Sean Palecek

Sean Palecek
Engineering platforms to regulate human pluripotent stem cell differentiation

Years at WID

2017 - present


  • B.Ch.E., Chemical Engineering, University of Delaware
  • M.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Postdoc., Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago

Research Description

Since 2001 the primary focus of my research lab has been enhancing mechanistic understanding of how human pluripotent stem cell (hPSCs) process environmental cues to make fate choices, including whether to self-renew or differentiate to more specialized cell types. We then use this mechanistic information to design expansion and differentiation platforms to produce hPSC-derived cells for a variety of applications, including in vitro development and disease modeling, building models for drug screening and toxicity assessment, and cell-based therapeutics for regenerative medicine. Our current focus involves producing cardiac and neurovascular unit cell types and assembling these into 3D tissue structures. The tools we employ include cell culture, molecular and cellular analytics, genome editing, microfabrication, genomics and metabolomics, mathematical modeling, and cell physiological assays. Our research is highly collaborative with my group focusing on regulation of cell fate processes and collaborators providing expertise on particular cell types and applications employing those cell types.


  • Affiliate, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Affiliate, Department of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Trainer, Biotechnology Training Program
  • Trainer, Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program
  • Co-director cell culture core, Skin Disease Research Center
  • Bioengineering Focus Group Leader, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center
  • Associate Director for Research, Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies
  • Senior Fellow, Allen Institute for Cell Science


  • 2001 Lilly Young Faculty Award in Biosystems Engineering
  • 2003 NSF CAREER Award.
  • 2004-2006 3M Nontenured Faculty Award
  • 2009 Circulation Research Best Paper of the Year
  • 2009 American Heart Association Top Ten Advances in Heart Research
  • 2012 Vilas Faculty Associate
  • 2012 Milton J. and A. Maude Shoemaker Professor
  • 2013 Cozzarelli Prize of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  • 2013 Biotechnology Progress Excellence in Bioengineering Research Publication
  • 2013-2018 Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor
  • 2014 Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Selected Publications

  • Qian T, Maguire SE, Canfield SG, Bao X, Olson WR, Shusta EV, Palecek SP. 2017. Directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to blood-brain barrier endothelial cells. Sci. Adv. 3:e1701679.
  • Bhute VJ, Bao X, Dunn KK, Knutson KR, McCurry EC, Jin G, Lee WH, Lewis S, Ikeda A, Palecek SP. 2017. Metabolomics identifies metabolic markers of maturation in human pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. Theranostics. 26:2078-2091.
  • Bao X, Lian X, Hacker TA, Schmuck EG, Qian T, Bhute VJ, Han T, Shi M, Drowley L, Plowright A, Wang QD, Goumans MJ, Palecek SP. 2016. Long-term self-renewing human epicardial cells generated from pluripotent stem cells under defined conditions. Nature Biomedical Engineering. 1:0003.
  • Lian X, Bao X, Zilberter M, Westman M, Fisahn A, Hsiao C, Hazeltine LB, Dunn KK, Kamp TJ, Palecek SP. 2015. Chemically defined albumin-free cardiomyocyte differentiation. Nature Methods. 12:595-596.
  • Laperle A, Hsiao C, Lampe M, Mortier J, Saha K*, Palecek SP*, Masters KS*. 2015. Alpha5 laminin synthesized by human pluripotent stem cells promotes self-renewal. Stem Cell Reports. 5:195-206
  • Lian X, Bao X, Al-Ahmad A, Liu J, Wu Y, Dong W, Dunn KK, Shusta EV, Palecek SP. 2014. Efficient differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to endothelial progenitors via activation of Wnt signaling. Stem Cell Reports 3:804-816.
  • Lian X, Hsiao C, Wilson GF, Zhu K, Hazeltine L, Azarin SM, Raval KK, Kamp TJ, Palecek SP. 2012. Small molecule modulation of canonical Wnt signaling is sufficient to induce robust cardiac differentiation in human pluripotent stem cells. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 109:E1948-1857.
  • Lippmann ES, Azarin SM, Kay JE, Nessler RA, Wilson HK, Palecek SP*, Shusta EV*. 2012. Human blood-brain barrier endothelial cells derived from pluripotent stem cells. Nature Biotechnology. 30:783-791.