Principal Investigator Janna Nawroth
Mechanobiology Lab

Our group’s primary research interest is to understand the mechanobiology of the airway epithelium. We propose that chronic airway diseases, such asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are exacerbated and perpetuated by a change in the mechanical environment of the airways that promotes disease progression and lowers defenses to irritants and pathogens. To investigate this hypothesis, we study how normal and abnormal mechanical forces shape epithelial differentiation and remodeling on genetic and functional levels, and how the resulting properties of extracellular matrix, tissue architecture, and mucus affect mucociliary clearance, the primary mechanical defense of the airways.  We combine 3 different approaches to study these mechanisms at different spatial scales:

  1. We develop Airway-on-a-Chip models and tissue engineering techniques that allow us to build custom-designed airway epithelia, study the role of other cell types, and apply well-controlled mechanical stimuli
  2. We exploit advanced imaging and analysis tools to record structure, kinematics, and transport phenomena of living tissues at multiple spatial and temporal scales
  3. We leverage other model systems, including physics-based in silico models and select invertebrate animal models, to understand fundamental structure-function relationships between ciliated tissue designs and resulting mechanical properties and fluid transport functions.

Dr. Janna C. Nawroth

Principal Investigator, Mechanobiology

Janna Nawroth received her PhD in Biology at the California Institute of Technology, where she studied the structure-function relationships of jellyfish propulsion and used these insights to engineer muscle powered pumps for biomedical research. For her postdoctoral training, she was awarded the Technology Development Fellowship at the Harvard University Wyss Institute. She developed Organ-Chips and advanced imaging technologies with Don Ingber and Kit Parker to study the mechanics of human heart, lung and liver tissues, before continuing this work at the Organ-Chip company Emulate and later at the University of Southern California. In 2020, Dr. Nawroth received an ERC Starting grant for studying the role of mechanical forces and defective mucociliary clearance in chronic airway disease.  In 2021, Dr. Nawroth joined the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus.


Dr. Janna Nawroth

June 2021 - present
Principal Investigator at Helmholtz Pioneer Campus, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Germany

Nov 2019 – June 2021
Senior Research Associate at USC Keck School of Medicine and USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Sep 2018 – Aug 2019
Associate Director, Research & Development Lead at Emulate Inc., Boston, MA

Aug 2016 – Aug 2018
Principal Investigator at Emulate Inc., Boston, MA, USA

Oct 2013 – Jul 2016
Postdoctoral Fellow & Technology Development Fellow, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA

Jan 2013 – Oct 2013
Postdoctoral Fellow, Graduate Aerospace Laboratories, Division of Engineering & Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA

Sep 2007- Jan 2013
Ph.D. Graduate Student, Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology,Pasadena, CA, USA

Sep 2005- Sep 2007
Research Associate in Neurobiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA 

Jul-Aug 2005
Industry Internship at Merck KGaA, Institute for Toxicology, Darmstadt, Germany

2004 Research Assistant (“Hiwi”) in Computational Neuroscience, Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg, Germany

2003 Research Assistant (“Hiwi”) in Computational Biology, German Cancer Research Center

Dec 2012
Ph.D. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA (Biology)

Jun 2007
MSc Ruprecht Karl University Heidelberg, Germany (Molecular Biotechnology; Minor: Bioinformatics)

Jun 2004
BSc Ruprecht Karl University Heidelberg, Germany (Molecular Biotechnology; Minor: Bioinformatics)

W2 Professorship offer at Saarland University (in conjunction with Leibniz Programme for Women Professors Award)

Invited to interview for W3 Professorship in Organ-on-a-Chip Systems at University of Tübingen, Germany

Shortlisted (2nd or 3rd place) for W3 Professorship at TU Berlin, Germany

Shortlisted (3rd place) for W3 Professorship at B CUBE Institute at TU Dresden, Germany

2-Year Wyss Technology Development Fellowship at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Boston, MA

Invited participation at workshop “Active Matter: Cytoskeleton, Cells, Tissues and Flocks”. Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, Santa Barbara, CA

