June 2019: Meet the Yan Lab



What is the main focus of your lab?

We use a multidisciplinary approach to study intestinal stem cells (ISCs) in health and disease, with a particular focus on the mechanisms that regulate their behavior and how to manipulate them for therapeutic benefit.

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

I started my lab at Columbia in September 2017

How big is your lab currently?

My lab currently has one postdoc (with another one coming later this summer), one technician, one graduate student, one computational biologist, and three undergraduates.

Where is your lab located?

Black Building 8th floor Room 816 (in the Columbia Center for Human Development)

Current affairs:

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

I am a physician-scientist so we study fundamental questions in stem cell biology with the ultimate goal of trying to understand and treat human disease.  We have been investigating ISCs in the context of disease processes including aging, mucosal damage, and tumorigenesis with findings of both cell-autonomous and niche alterations.  We believe that these exciting findings have important therapeutic implications.  Additionally, we have been generating mouse lines to investigate progenitor populations to define the intestinal epithelial lineage hierarchy and to manipulate lineage output.  We also have a strong interest in understanding enteroendocrine cell development and their therapeutic applications. 

What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?

We opened the lab in the Fall of 2016 and recruited very talented lab members.  We have some recent publications in Nature and Cell Stem Cell that highlight our ability to biochemically modulate the ISC niche using pharmacological reagents and the role of cellular plasticity in regeneration of the intestinal epithelium.


What are the model systems that your lab is using?

We mostly use mouse models as well as mouse and patient-derived organoid platforms.  We have adenoviral reagents and recombinant proteins for pharmacological manipulation of mice in vivo and organoids in vitro.  We have several reporter mouse strains and various Cre lines for manipulating the intestinal epithelium and for tumor initiation studies.

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

We routinely perform in vivo lineage tracing and lineage manipulation, viral gene transfer, establishment and manipulation of organoids, and single-cell genomics and biochemistry.  We are open to training people from other labs on these techniques.

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

We are regular users of the CSCI FACS core, Genome Center core, and the Cancer Center Histology core


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

I mentor in the same style that worked best for me during my training.  I provide guidance and critique but allow room for them to learn from making their own mistakes.  This is important for them to gain confidence in their own abilities.  I also give my trainees room to grow with ambitious projects but also provide them with a safety project.  At the bench, I use the “see one, do one, then teach one” method to teach techniques. 

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

I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by great physicians and great scientists who have influenced my career.  As much as I admire them individually for aspects of their work or career, I have never found any single individual who embodies exactly the kind of career I want for myself.  My PhD and postdoc mentors nurtured a love for research science and taught me important lessons.  First, that one should not be afraid to embrace the unknown and should try to continue to evolve as a scientist.  Second, one should try to think big. 

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

Of course, trainees should take a variety of different didactic courses.  But the best way to grow as a scientist is through their own experiments (learning from their own mistakes), reading papers/journal clubs (learning from others’ mistakes) and presenting their work in front of others (getting critical feedback from others on their work).

What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?

Pursue your passions--this is what will sustain you for the duration of your career.  It’s much easier to be successful at a pursuit if you love it.


What was the main reason of you joining CSCI?

I was eager to join CSCI because I support its mission to bring together a community of people with common interests and a common agenda to promote the field of stem cell biology at Columbia.  CSCI has brought world-class seminar speakers and outstanding resources such as core facilities to campus. 

What do you plan to bring to the CSCI community?

Enthusiasm, energy, and a love for stem cell biology!

Lab management:

How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?

We like to celebrate with food and drink.  Usually happy hour, lunch, or cake.

What is the key to running a successful lab?

There are probably many ways to run a successful lab.  My recipe is to have stimulating projects, forward momentum, and good cameradie and teamwork.