Spotlight on the shortlist: Ngan Huang's lab, Stanford University (CA, USA)

As part of our Award spotlight, we're finding out what makes each of our shortlisted labs tick. This post highlights the members of Ngan Huang's lab at Stanford University (CA, USA).

Please introduce your lab, highlighting any key members.

Ngan F. Huang, PhD: Dr. Huang is an Assistant Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Principal Investigator at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. Outside her family of 3 kids, Dr. Huang enjoys hiking and traveling. 

Cynthia Alcazar, BS: Cynthia Alcazar is the Huang Lab’s Animal Technician and research assistant. She performs all the animal surgeries for the different studies in the lab in addition to aiding in data analysis and histology analysis. On her free time, she likes to do various outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and camping. She also likes to be creative by crafting, painting on canvas, and home décor. 

Karina H. Nakayama, PhD: She is a postdoctoral fellow whose research focuses on engineering vascularized skeletal muscle. Outside of research, she enjoys artistic outlets that range from painting with acrylics and watercolors, to digital pixel art, and wood carving. Also, she’s been doing archery with traditional recurve bows for 10 years. 

Guang Yang, PhD: He is a postdoctoral fellow whose research interest focuses on the regulatory effect of biophysical microenvironment on the fate and function of human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived endothelial cells. Outside of research, he enjoys playing basketball and cooking.  

Maureen Wanjare, PhD: Her postdoctoral research focuses on developing aligned cardiac patches using iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes and endothelial cells. Outside of research she enjoys cooking and singing karaoke. 

Maedeh Zamani, PhD: Her postdoctoral research focuses on developing biomaterials for controlled delivery of mRNA. Apart from research, Maedeh enjoys being with nature and playing ping pong. 

Nick Mezak: He is an undergraduate researcher majoring in biomedical engineering. He is a Veteran who served in the US Marines. His research is in engineering parallel-aligned microfibrous scaffolds using electrospinning. Outside of research he enjoys bike riding.  

Nick McMenomy: He is an undergraduate majoring in aerospace engineering and is a Veteran who served in the US Marines. His research involves electrospinning of microfibrous scaffolds with porous structure. Apart from research, he enjoys spending time with his wife and child.  

Hanway Wang: He is an undergraduate majoring in bio engineering whose research focuses on the interdisciplinary task of combining mechanical engineering, biomaterials science, and tissue engineering to develop biodegradable aligned scaffolds with wide applications ranging from tissue ischemia to vascular grafts. Outside of the lab, he is an avid car enthusiast, and enjoys bowling at the collegiate level.

Why did you nominate yourself for the inaugural RegMedNet Award for Cultivating Excellence?

I believe our lab is a good example of cultivating excellence by nurturing the trainees in the lab, fostering collaborations with other researchers or companies, and by outreaching to the general public about highlights of new findings from our group in the field of regenerative medicine.

Education and Career Development: Each trainee has an individualized career development plan that focuses on helping them achieve the next step of their career, whether it is an academic or industry position or higher education. As their mentor, I review it with them annually to help them realize their career goals by careful planning. These efforts are already bearing fruit. For example, my postdoc Karina has successfully achieved a number of milestones, including obtaining two national postdoctoral fellowships, and young investigator awards at society conferences. Most recently she received a fundable score on a Pathway to Independence award (K99/R00) from the US National Institutes of Health, which will make her a very competitive candidate for faculty position.

Accessibility and Training to Undergraduates: Being an investigator in the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, I have founded very limited numbers of Veterans that pursue STEM careers. By reaching out to a local Hispanic serving community college, I recruited two Veteran undergraduate students to work in my laboratory. One has worked in my lab for 3 years, and the second been in my lab for the past 4 months. Since Veterans are underrepresented in biomedical research, I believe that this research opportunity helps to broaden their range of experience and skills.

New Collaborations: We have multi-disciplinary collaborations with colleagues in medicine, engineering, statistics, and the basic sciences. These multi-disciplinary collaborations are necessary to solve complex biomedical problems. Furthermore, we also collaborate with local industry partners, such as Fibralign Corporation, to help develop biomedical technology that can reach commercialization faster.

Advancing Regenerative Medicine as a Whole: I have leadership roles in numerous societies and am involved in putting together conference sessions. As an example, I am organizing a Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering session at the upcoming Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society-Americas. Similarly, I am organizing a session for the upcoming Society for Biomaterials Conference. In addition, I serve on review study sessions for the US National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association. In addition, we frequently publish our latest findings in regenerative medicine research in Regen Med.

External Communication and Outreach: Besides maintaining an updated laboratory website that celebrates the latest achievements of my trainees, we also actively communicate our findings to students and the general public. Each summer I give a lecture on regenerative medicine for the EXPLORE program, which enables high school students from around the US to learn about medical research at Stanford University. To the general public, we prepare press releases of our latest findings, especially those that can influence clinical care for patients. We also motivate more Veterans to pursue biomedical research. Below are examples:

What is your lab’s proudest achievement to date?

It is hard to select only one as our lab’s proudest achievement. I might have to say it was the development of a biomaterials-based approach for treatment of lymphedema. The reason we are proud of it is because we took the idea from concept to small and then large animal studies, eventually getting FDA approval for a clinical trial (currently now underway). This is a fine example of our lab’s mission to translate basic findings from the bench all the way to the clinic. You can read about it at the press release here.

What are your lab’s plans for the future (new research topics, new funding sources, new equipment etc)?

We are a growing lab whose research spans basic biology all the way through large animal studies. In the near future, we have plans to incorporate or develop new technologies to advance regenerative medicine. For example, we envision using CRISPR/Cas9 technology for gene editing the cells of patients with QT Syndrome or other diseases, and then engineering healthy cardiac patches for them. We are developing new technologies for developing larger and more complex engineered cardiovascular tissue that enable the tissues to self-assemble and grow in size. Aside from current funding sources (ie National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, Dept of Veteran Affairs), In the future, we believe our laboratory’s research will become attractive for the National Science Foundation, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and the National Aeronautics and Space Association).