February 2019: Shen Lab



What is the main focus of your lab?

My lab works at the interface of developmental, stem cell, and cancer biology. We have historically been interested in mouse embryogenesis, and over the past 10 years we’ve focused primarily on the prostate and more recently on the bladder.

How long have you had your lab? When did you join Columbia University?

We’ve been here for 11 years. Prior to that we were at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (Rutgers) for 13 years.

How big is your lab currently?

My lab currently has 11 members.

Where is your lab located?

Irving Cancer Research Center 208 A-B

Current affairs:

What are the most exciting projects/directions in the lab at this moment?

We have many interesting projects ongoing in the lab. One major focus has been to understand the properties of epithelial progenitors during prostate organogenesis and regeneration. Another more recent focus has been on the molecular pathways that regulate the differentiation of neuroendocrine cells, a rare cell type in the normal prostate that often appears in advanced castration-resistant prostate cancer. Furthermore, we are investigating the basis of clonal evolution and drug resistance using patient-derived organoid models of bladder cancer.

We also have several exciting collaborative projects. For example, we have been working with Andrea Califano’s lab to elucidate the regulatory logic of primed state pluripotency. We have also been collaborating with Raul Rabadan to investigate epithelial heterogeneity in the mouse and human prostate. Finally, we have been working with Jim McKiernan in the Dept. of Urology (here), as well as David Solit and Hikmat Al-Ahmadie at MSKCC on the generation and analysis of additional bladder tumor organoid models.

What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?

With respect to the last project, we recently published our initial establishment of a biobank of human bladder tumor organoids in Cell (Lee, S.H. et al., Cell 2018). We demonstrated that these organoids are a viable model for studying tumor evolution and drug response.


What are the model systems that your lab is using?

Mouse models, organoids, and human tissue. Over the years, we have generated a range of genetically-engineered mouse lines that have been used to study Nodal signaling as well as prostate development and cancer.

What are the key techniques that your lab is using? Are you open to training scientists from other labs?

Primary techniques include in vivo lineage tracing, tissue recombination and grafting, organoid establishment and culture, and CRISPR-targeting in mice. We also have a long history of training scientists from other labs in these techniques.

What facilities or equipment does your absolutely lab rely upon? Do you use CSCI cores?

We frequently use the CSCI core facility for flow cytometry. We also use the Cancer Center shared resources including the Genomics Technologies, Molecular Pathology, Small Animal Imaging, and Single Cell Analysis cores.

Who shall be contacted with questions about equipment, resources and training?

Terri Rosa, te2168@cumc.columbia.edu


Are you accepting rotation students?


What's your best approach to mentoring trainees in the lab?

I believe that every trainee is an individual and I approach mentorship from that standpoint. Each trainee receives one-on-one attention, but the specifics will differ depending on the trainee. My role as a mentor is to facilitate the career development of each trainee in the way that’s best for them. I believe that trainees should have the freedom to pursue their projects independently, but I’m always available for guidance. Trainees should have the freedom to make mistakes and learn on their own, and to make discoveries on their own.

Who were your most influential mentors/role models in science and what did you learn from them?

Phil Leder was my postdoctoral mentor at Harvard Medical School. I learned from him the value of always keeping the big picture in mind and focusing on the key questions.

Can you recommend courses/lectures in Columbia University that would be most beneficial for students/postdocs?

Genetic Approaches I & II, Principles of Development, and for those interested in cancer research, Cancer Biology.

What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?

Work on an important scientific problem. Trends and fashions will come and go, but important questions have enduring value.

Lab management:

How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?

Each time we publish a paper, we have a toast with glasses of champagne.

Does your lab have any fun traditions?

We have a lab holiday party at a local restaurant each year, where we do a “white elephant” gift exchange with a Shen lab twist. Many members of the lab also bake and decorate cookies together around the holidays.

What is the key to running a successful lab?

From my perspective, having an extremely competent lab manager.

Stem Cell Directions:

Which stem cell conferences does your lab attend?

Lab members attend a wide range of conferences, in part to pursue their own specific interests, but also because we want the lab to be represented at important meetings. We particularly favor smaller meetings where the trainees have the opportunity to meet and get to know other attendees. For example, in the past year trainees have attended Gordon conferences, AACR special conferences, and the EMBL organoid meeting.


This blog is an initiative of CSCI Trainee Council. If you want to feature your lab, please contact Genia (ev2396@cumc.columbia.edu.)