Prof. Vunjak-Novakovic Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic has just been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest professional distinctions awarded to an engineer. The Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Medical Sciences, Vice Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and director of the Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, Vunjak-Novakovic was cited for her bioreactor systems and modeling approaches for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. She is one of 66 new members and 10 foreign associates, announced Feb. 9 by NAE President Charles M. Vest, and joins a highly prestigious membership of some 2,500 around the world.
“I am thrilled and honored beyond words about this recognition and what it brings to us,” said Vunjak-Novakovic. “I feel both proud and fortunate to be the first woman at Columbia Engineering, and Columbia University, to be elected to the NAE and to be joining the group of our esteemed colleagues elected in the previous years.”
"Gordana's work in developing new biomaterials and scaffold architecture to engineer functional human tissue is groundbreaking," said Feniosky Peña-Mora, Dean of Columbia Engineering School. "She is truly a pioneer in her field, creating entirely new research paradigms and approaches to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. She is a world-class scientist and international leader in this research and this is a well-deserved honor for her. We are proud to have her as our colleague.”
NAE membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice, or education, including significant contributions to the engineering literature, and to the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.
Vunjak-Novakovic and her research team have been able to grow bone grafts that can match a patient’s original jaw bone for facial reconstruction surgery to repair injuries, disease, or birth defects. They have also been able to engineer thick, vascularized, and electromechanically functional cardiac tissue, by culturing stem cells, the actual “tissue engineers,” on a scaffold perfused with culture medium to mimic blood flow and stimulated by electrical signals. This research has led to a heart patch that could be laid over injured heart tissue to restore normal function in someone who has suffered a heart attack. Among the innovations coming from her lab is also a cell micropatterning technology to study the initiation of developmental asymmetry and diagnose disease.
Vunjak-Novakovic’s lab hosts the Bioreactor Core of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Tissue Engineering Resource Center. “This sophisticated bioreactor and imaging instrumentation has moved stem cell research from the ‘flat biology’ of Petri dishes to controllable models of high biological fidelity, which can be studied in real time to observe the interacting factors mediating self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells,” said Vunjak-Novakovic. “As a biomedical engineer actively involved in this field, I look forward to unlocking the full regenerative potential of human stem cells, so we can cure disease and live longer than our failing organs.”
In 2002, Vunjak-Novakovic was elected a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. In 2007, she gave the Director’s lecture at the NIH, as the first woman engineer to receive this distinction. She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2008, elected to the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009, and, in 2010, received the Clemson Award of the Biomaterials Society for contribution to literature. She earned her B.S. (1972), S.M. (1975), and Ph.D. (1980) from the University of Belgrade (Serbia).
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