 

I love anything mango related.

What are you most excited about for the future?

Making a beneficial contribution in the tissue engineering and medical fields.

Camilla Predella
Camilla Predella

Ph.D. Candidate

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

Since I was a child I wished to “build” legs for someone who needs them. I was an active and athletic teenager and I was fascinated by paraplegic sportsmen, nevertheless appearing strong and successful. Growing up, I found my way to be part of a project focused on design prostheses. This became my area of expertise during my Bachelor’s years at Politecnico of Milan. What I learned on the engineering of prosthesis became my bachelor’s thesis on silicone implants. And from there, to Master and PhD.

What are you working on now?

My work focused on lung epithelium regeneration and in specific on the development of targeted therapies for genetic diseases of alveolar type (AT) II cells in the lung, using a mouse model for in vivo validation. I just started my Ph.D. program under Dr. Dorrello’s supervision and there is still so much to look into and brainstorm!

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

First tracheal transplant, Mount Sinai, NY, April 2021!

Fun fact about yourself? 

I learned how to embroider when I was a kid, and I like to design my own t-shirts to relax in the evenings.

What are you most excited about for the future?

Helping understand how to bridge advances in stem cells to regenerate the lung – to give patients with lung injury and disease a higher quality of life.

Onur Hastürk
Onur Hastürk

Ph.D. Candidate

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

I have bachelor's degrees in Molecular Biology and Genetics and in Chemistry, and MSc degree in Biotechnology. My analytical chemistry instructor during my bachelor's was studying biomaterials and tissue engineering, and I was introduced to the field during a presentation he gave, later joining his lab for my MSc degree.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on micro- and nanoencapsulation of mammalian cells within silk-based shielding layers in the forms of hydrogel microbeads or layer-by-layer film coatings for cytoprotection against harsh processing conditions. Our primary goal is to bring a bionic state to the cells to toughen them against environmental stress, particularly extensional and shear forces that the cells are exposed during injection-based cell delivery or 3D bioprinting of cell-laden scaffolds.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

CRISPR gene editing and 3D printing of tissues and organs for sure!

Fun fact about yourself? 

I end up just sitting on the beach and watching my friends swimming since I suffer from galeophobia (the fear of sharks), even though I am really fascinated by sharks...

What are you most excited about for the future?

The bioengineering advances in the biomimicry of silk spinning by silkworms and spiders for large-scale production excites me the most for the near future. I dream of witnessing biofibers and textiles with extraordinary strength being commonly used in biomedical, sports and military fields.

Meghan Pinezich
Meghan Pinezich

Ph.D. Candidate

Twitter: @meghanpinezich

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

My love for science and experimentation started at a young age. My dad is an engineer, and growing up we were always building things or turning household tasks into mini science experiments. As an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia, I worked in the Lampe Biomaterials Group where I was first introduced to the wonderful world of tissue engineering. This experience led me to pursue a PhD focused on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

What are you working on now?

I am a member of the GVN Lab Lung Team, and I am especially interested in the role of the extracellular matrix in lung injury, disease, and tissue regeneration. We work across multiple scales—from in vitro tissue models all the way to whole lungs ex vivo or in vivo—with the goal of developing translational solutions to treat lung pathologies.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

Lab-grown meat—tissue engineering but make it edible.

Fun fact about yourself? 

I play co-ed soccer in the city. Last season, we won the league championship!

What are you most excited about for the future?

I am excited to see more tissue engineering technologies translated to the clinic.. to see decades of work in the field lead to meaningful solutions that improve patients' lives.

Josephine Wu
Josephine Wu

Ph.D. Candidate

Twitter: @josephineywu

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley undecided about what to study, I found myself in a survey course on bioengineering topics. It hadn't occurred to me that we could grow body parts in the lab until I saw a picture of the infamous Vacanti mouse in that class, and then I couldn't stop thinking about it. I went on to receive my Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley in 2017 and joined the GVN lab that fall to start my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia.

What are you working on now?

? In the GVN lab, I work on cartilage and bone tissue engineering spanning the macro scale for regenerative medicine to the micro scale for in vitro models. I'm particularly excited about developing new strategies for engineering organized tissues, using cartilage and bone as "proof-of-concept" systems for these tools with the hope that they will be more broadly adapted for other tissue types.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

Induced pluripotent stem cells!

Fun fact about yourself? 

Outside of science, I enjoy playing violin with community orchestras around New York City, honing my newfound pottery skills, and building up my plant wall.

What are you most excited about for the future?

