Honors & Awards

  • Career Development Award, Biomedical Engineering Society
  • Accel Innovation Scholar, Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Stanford University
  • Bio-X Bowes Graduate Student Fellowship, Stanford University
  • NIH Biotechnology Training Grant, NIH

Education & Certifications

  • BSE, Princeton University, Chemical Engineering (2013)
  • Master of Science, Stanford University, BIOE-MS (2017)

Work Experience

  • Research Assistant, Marc Tessier-Lavigne Lab, Rockefeller University


    New York, NY

  • Start up - Research Intern, LifeVest Health (2/2013 - 8/2013)


    Princeton, NJ

All Publications

  • Hydrogels with enhanced protein conjugation efficiency reveal stiffness-induced YAP localization in stem cells depends on biochemical cues BIOMATERIALS Lee, S., Stanton, A. E., Tong, X., Yang, F. 2019; 202: 26–34
  • Biochemical Ligand Density Regulates Yes-Associated Protein Translocation in Stem Cells through Cytoskeletal Tension and Integrins ACS APPLIED MATERIALS & INTERFACES Stanton, A. E., Tong, X., Lee, S., Yang, F. 2019; 11 (9): 8849–57


    Different tissue types are characterized by varying stiffness and biochemical ligands. Increasing substrate stiffness has been shown to trigger Yes-associated protein (YAP) translocation from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, yet the role of ligand density in modulating mechanotransduction and stem cell fate remains largely unexplored. Using polyacrylamide hydrogels coated with fibronectin as a model platform, we showed that stiffness-induced YAP translocation occurs only at intermediate ligand densities. At low or high ligand densities, YAP localization is dominated by ligand density independent of substrate stiffness. We further showed that ligand density-induced YAP translocation requires cytoskeleton tension and αVβ3-integrin binding. Finally, we demonstrate that increasing ligand density alone can enhance osteogenic differentiation regardless of matrix stiffness. Together, the findings from the present study establish ligand density as an important parameter for modulating stem cell mechanotransduction and differentiation, which is mediated by integrin clustering, focal adhesion, and cytoskeletal tension.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acsami.8b21270

    View details for Web of Science ID 000460996900018

    View details for PubMedID 30789697

  • Hydrogels with enhanced protein conjugation efficiency reveal stiffness-induced YAP localization in stem cells depends on biochemical cues. Biomaterials Lee, S., Stanton, A. E., Tong, X., Yang, F. 2019; 202: 26–34


    Polyacrylamide hydrogels have been widely used in stem cell mechanotransduction studies. Conventional conjugation methods of biochemical cues to polyacrylamide hydrogels suffer from low conjugation efficiency, which leads to poor attachment of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) on soft substrates. In addition, while it is well-established that stiffness-dependent regulation of stem cell fate requires cytoskeletal tension, and is mediated through nuclear translocation of transcription regulator, Yes-associated protein (YAP), the role of biochemical cues in stiffness-dependent YAP regulation remains largely unknown. Here we report a method that enhances the conjugation efficiency of biochemical cues on polyacrylamide hydrogels compared to conventional methods. This modified method enables robust hPSC attachment, proliferation and maintenance of pluripotency across varying substrate stiffness (3 kPa-38 kPa). Using this hydrogel platform, we demonstrate that varying the types of biochemical cues (Matrigel, laminin, GAG-peptide) or density of Matrigel can alter stiffness-dependent YAP localization in hPSCs. In particular, we show that stiffness-dependent YAP localization is overridden at low or high density of Matrigel. Furthermore, human mesenchymal stem cells display stiffness-dependent YAP localization only at intermediate fibronectin density. The hydrogel platform with enhanced conjugation efficiency of biochemical cues provides a powerful tool for uncovering the role of biochemical cues in regulating mechanotransduction of various stem cell types.

