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Biomedical Engineering Department Recruits New Female Talent


Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic

Helping to reverse the statistic that has so few women working in the sciences in the nation's top universities, the Department of Biomedical Engineering of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science has succeeded in luring top biomedical engineer Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic as a full professor. She comes to Columbia University from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was leading a research team on tissue engineering.

Vunjak-Novakovic received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Belgrade in 1980. She is one of the leading tissue engineers in America today, a codirector of the Tissue Engineering Resource Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. Her forthcoming book, Culture of Cells for Tissue Engineering, coauthored with R. Ian Freshney, will appear in early 2006.

At Columbia, Vunjak-Novakovic is the primary investigator for two new NIH grants worth nearly $5 million. The first involves research in the emerging field of craniofacial tissue engineering.

The tissues of the head and face offer particularly challenging targets for bioengineers because of being powered by networks of muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Vunjak-Novakovic's laboratory is addressing the problem of generating these complex tissue structures by utilizing novel matrices that house growth factors, and novel culture systems designed to guide the cells in forming functional tissue structures. The underlying principle is "biomimetic," which bases the designs of tissue engineering systems on reproducing principles found in developmental biology.

Vunjak-Novakovic's second challenge consists of setting up a new laboratory that works with human stem cells and advanced biomaterial scaffolds and bioreactors to engineer new tissues that could potentially aid in the treatment and repair of damaged or diseased heart muscle, bones, cartilage and ligaments.

These same tissues are also used as "high fidelity" models for fundamental biological research, to help understand some of the normal and pathological processes underlying the function of our tissues. For this project, Vunjak-Novakovic is collaborating with conjunction with colleagues from the School of Engineering and the medical and dental schools.


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Published: Nov 07, 2005
Last modified: Nov 04, 2005

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