2022-2023 TGF Lab picture: From left to right: Sofia Ruiz, Isabella Federico, Lisette Werba, Joshua Graham, Tomas Gonzalez-Fernandez, Owen Fitz and Chiebuka Okpara

Principal Investigator

Tomas Gonzalez-Fernandez, PhD


Tomas received his PhD in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in 2018 from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) under the supervision of Prof. Daniel Kelly and Fergal O’Brien. His PhD work focused on the combination of non-viral gene therapy and 3D bioprinting for the spatial control of mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC) differentiation and the recapitulation of the biochemical gradients found in native tissues. After completing his PhD, Tomas joined the Leach lab at University of California Davis to explore biomaterial functionalization with different components of the extracellular matrix to direct MSC function and promote the repair of critically sized bone defects. During his postdoc, Tomas was awarded with the American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate the relationship between innervation and vascularization for the repair of diabetic wounds, and he was selected as a Rising Star in Engineering and Health by the University of Columbia.

Hobbies: Hiking & biking, traveling, wine tasting, the Lord of the Rings

Graduate Researchers

Joshua Graham, B.S.


Josh completed his undergraduate studies at Villanova University, earning a B.S. Chemical Engineering with minors in Biochemical Engineering and Finance. His undergraduate research was centered on the Gut Microbiome and foodborne pathogens. This included identifying inhibitors for Listeria Monocytogenes – a notorious species in the food processing industry. Josh hopes to use his experience to enhance antimicrobial properties of 3D bioprinted scaffolds for bone repair. He also plans to explore opportunities to use CRISPR-Cas9 mechanisms to optimize cell differentiation towards osteocytes within these scaffolds.

Hobbies: Cooking, Hiking, Traveling, and Skiing

Lisette Werba, B.S.


Funding: Lehigh University Presidents Fellowship

Lisette grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She finished her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Davis in 2021 in Biomedical Engineering with a specialization in cellular and tissue engineering. Her general research interests and experience revolve around tissue engineering, molecular and cell biology, and immunology. She previously worked in Dr. Scott Simon’s inflammation biomechanics lab at UC Davis studying the biomechanics of neutrophil recruitment. She is currently attending Lehigh University for her Ph.D. in Bioengineering after joining in 2022. Lisette is currently working in the TGF lab which focuses on using 3D printable bio-instructive materials to address musculoskeletal disease. Her research will address using genetic editing in combination with tissue engineering techniques to control musculoskeletal tissue regeneration.

Hobbies: hiking, biking, paddleboarding, and baking

Chiebuka Okpara, B.S.
Chiebuka earned his undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering at The College of New Jersey. Under the guidance of Dr. Anthony Lau, his research project focused on validating a computational micromechanical model for bones at different radiation types. Afterwards, he enrolled into the Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program. Mentored by Dr. Lilian Plotkin, his research focused on chromosomal and gonadal sex differences in bone cell behavior and musculoskeletal phenotypes using mice models. Now as a graduate student at Lehigh University, Chiebuka works under the supervision of Dr. Tomas Gonzalez-Fernandez and Dr. Lesley Chow (joint with Chow Lab) and his research focuses on developing biomaterials to control the inflammatory environment and improve functional cartilage repair to treat osteoarthritis.
Hobbies: Drawing, Exercising, Watching Movies, Video Games.

Undergraduate Researchers

Isabella Federico, Bioengineering Major


Funding: Clare Boothe Luce Research Fellowship

Isabella is currently a sophomore bioengineering student who aspires to pursue research in gene therapy and genetic engineering. She found this passion attending a STEM-vocational high school with focus on a final project presentation regarding CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing of a common deletion mutation in cystic fibrosis. Her research focus in the TGF lab is on exploration of non-viral gene delivery for the promotion of innervation and vascularization in the healing of diabetic skeletal disorders and creating the design of a 3D bioprint in vitro neuromuscular junction skin graft model. As a Clare Boothe Luce Scholar, she oversees her own research on the use of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing capabilities for musculoskeletal tissue regeneration. In addition, Isabella is a Peer Health Advisor, Rossin Junior Fellow, and member of the Biomedical Engineering Society.

Hobbies: traveling, reading, gardening, skiing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Michael (Zehao) You, Mechanical Engineering Major & Economics Minor

Funding: STEM-SI Program

Michael is currently a senior mechanical engineering & mechanics student who focuses on pursuing a robotics and control system career. He is skilled with software such as SolidWorks, ANSYS Workbench, and LabVIEW and programming Languages including MATLAB, Java, and Arduino. During 2022 STEM Summer Institute, Michael stepped out of his “comfort zone” and worked under the supervision of Prof. Tomas Gonzalez-Fernandez. His research focus on 3D bioprinting and establishing printability test for different bioinks, including printing parameter optimization and composing protocols. Beside STEM-SI, he was a teaching assistant of ME010: Graphics for Engineering Design. In addition, Michael was selected as the winner of the 2022 Ferdinand P. Beer Award which is given annually to a senior for excellence in the field of Mechanics.

Hobbies: Playing basketball, hip-hop, Chinese calligraphy, poker, fashion design.


Sofia Ruiz, Chemical Engineering Major


Funding: STEM-SI program

Sofia is currently a sophomore chemical engineering student who desires to pursue research in tissue engineering. In high school, she took a biotechnology class, which peaked her interest in research regarding biological sciences. She began her research journey this summer through the 2022 STEM Summer Institute program, where her research focus is in characterization and expansion of human MSCs for cartilage tissue engineering. Additionally, Sofia is part of the Global Social Impact Fellowship program where she works within a group to develop affordable and nutritious food products that target children and pregnant women in Sierra Leone. She is also part of two dance teams: Tumbao and Belly Dancing.

Hobbies: Dancing, nature walks, ice/roller skating, painting.



Owen Fitz, Bioengineering Major  


Owen is currently a junior bioengineering student in the mechanics and materials track who is passionate about science and new technologies. Unsure of what career path he’d like to pursue, he joined Prof. Tomas Gonzalez-Fernandez’ lab to gain some technical bioengineering experience and to see whether research is a good fit for his future. His research focuses on 3D bioprinting, where he is researching the synthesis of bioink gels like GelMA, that act as a biocompatible scaffold for cells to differentiate, proliferate and migrate through the material to make 3D printable human tissue mimicking constructs. He is currently the House Manager and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion chair for his fraternity. 

Hobbies: Fitness, travelling, pickleball, quality time with friends and family.