Luce Professorship Honors Karen Kasza’s Research in Cell and Tissue Mechanics

—Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

Karen Kasza, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has been awarded a Clare Boothe Luce professorship. Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, the professorship comes with a five-year, $500,000 grant to support Kasza’s ongoing research in understanding the mechanics of cell and tissue behavior.

Kasza studies how cells self-organize to build tissues with mechanical and structural properties that are required for proper function. Her research combines tools and approaches from engineering, biology, and physics, and relies on in vivo experimental investigations, primarily in fruit flies. In a recent study, Kasza examined the elongation of the head-to-tail axis of the fruit fly embryo, which occurs through tissue movements called convergent extension. These tissue movements are similar to those that occur during human development, and problems in such tissue movements can cause human birth defects.

“These studies shed light on basic mechanisms by which problems in cell and tissue movements contribute to developmental defects,” says Kasza. “Understanding how cells generate mechanical forces and move around to build tissues during development also sheds light on what happens when those cell behaviors become improperly regulated later in life and contribute to disease states such as cancer.”

Kasza joined Columbia Engineering in January. As a postdoctoral fellow in the developmental biology program at the Sloan Kettering Institute, she studied how mechanical forces drive cell movements and shape multicellular tissues during fruit fly development. In recognition of her work, Kasza received a Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship in 2011 and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface in 2013.

The Clare Boothe Luce Program is aimed at providing significant support to women in science, mathematics, and engineering.

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