Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic is a Serbian American biomedical engineer. She is University Professor and The Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences at Columbia University, where she directs the Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering. She is also a faculty in the Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and in the Center for Human Development at Columbia University, an honorary professor at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy at the University of Belgrade, honorary professor at the University of Novi Sad, and an adjunct professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University.
Her group focuses on engineering human tissues for regenerative medicine, stem cell research and modeling of disease. Together with her team she has published over 350 scientific papers, 60 book chapters and three books on tissue engineering. According to Google Scholar, her papers have been cited 34,450 times, and she has an h-index of 107, making her one of the 1360 most highly cited individuals of all times. Vunjak-Novakovic has also given 370 invited lectures across the world and is named as co-inventor on 80 licensed, issued and pending patents. Building on these patents she co-founded three biotech companies: EpiBone, TARA Biosystems, and MatriTek. Additionally, she is a frequent advisor to the federal government on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
Vunjak received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Belgrade, in Belgrade, Serbia. After her postgraduate study in Germany, she returned as a faculty to the University of Belgrade in its Chemical Engineering Department. She was a Fulbright Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology from 1986 to 1987 and held joint appointments as Research Scientists at the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT (1993-1998) and as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University (1994-2004). In 1998 she became a full-time Principal Research Scientist with the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology at MIT, where she collaborated, among others, with renowned biomedical engineer Robert S. Langer. In 2005, she accepted a position as Full Professor with the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University. She is married to Branko Novakovic, an architect, and they have a son Stasha who is practicing pulmonology and critical care in Miami.
Prof. Vunjak-Novakovic’s numerous scholarly accomplishments have substantially impacted the field of tissue engineering in specific and the field of biomedical engineering in general. The focus of her research is on engineering functional human tissues, by an integrated use of stem cells, biomaterial scaffolds and bioreactors, which are culture systems designed to regulate and stimulate tissue development. In her work she has laid the theoretical and experimental foundation for the development of new biomaterials and scaffold architecture to regenerate tissue. For example, a series of 5 papers on bioreactors, seeding of polymer scaffolds for cartilage tissue engineering, cultivation parameters, and tissue construct characterization, published in 1998 and 1999 have been cited over a 2,000 times. Building on these efforts, Prof. Vunjak-Novakovic continued to perform complex cell biological studies that address fundamental problems such as the growth and differentiation of stem cells for functional skeletal and cardiac mechanics, the growth of mammalian cells in microgravity environment, and the role of chondrocytes in cartilage tissue biomechanics. In ways not achieved by any other research team, Prof. Vunjak-Novakovic’s group has succeeded to control cell growth, metabolism and function of engineered human tissues. This has garnered her highest praise and recognition of the scientific community. She is now starting to translate this foundation into clinical applications that promise to profoundly influence the way patient are treated and medicine is practiced.
In 2007, Vunjak-Novakovic became the first woman engineer to receive the distinction of giving the Director’s Lecture at the National Institute of Health. In 2008, she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, and in 2009, she was elected to the New York Academy of Sciences. One year later she received the Clemson Award of the Society of Biomaterials “for significant contributions to the literature on the science or technology of biomaterials.” In 2012 she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering "for bioreactor systems and modeling approaches for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine," becoming the first woman at Columbia to ever earn that prestigious distinction. Two years later this was followed by the elections to the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Inventors. In addition, Vunjak-Novakovic is the current Chair of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, a fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society, a fellow of AAAS, and a founding fellow of TERMIS. She is a member of the Academia Europaea, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, and one of Foreign Policy 100 leading global thinkers for 2014. She is the recipient of the Robert A. Pritzker Distinguished Lecture Award for 2017, the premier award of the Biomedical Engineering Society. As her research has made substantial breakthroughs in recent years, her work has also captured the imagination of the general public and was featured in the New York Times, Scientific American, Forbes Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR), and the BBC. In 2017, Professor Vunjak-Novakovic was appointed to the rank of University Professor at Columbia University, the institution's highest academic honor reserved for only eight professors at a time.
- "Replacement Bones, Grown to Order in the Lab," by Anne Eisenberg, The New York Times, March 28, 2010, p. BU5
- Google Scholar Webpage for Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic
- "Cardiac tissue engineering: cell seeding, cultivation parameters, and tissue construct characterization," Biotechnology and Bioengineering 64(5), pp. 580-589, 1999.
- "Bioreactor cultivation conditions modulate the composition and mechanical properties of tissue-engineered cartilage," Journal of Orthopaedic Research 17 (1), pp. 130-138, 1999.
- "Cardiac muscle tissue engineering: toward an in vitro model for electrophysiological studies," American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology 277(2), pp. H433-H444, 1999.
- "Dynamic cell seeding of polymer scaffolds for cartilage tissue engineering," Biotechnology Progress 14(2), pp. 193-202, 1998.
- "Chondrogenesis in a cell-polymer-bioreactor system," Experimental Cell Research 240(1), pp. 58-65, 1998.
- "Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic Elected to the Institute of Medicine," by Holly Evarts, Columbia Spectator, Oct. 22, 2014
- "Professors Nayar and Vunjak-Novakovic Elected to the National Academy of Inventors," by Holly Evarts, Columbia Spectator, Dec. 17, 2014.
- "Breakthrough: Bone Graft Grown in Exact Shape of Complex Skull-Jaw Joint," By Charles Q. Choi, Scientific American, October 5, 2009.
- "Researchers Mend A Broken Heart," by Alex Knapp, Forbes, May 9, 2011.
- "Growing Hearts and Bones," National Public Radio, June 10, 2011, 1:00 PM ET.
- "Jaw bone created from stem cells," BBC News, Saturday, 10 October 2009.
- "Beating heart tissue grown in lab," BBC News, Saturday, 15 December, 2004.