Principal Investigator: Mijo Simunovic, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Chemical Engineering

Department of Genetics & Development

Member, Columbia Stem Cell Initiative

Columbia University

Head, Laboratory of Synthetic Human Organogenesis

Columbia University Irving Medical Center

New York, NY

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Bio

Born in a country that doesn't exist, Mijo was raised in the northeast region of Croatia in one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in Europe. In a story similar to that of many immigrants, Mijo sought education in the West and moved to the United States and to France. There, Mijo obtained a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Physics from the Sorbonne Universities in Paris. In their early scientific work, working first under Gregory Voth in Chicago then under Patricia Bassereau in Paris, Mijo developed computational and biophysical experimental models to study the physical basis of cell membrane reshaping relevant to chemical signaling. It led to the discovery of a new membrane cutting mechanism, friction-driven scission. For this work, Mijo became the 2017 laureate of the AAAS/Science and SciLifeLab Prize in Cell and Molecular Biology, awarded in Stockholm following the Nobel week.

In 2015 Mijo moved to the Rockefeller University in New York City to train with Eric Siggia and Ali Brivanlou as a Junior Fellow of the Simons Society of Fellows. While at Rockefeller, Mijo created one of the first 3D stem cell models of the human embryo, used to propose a molecular mechanisms of how the human embryo might break symmetry to specify the body axis. Following on this work, Mijo engineered an integrated model of the post-implantation human embryo capable not only of in vitro attachment but of downstream development as well. These models hold promise in revealing clues into the origins of human development and to advancing our knowledge of reproductive disorders. In January of 2020, Mijo joined Columbia, hoping to employ the ingenuity of chemical engineering approaches to the field of fundamental and applied developmental biology, and in this way to advance paradigms in how we study human development in health and disease.

Training

2016--2019: Junior Fellow of the Simons Society of Fellows at the Rockefeller University

2015--2016: Postdoctoral Associate at the Rockefeller University

2015: PhD in Physics, Sorbonne Universities and Curie Institute, Paris

2015: PhD in Chemistry, The University of Chicago

2010:- BS/MS in Chemistry, University of Zagreb

Teaching at Columbia

Fall (2020--present) -- Introduction to chemical engineering thermodynamics

Spring (2020--present) -- Synthetic organogenesis

Spring (2019--present) -- Topics in developmental biology

Notable Awards

2021: NIH New Innovator Award

2021: Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, Next Gen Pregnancy Initiative

2020: Columbia Stem Cell Initiative Pilot Award

2020: Columbia Digestive & Liver Diseases Research Center Seed Fund

2017: AAAS/Science and SciLifeLab Prize in Cell and Molecular Biology

2016: Prix de la Chancellerie

Carlotta Ronda, Ph.D.

Junior Fellow Alumna of the Simons Society of Fellows

Associate Research Scientist in Systems Biology (with Harris Wang)

Carlotta grew up in the Veneto region of Italy, where she graduated with a degree in molecular biology from Padua University. She pursued her PhD at the Technical University of Denmark, where she developed new CRISPR tech and holds one of the earliest CRISPR patents on editing eukaryotic cells. After completing her PhD in synthetic biology in 2015, she moved to Columbia as a Simons Junior Fellow in the Harris Wang lab to employ CRISPR in gut microbiome engineering applied to in vivo therapeutics. In the Simunovic lab, Carlotta runs multiple projects developing new genomics tech applied to stem cell engineering and human organoids that can be used to dissect the detailed cell fate choices in human organogenesis.

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Miaoci Zhang

PhD student in Chemical Engineering

Miaoci is from Zhengzhou, China and graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. There, she worked in Dr. Manish Kumar’s lab to develop biomimetic membranes and found her passion in applying chemical engineering principles to biological systems. She joined the Simunovic lab in 2019 and studies the mechanism of human embryogenesis with stem cell based organoid models. She is  interested in understanding the process of embryo implantation and early pregnancy failures and hopes to contribute to the field of women’s reproductive medicine with her research.

