Therapeutic cell researcher joins biomedical engineering and Huck Institutes


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Yuguo “Leo” Lei joined the Penn State Department of Biomedical Engineering as an associate professor and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences as the inaugural faculty director of the Sartorius Cell Culture Facility in a joint appointment on Jan. 1.

Lei comes to Penn State from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) where he worked as an associate professor of chemical engineering and biomolecular engineering. He was also a member of the Regenerative Medicine Program and the Buffet Cancer Center at UNL.

“I came to Penn State because of its cutting-edge research and top educational programs, especially in engineering,” Lei said. “Also, my joint faculty appointment aligns so well with my education and research goals.”

In his role as an associate professor, Lei hopes to introduce therapeutic cell manufacturing to his students and use hands-on experience to bring the subject to life in the classroom. Lei said he believes the best way to learn is by experiencing lectures that are combined with experiments.

“We are very excited to have Dr. Lei as a faculty member in biomedical engineering,” said Cheng Dong, head and distinguished professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State. “His work in the therapeutic cell manufacturing in both research and industry brings new depths to our department’s curriculum. I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes in research and teaching.”

As the faculty director of the newly established Sartorius Cell Culture Facility, Lei will provide leadership and consultation for research capabilities and opportunities in the new facility. He will also oversee collaborations with the Center for Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology in order to advance opportunities for training and workforce development. He will serve as the chair of the facility’s Faculty Steering Committee, which focuses on reviewing the facility’s strategic, technical and business status.

“We’re very pleased that Leo, with his vision and energy, is joining us as we go forward in this fast moving and exciting arena,” said Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Lei’s research focuses on a variety of topics, including large-scale cell manufacturing, cell therapies, biomaterials and cell-cultured meat.

His research specifically focuses on cell culture microenvironment factors and the influence that these factors have on the cell culture outcome — including cell viability, growth rate and yield — and product properties, such as genetics, epigenetics, metabolomics, transcriptome, secretome, survival, integration, safety and potency. According to Lei, he uses the data gained from this part of his research to develop transformative cell culture technologies that enable more robust manufacturing of large quantities of therapeutic cells that are high quality and affordable.

Lei also conducts research in the field of cell therapy. He develops mesenchymal stem cells that are used in anti-aging, anti-inflammation and immuno-suppressing therapeutics.

“We are delighted to recruit a scientist of Dr. Lei’s stature, experience and creativity in the field of large-scale cell culture and cell and tissue engineering,” said James Marden, associate director in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. “His skill set is wonderfully aligned with our goal of research and workforce development in the rapidly growing field of cell therapies for regenerative medicine and revolutionary new treatments for cancers.”

Lei hopes to contribute his expertise in therapeutic cell manufacturing to the education and research programs at Penn State.

“I am hoping to create a new course at Penn State that will focus on therapeutic cell manufacturing,” Lei said. “My ideas for this course align with the new facility and open the opportunity to create a hands-on lectured course that will train students on how to culture mammalian cells for therapeutic applications.”

Lei is the co-founder of CellGro Technologies — a cell manufacturing company that he started at UNL.

CellGro’s mission is to produce large quantities of cells for the cell therapy industry using methods that are more consistent and cost-efficient than current cell manufacturers. The company’s manufacturing system cultivates cells in hydrogel with limited exposure to air to decrease contamination.

“I realized that current cell manufacturing technologies were simply not good enough for a lot of researchers,” Lei said. “I wanted to develop the next generation of this technology, and I created this company to achieve that goal.”

Lei received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Peking University in Beijing. He received a master’s degree in polymer science from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong and a master’s degree in molecular and medical pharmacology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He earned his doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, and continued with his postdoctoral work in regenerative medicine at the University of California, Berkeley.


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College of Engineering Media Relations

male professor in business attire smiles and poses for professional headshot photo

Yuguo “Leo” Lei joined the Penn State Department of Biomedical Engineering as an associate professor and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences as the inaugural faculty director of the Sartorius Cell Culture Facility. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY YUGUO LEI