Decoding cell-matrix mechanosignalling: towards engineering functional lungs and halting pulmonary fibrosis

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Department Seminar Series

Jenna Balestrini, PhD
Postdoctoral Associate
Niklason Laboratory, Kyriakides Laboratory
Department of Biomedical Engineering and Anesthesiology
Yale University School of Medicine

A central question in regenerative medicine is how biophysical cues embedded within the extracellular matrix (ECM) underpin critical processes such as development, repair, and fibrosis. In a dynamic organ such as the lung, these matrix signals are transmitted via mechanical cues (stretch, tissue stiffness), topographical features, and regional variations in biochemical composition. In combination, these signals direct fundamental processes such as protein production, differentiation, migration, proliferation, or cell death. Understanding how to direct these biologic cues is imperative for the prevention or suppression of fibrotic diseases, and also for producing engineered organs that do not succumb to pathological remodeling during culture or after implantation into recipients. This talk will address i) how mechanical signals regulate connective tissue health and disease, and ii) recent advancements in the generation of artificial lungs for use in regenerative medicine.


Dr. Jenna Balestrini is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Yale University in the laboratory of Laura Niklason. Her research at Yale involves the development of artificial lung scaffolds for use in organ engineering, and harnessing cell-matrix cues to direct cellular differentiation for use in regenerative medicine. Prior to her work at Yale, she was a member of the Hinz laboratory at University of Toronto where she investigated the role of matrix stiffness on the persistence of myofibroblasts, a hallmark characteristic of fibrosis. In that work she established that fibroblasts permanently imprint mechano-sensed information or have a “cellular mechanical memory”.  Jenna received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State University in 2003, and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic in 2009. Her scientific works have been published in 18 peer-reviewed articles and conference papers, and she has been the recipient of the Alfred R Potvin award, and the Lung Repair and Regeneration trainee award.