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2021 Allen Distinguished Investigator award

The Allen Distinguished Investigator program provides three-year grants between $1M and $1.5M to individuals and teams

Engineering the stromal secretome to program organ development and maturation

Organoids, lab-grown mini-organs grown from human stem cells, hold the promise to yield new information about our own organs in health and disease. But these engineered mini-organs are nowhere near an exact replica of the real thing — they are far simpler and biologically “younger.” This may be in part because they are missing certain kinds of cells and tissues present in the body. Pulin Li, Ph.D., is leading a project to introduce a type of tissue known as the stroma into organoids. The stroma acts as a sort of living cushion or scaffolding for other kinds of cells, providing physical support as well as molecular signals that guide organ development. It’s also involved in wound repair, inflammation and cell renewal. Li’s hope is that organoids that include stromal cells will provide better models of actual human organs, allowing researchers to better understand our own health and development and providing a platform for rapid preclinical drug testing.

Pulin Li headshot

Pulin Li, Ph.D.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This project is part of the Synthetic biology advances for human tissues cohort

The field of synthetic biology has made incredible advances in recent years, and yet the complexity of mammalian biology presents an additional challenge for scientists aiming to engineer tissue or organoids in the lab. The investigators in the Mammalian Synthetic Development cohort are working to cross many of the barriers to mammalian synthetic biology, including several approaches to improve the development and engineering of organoids, lab-grown mini-organs typically derived from human stem cells. Their work spans many parts of the human body, including the liver, lungs, brain, and connective tissues.