Annual Petit Institute Distinguished Lecture

The Parker H. Petit Distinguished Lecture Series is held each year at the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. The Distinguished Lecture Series brings nationally and internationally recognized bioengineering and bioscience leaders to the Petit Institute community to give their perspective on the future of biotechnology. Since the series began in 2002, the Petit Institute has had the distinct honor and pleasure of hosting world-renowned lecturers.

Please join us for our next Distinguished Lecture:

GordonaGordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Ph.D.
University Professor
The Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medicine 
Professor of Dental Medicine
Director, Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering
Columbia University

Date: November 16, 2021
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Location: Petit Biotech Building, Atrium

Approximately 35 million men and women in the United States suffer from TMJ problems, and as many as one in four people experience symptoms of TMJ disorders, including pain in the chewing muscles, jaw stiffness, clicking, popping, or grating, or the pain of arthritis. The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the jaw joint that lies in front of each ear, connecting the mandible (lower jaw) to the skull, providing the mobility necessary for biting, chewing, swallowing food, speaking, and making facial expressions.

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic and her research team have been able to grow bone grafts that will match a patient’s original jaw bone for facial reconstruction surgery to repair injuries, disease, or birth defects. This spectacular advancement in bone tissue engineering provides all the advantages of the body’s original jaw bone. The team used real bone as a scaffold to grow the new TMJ graft. Taking the knee joints of calves, they stripped them of all their living cells and carved them into cubic centimeter-size parts of a human jaw joint.

Using mesenchymal stem cells, which can differentiate into many cell types, to seed the scaffolding, they fed them with streams of nutrients, growth factors, and oxygen in a bioreactor. The next step will be to determine the best way to grow blood vessels in the bone grafts to continue their viability.

In another research area, Vunjak-Novakovic is engineering thick, vascularized, and electromechanically functional cardiac tissue, by culturing stem cells, the actual “tissue engineers,” on a channeled elastomer scaffold perfused with a culture medium containing oxygen carriers, to mimic blood flow. This research may lead to a heart patch that could be laid over injured heart tissue to restore normal function in someone who has suffered a heart attack.

“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,” she said.

Her lab hosts the Bioreactor Core of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Tissue Engineering Resource Center. “This sophisticated bioreactor and imaging instrumentation have 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. “We now have the capacity to develop entirely new research paradigms and approaches to engineering human tissues.”

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.

B.., University of Belgrade (Serbia), 1972; S.M., University of Belgrade, 1975; University of Belgrade, Ph.D., 1980


Past Distinguished Lecturers


2019 - Wendell Lim, HHMI

2018 - Elias Zerhouni, NAM, NAE, Director of NIH

2017 - Michael DeBaun, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

2016 – Kristi Anseth, HHMI, NAS, NAM, NAE

2015 - Cori Bargmann, HHMI, NAS

2014 - Joseph DeSimone, NAE, NAS, NAM

2013 - Thomas Cech, Nobel Prize

2012 - David Mooney, NAE, NAM

2011 - Subra Suresh, NAE, Director of NSF

2010 - Ronald McKay, NIH NINDS

2009 - Phillip Sharp, Nobel Prize

2008 - George Whitesides, NAE, NAS

2007 - Shu Chien, NAE, NAS, NAM

2006 - Steven Chu, Nobel Prize, Secretary of Energy

2005 - Leroy Hood, NAE, NAS, NAM

2004 - Bruce Alberts, President of NAS

2003 - Sir Richard Sykes, Royal Academy of Engineering

2002 - Arthur Collins, CEO Medtronic

2001 - Kenneth Shine, NAS, President of IOM