Demetriades–Tsafka–Kokkalis price for best Ph.D. thesis in Nanotechnology and related fields, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA

Invited attendance at 8th annual Science Foo Camp by Google, O'Reilly Media & Nature Journal

Everhart Lecture Award, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA

PENS-Hertie Neuroscience Winter School Scholar, Hertie Foundation, Germany

4-Year Gordon and Betty Moore Fellowship for Graduate Studies, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA

2-Month Fellowship for “Neural Systems & Behavior” Graduate Level Research Course, Marine Biology Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA

6-Month Scholarship for research semester at Yale University, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

6-Month Erasmus Mundus Scholarship Exchange Study Program at Montpellier University, France

6-Year Scholarship for Bachelor and Master Studies, German National Merit Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)

1-Month travel stipend and book award for independent field studies on “Dragonflies in Southern France”, ZIS Foundation, Salem, Germany

European Respiratory Society (ERS)

American Physical Society, Division of Fluid Dynamics (APS-DFD)

Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES)

Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB)

2007 -2009
Society for Neuroscience (SFN)

European Research Council Starting Grant (ERC-STG)

Leibniz Programme for Women Professors Award (Acceptance pending)

PhD Student

Doris Roth


MSc at the Vienna University of Technology in Biomedical Engineering
Focus: Mechanobiology of Chronic Airway Disease 
Master Thesis"Development of a Human in vitro Cystic Fibrosis Model for Personalized Medicine"

Research Assistants

Dorothea Kraft

MSc at the Technical University of Munich in Mechanical Engineering
Focus: Image Processing 

Karen Manger


MSc: Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics at the Technical University of Munich. 
Focus: Biosensor and Biomedical Imaging
Bachelor Thesis: Towards a microfluidic in vitro model of the renal proximal tubule by 3D-bioprinting: process and workflow optimization.

Selected Publications

Modeling alcoholic liver disease in a human Liver-Chip

Nawroth JC, Petropolis DB, Manatakis DV, Maulana TI, Burchett G, Schlünder K, Witt A, Shukla A, Kodella K, Ronxhi J, Kulkarni G, Hamilton G, Seki E, Lu S, Karalis KC. “Modeling alcohol-associated liver disease in a human Liver-Chip”. Cell Rep. 2021 Jul, 20;36(3):109393

More Details

Breathing on Chip: Biomechanical forces change airway epithelial cell biology in a human Airway Lung-Chip

Nawroth JC, Roth D, van Schadewijk A, Ravi A, Maulana T, Senger CN, van Riet S, Ninaber D, Ryan A, Hiemstra P,  van der Does AM. 
bioRxiv 2021.05.07.443164;

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Modeling alcoholic liver disease in a human Liver-Chip

Nawroth, JC, Petropolis D, Manatakis D, Maulana T, Burchet G, Schlünder K, Witt A, Shukla A, Hamilton G, Shelley Lu, Karalis K.
In Press at Cell Reports

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A Microengineered Airway Lung Chip Models Key Features of Viral-induced Exacerbation of Asthma

Nawroth JC, Lucchesi C, Cheng D, Shukla A, Ngyuen J, Shroff T, Varone A, Karalis K, Lee HH, Alves S, Hamilton GA, Salmon M, Villenave R
Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2020 Nov;63(5):591-600. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2020-0010MA. PMID: 32706623.

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Multiscale mechanics of mucociliary clearance in the lung

Nawroth JC, van der Does AM, Firth AL, Kanso E
Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B 2020 Feb 17;375(1792):20190160.

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Motile cilia create fluid-mechanical microhabitats for the active recruitment of the host microbiome

Nawroth JC, Guo H, Dabiri JO, Ruby E, Kanso E, McFall-Ngai M
Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, August 2017; 114(36):9510–9516.

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A tissue-engineered jellyfish with biomimetic propulsion

Nawroth JC, Lee H, Feinberg AW, Ripplinger CM, McCain ML, Grosberg A, Dabiri DO, Parker KK
Nature Biotechnology 2012 July 22, 30:792–797

More Details

All Publications

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