Sean Palecek is the Milton J. and Maude Shoemaker Professor and a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Sean received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware. He performed his graduate research with Doug Lauffenburger and Rick Horwitz, earning an M.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT. Sean performed postdoctoral research in molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Steve Kron.
Sean’s lab studies how human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) sense and respond to microenvironmental cues in making fate choices, with a focus on differentiation to cardiovascular lineages. They construct culture systems that apply soluble chemical signaling, immobilized matrix proteins, cell-cell contacts, and mechanical cues to differentiating hPSCs and determine the developmental pathways stimulated by these cues. Then they use this information to engineer simple, efficient, and robust process to differentiate hPSCs to desired somatic cell types. Sean’s engages in highly collaborative, team-based research working with labs in biology, medicine, physical sciences, and engineering to tackle problems at the forefront of regenerative medicine. Sean’s lab has generated novel mechanistic insight and developed protocols for differentiation of hPSCs to cardiomyocytes, vascular endothelial cells, brain microvascular endothelial cells, epidermal keratinocytes, vocal fold epithelial cells, and simple epithelial progenitors. They strive to engineer fully-defined, animal component-free differentiation platforms, compatible with biomanufacturing of cells for in vitro and in vivo applications. These differentiation systems have been published in top scientific journals including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Biotechnology, and Nature Methods. Sean’s lab has multiple patents on stem cell-derived cell types, and several of these patents are licensed by pharmaceutical and tissue engineering companies.
Sean’s recent awards include the Cozzarelli Prize of the National Academy of Sciences and the Biotechnology Progress Excellence in Research Publication Award for his work on cardiovascular tissue engineering from hPSCs. He is a leader in the field of Stem Cell Engineering. He chaired the 3rd International Conference on Stem Cell Engineering, co-sponsored by ISSCR and SBE, in 2012 and is on the executive committee for BMES, SBE, TERMIS, ISSCR, and ACS meetings. He has served on numerous federal and state stem cell advisory boards. He is on the executive committee of a NIST Cell Manufacturing Consortium Planning Project and was a member of an NSF/NIH/NIST International Assessment of Stem Cell Engineering. Sean has experience in leadership positions, serving as the Bioengineering Thrust Leader for the UW Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center and the cell culture co-director for the UW Skin Disease Research Center.