Defending my PhD in the near

Xiaokan Zhang, Ph.D.
Xiaokan Zhang, Ph.D.

Associate Research Scientist

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

I received my PhD degree at Hunter College, City University of New York, where I worked on mechanisms of transcriptional control and regulation in mammalian cells. I then conducted postdoctoral research at Columbia University, on the effect of enzyme acetylation and metabolism on cardiac function in human cardiovascular diseases, especially in heart failure. I joined the lab working with Dr. Barry Fine in 2019, using induced pluripotent stem cells and bioengineered tissues to further study human cardiac diseases.

What are you working on now?

? By using human iPSC-derived cardiomyocyte monolayer cultures, engineered human cardiac tissue models, and rodent models, my work is trying to understand the regulation and underlying mechanism of cardiac signaling pathways in human cardiovascular diseases.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

CRISPR-mediated gene editing, which has the potential for treating diseases due to genomic mutation, heralding a new era in biotechnology.

Fun fact about yourself? 

The pandemic turned me into an artist!

What are you most excited about for the future?

Tissue engineering technologies may offer new hope for patients with injuries and organ failure. I am looking forward to seeing how patient-specific tissue engineering could help people in need.

Thomas Falcucci
Thomas Falcucci

Ph.D. Candidate

Twitter: @FalcucciThomas

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

I did my undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst. There, I began my career in materials engineering research working under Prof. Al Crosby to study high-impulse, bioinspired materials and novel rheological techniques. I also dabbled in industry for a bit, but learned my passions lied in research and teaching. Thus, I transitioned to Biomedical Engineering for my PhD where I leverage my materials engineering background to develop novel biomaterial platforms to model the dynamic extracellular microenvironment.

What are you working on now?

I work towards developing dynamic biomaterials to better understand and mimic fibrosis.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

Its a toss up between 3D printers and those reusable Space-X rockets that can autonomously land.

Fun fact about yourself? 

I come from a large family of ~108 cousins, but I will be the only Doctor.

What are you most excited about for the future?

Definitely excited to see what lab developed technologies become a standard device in most peoples every day life. I'm rooting for cultured meats or 3D printed food.

Pamela Graney, Ph.D.
Pamela Graney, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Scientist

Twitter: @PamGraney

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

My amazing AP Chem teach in high school saw potential in me, and urged me to consider chemical engineering. Thanks to her guidance, I earned my BS in Chemical Engineering in 2009 from Rowan University. At that time, I had never heard of tissue engineering. I was immediately fascinated with the idea of repairing and regenerating the body's tissues when I met Dr. Jennifer Vernengo, who as my Masters advisor introduced me to the world of Biomedical Engineering. I went on to earn my PhD in BME from Drexel University, under the mentorship of Dr. Kara Spiller, who not only helped me discover my love of macrophages (the coolest immune cells), but also profoundly shaped me as a researcher and scientist.

What are you working on now?

My current work leverages our lab's organ-on-a-chip system to probe the role(s) of tissue resident macrophages and bone marrow-derived myeloid cells in priming the pre-metastatic niche and facilitating metastasis of breast cancer cells.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

Tough question! Microphysiological systems and cell agriculture are pretty high on my list of favs!

Fun fact about yourself? 

I run on plants and coffee, and occasional snuggles from my 3-legged pup, Ellie.

What are you most excited about for the future?

So many things! From innovation in sustainable practices to engineering a patient-on-a-chip. I'm hopeful for the future and determined to contribute to the change...

Sarah Kaslow, M.D.
Sarah Kaslow, M.D.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Twitter: @sarahkaslow

What is your background & how did you get into science/tissue engineering? 

I earned my medical degree at the University of Maryland in 2018 and a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2017. I joined the lab in July 2020 after completing two years of General Surgery residency to study whole lung tissue engineering utilizing the cross-circulation platform developed in the Laboratory for Stem Cells & Tissue Engineering and induction of immunotolerance in kidney transplantation.

What are you working on now?

As part of the lung team, I am currently working on developing a large animal model of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, decellularization and recellularization of lung tissue in situ, and the use of mesenchymal stem cell-derived extracellular vesicles as a therapy for severe lung injury.

Favorite scientific innovation of the 21st century? 

The use of vaccines to transform public health -- HPV vaccines to prevent cancer, mRNA vaccines to mitigate pandemics, etc.

Fun fact about yourself? 

I love anything ROYBIV.

What are you most excited about for the future?

I am most excited about continuing to share the world with my 4 year old son--to show him how wonderful humans are at changing our world and how impactful we each can be.