Esak Lee

Esak Lee

Assistant Professor
Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering


Dr. Esak (Isaac) Lee will join the faculty as a tenure-track Assistant Professor on July 1, 2019. Prior to Cornell, Dr. Lee was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Department of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University (mentor: Christopher Chen). His postdoctoral study focused on 3D tissue engineered organ-on-chip models for studying lymphatic vascular biology and tumor biology. Dr. Lee received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University (mentor: Aleksander S. Popel) in 2014. He studied roles of lymphatic and blood vessels in breast tumor growth and metastasis using cell biology/biochemistry methods and mouse models.

Dr. Lee’s laboratory aims to create and nurture a diverse community dedicated to discovery, scholarship, and leadership to improve human health and wellness by taking principles from engineering, biology, and medicine. To achieve the mission, his research program focuses on the morphogenesis, homeostasis and disease pathogenesis of lymphatic vessels and blood vessels and their microenvironments to provide new strategies for regenerative medicine and treatment of cancer, immune diseases, and edema. To this end, the laboratory is working to develop novel three-dimensional (3D) organ-on-chip systems, cellular and molecular tools, and in vivo models to better understand the mechanisms by which cells regulate and respond to biological and mechanical cues.

  1. Mechanisms of lymphedema (LE): Lymphatic vessels play a role in maintaining fluid homeostasis by draining excess interstitial fluid (IF). A failure in the lymphatic drainage can accumulate excess IF, causing tissue swelling, which is referred to as “lymphedema”. Lymphedema (LE) is the most common lymphatic disease influencing more than 150 million individuals worldwide. Currently, therapeutic options for LE treatment are limited, as there is no clinically available drug. One of the major obstacles to better understanding and curing the disease is a lack of appropriate and versatile experimental models for assessing lymphatic drainage in different biological conditions. We aim to understand the mechanism of lymphatic junction remodeling and drainage in LE by employing a microfluidic device (“lymphatics-on-a-chip”) and mouse LE models.
  2. Tumor/immune cell interactions to the blood and lymphatic vasculature: Lymphatics and blood vessels are major routes of tumor dissemination. Though we acknowledge some cytokines as metastatic chemical signals, tumor interactions to these vasculatures are largely unknown under certain conditions, such as hypoxia, stiff ECM, under chemotherapies, etc. We develop 3D tumor-on-a-chip and various mouse tumor growth and metastasis models to solve the questions. In addition to cancer metastasis, lymphatics modulate host immunity by interacting with antigen presenting cells like dendritic cells (DCs). The majority of lymphedema (LE) patients suffer from frequent skin infections, known as “cellulitis”, owing to the impaired immunity. Cellulitis results in chronic inflammation and irreversible fibrotic disease progression in LE. During the infection process, normal lymphatics rapidly uptake DCs and transport them to the draining lymph nodes (dLNs), allowing the dLN-residing T cells activated by the DCs. However, lymphatics in LE are poor at DC trafficking to lymphatics, whose mechanism is not completely understood. We focus on DC interactions to lymphatics in LE to understand LE-associated cellulitis using mouse LE & skin infection models, and 3D on-chip systems.

Research Interests

Teaching Interests

Biomedical Engineering core/elective courses, such as Measurement and Instrumentation in Biomedical Engineering, Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, Biomedical Microdevices, Biomimetics, Principle and Engineering in Cancer biology and Microcirculation.

Selected Publications

Selected Awards and Honors

  • Young Investigator Award, GRC Lymphatics, 2018
  • LE&RN Postdoctoral Fellowship, Lymphatic Education & Research Network (LE&RN), 2016 - 2018
  • TL1 Postdoctoral Fellowship, NIH (NHLBI), 2015
  • MOGAM Science Scholarship, 2013
  • Runner-up Award, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2012


  • B.S. (summa cum laude, Chemical Engineering), Seoul National University, 2006
  • M.S. (Pharmacy), Seoul National University, 2008
  • Ph.D. (Bioengineering), Johns Hopkins University, 2014
  • Postdoc (Bioengineering, Tissue engineering, Organs-on-chip), Wyss Institute at Harvard University & Boston University, 2019