    View details for PubMedID 30826537

  • Extracellular matrix type modulates mechanotransduction of stem cells. Acta biomaterialia Stanton, A. E., Tong, X., Yang, F. 2019


    Extracellular matrix (ECM) is comprised of different types of proteins, which change in composition and ratios during morphogenesis and disease progression. ECM proteins provide cell adhesion and impart mechanical cues to the cells. Increasing substrate stiffness has been shown to induce Yes-associated protein (YAP) translocation from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, yet these mechanistic studies used fibronectin only as the biochemical cue. How varying the types of ECM modulates mechanotransduction of stem cells remains largely unknown. Using polyacrylamide hydrogels with tunable stiffness as substrates, here we conjugated four major ECM proteins commonly used for cell adhesion: fibronectin, collagen I, collagen IV and laminin, and assessed the effects of varying ECM type and density on YAP translocation in human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs). For all four ECM types, increasing ECM ligand density alone can induce YAP nuclear translocation without changing substrate stiffness. The ligand threshold for such biochemical ligand-induced YAP translocation differs across ECM types. While stiffness-dependent YAP translocation can be induced by all four ECM types, each ECM requires a different optimized ligand density for this to occur. Using antibody blocking, we further identified integrin subunits specifically involved in mechanotransduction of different ECM types. Finally, we demonstrated that altering ECM type further modulates hMSC osteogenesis without changing substrate stiffness. These findings highlight the important role of ECM type in modulating mechanotransduction and differentiation of stem cells, and call for future mechanistic studies to further elucidate the role of changes in ECM compositions in mediating mechanotransduction during morphogenesis and disease progression. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Our study addresses a critical gap of knowledge in mechanobiology. Increasing substrate stiffness has been shown to induce nuclear YAP translocation, yet only on fibronectin-coated substrates. However, extracellular matrix (ECM) is comprised of different protein types. How varying the type of ECM modulates stem cell mechanotransduction remains largely unknown. We here reveal that the choice of ECM type can directly modulate stem cell mechanotransduction, filling this critical gap. This work has broad impacts in mechanobiology and biomaterials, as it provides the first evidence that varying ECM type can impact YAP translocation independent of substrate stiffness, opening doors for a more rational biomaterials design tuning ECM properties to control cell fate for promoting normal development and for preventing disease progression.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.actbio.2019.06.048

    View details for PubMedID 31255664

  • Varying solvent type modulates collagen coating and stem cell mechanotransduction on hydrogel substrates. APL bioengineering Stanton, A. E., Tong, X., Yang, F. 2019; 3 (3): 036108


    Type I collagen is the most abundant extracellular matrix protein in the human body and is commonly used as a biochemical ligand for hydrogel substrates to support cell adhesion in mechanotransduction studies. Previous protocols for conjugating collagen I have used different solvents; yet, how varying solvent pH and composition impacts the efficiency and distribution of these collagen I coatings remains unknown. Here, we examine the effect of varying solvent pH and type on the efficiency and distribution of collagen I coatings on polyacrylamide hydrogels. We further evaluate the effects of varying solvent on mechanotransduction of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) by characterizing cell spreading and localization of Yes-Associated Protein (YAP), a key transcriptional regulator of mechanotransduction. Increasing solvent pH to 5.2 and above increased the heterogeneity of coating with collagen bundle formation. Collagen I coating highly depends on the solvent type, with acetic acid leading to the highest conjugation efficiency and most homogeneous coating. Compared to HEPES or phosphate-buffered saline buffer, acetic acid-dissolved collagen I coatings substantially enhance MSC adhesion and spreading on both glass and polyacrylamide hydrogel substrates. When acetic acid was used for collagen coatings, even the low collagen concentration (1 μg/ml) induced robust MSC spreading and nuclear YAP localization on both soft (3 kPa) and stiff (38 kPa) substrates. Depending on the solvent type, stiffness-dependent nuclear YAP translocation occurs at a different collagen concentration. Together, the results from this study validate the solvent type as an important parameter to consider when using collagen I as the biochemical ligand to support cell adhesion.

    View details for DOI 10.1063/1.5111762

    View details for PubMedID 31592041

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6768796