Corey Hansen

NSF graduate fellow in Genetics and Development

Corey is originally from San Antonio, Texas and served in the Marine Corps as a signals intelligence analyst. He then worked on an organic farm in Hawaii before earning a BS in Biochemistry at Hawaii Pacific University. He made his way to New York City and worked as a research assistant in Dr. Angela Christiano’s lab. His primary project was on creating autologous gene-corrected iPSC-derived skin tissue organoids as a potential treatment for recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB) patients. Following this, he started his PhD at Columbia and joined the Simunovic Lab in 2020. He is now studying the signaling hierarchy involved in early human development by combining traditional cell culture with engineering techniques such as micropatterns and microfluidics. When he’s not looking down a microscope, Corey enjoys riding motorcycles, hanging out with his dog Nigel, and exploring the outdoors.

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Daniella Fodera

NSF graduate fellow in Biomedical Engineering

co-advised with Kristin Myers (Mechanical Engineering)

Daniella grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Lehigh University in 2018 with a B.S. in Bioengineering. She embarked on her PhD journey at Cornell where she studied inflammation and pathogenesis of chronic tendon injuries using mouse models. Seeking to make a meaningful impact on the lives of women suffering from infertility, she transferred to Columbia in early 2020 as a Biomedical Engineering PhD student. She now develops stem cell models of the human uterus to study the mechanobiology of endometrial remodeling in the context of implantation, pregnancy, and other obstetric conditions. Daniella plans to continue to pursue her passion for female reproductive research in academia after graduate school. Outside of the lab, she enjoys staying active, baking delicious treats, and exploring NYC.

Jessica Zhou

NSF graduate fellow in Chemical Engineering

Jessica Zhou is from Michigan and graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a degree in Polymer Science. At CWRU she conducted research under Dr. Gary Wnek and pursued various internships relating to materials science and biology and biomaterials. She joined the Simunovic lab in 2020 and is engineering a biomietic platform to reconstitute human intestinal development. She is interested in understanding how the intestinal microenvironment impacts gut health and finding ways to translate it into personalized medicine. Her side projects include perfecting her mouth pipetting technique, hanging out with Corey's dog Nigel, and eating her way through NYC like a sentient gut organoid.

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Wallis Boyd

PhD student in Chemical Engineering

Born and raised in central Connecticut, Wallis comes from the University of Connecticut where he worked in Prof. Leslie Shor’s lab on agricultural biotechnology. He joined the Simunovic lab in 2020 and now develops technologies for controlled stem cell differentiation through synthetic biology. He is interested in studying the genetic mechanisms of human development until his inevitable transformation into a mad scientist with dreams of killing Spiderman.

Alexander Danechi

Research Assistant

Alexander grew up in London and came to New York City to study Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. There, he found his passion in regenerative medicine. Alexander then found the Simunovic Lab in 2019, where he aspires to integrate his chemical engineering knowledge in stem cell and developmental biology to unravel the elusive mechanisms of organogenesis. He strives to change the way in how patients are healed and be a leader in this nascent field. Having graduated in April 2021, he now works for the lab as full-time Research Assistant while he applies to medical schools.

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Isabella Leite

Undergraduate in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Math

Isabella is from Sāo Paulo, Brazil and she is a senior undergraduate studying Biomedical Engineering and Applied Math. She joined the Simunovic Lab in 2020 and studies commitment in early embryonic development. She is interested in how epigenetic and epitranscriptomic events influence commitment to differentiation, and she hopes to apply her background in numerical simulations to these datasets. She hopes that her research will contribute to stem cell reprogramming for organoid development. In her free time, she is a loving parent to her two cats.

Sophia Liu

Undergraduate in Chemical Engineering

Sophia is from Waunakee, Wisconsin and is a senior in SEAS, studying Chemical Engineering. She joined the Simunovic Lab during the fall of 2020 and is developing new approaches to using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing of pluripotent stem cells to modeling human intestinal organogenesis. After graduating, she is planning on attending medical school. Besides studying and doing research, she is involved in Big Sibs, Make A Wish, Columbia Women in Medicine, and Columbia Women’s Water Polo Team. She also enjoys exploring Central Park, attempting the New York Times Crossword, and trying new restaurants in the city!

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Miranda Wang

Undergraduate in Biomedical Engineering

Miranda is from Michigan and is an undergraduate senior studying Biomedical Engineering with a focus in Mechanical Engineering. She joined the Simunovic Lab 2021 to study comparative mammalian embryogenesis and to use genetic tools to reprogram precise human tissues. She is interested in utilizing organoid co-culture systems to understand embryo implantation and its consequences on fertility, and hopes to contribute to the field of women’s reproductive medicine. In her free time, Miranda is an avid baker and enjoys hiking in the areas around NYC.