Song Li, PhD

Song Li, Ph.D.  

Chancellor Professor and Chair, Bioengineering; Professor, Medicine


Song Li, Ph.D., studies the microenvironment that supports and surrounds stem cells. Since physical and chemical activities within this microenvironment regulate stem cell behavior, Li’s goal is to find ways to manipulate these activities to engineer stem cells for therapeutic use. He also aims to develop novel biomaterials – synthetic or natural materials that can coexist and interact with biological systems – and drug delivery methods to promote tissue regeneration within the body.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are created by taking cells from a patient – typically skin cells – and reprogramming them in a dish in the lab. This reprogramming method creates ‘pluripotent’ stem cells that can differentiate to become any type of human cell while also maintaining the genetic code of the person they originated from. Current methods that use biochemical compounds and proteins to reprogram cells to a pluripotent state are inefficient and can cause unintended changes inside the cells. Li aims to develop more efficient and precise methods to reprogram cells and to guide the differentiation of stem cells by determining how physical and chemical activities in the stem cell microenvironment regulate these processes. With this information, he hopes to mimic stem cells’ natural environments by developing physical platforms that can influence reprogramming. For example, he has found that placing cells on finely textured nanomaterials – such as surfaces with parallel grooves – can significantly increase the efficiency of current reprogramming methods.

In addition to developing materials to influence stem cell reprogramming in the laboratory, Li aims to pioneer methods that combine stem cells and nanomaterials to promote tissue regeneration within the body. This includes constructing tissue through the transplantation of stem cells that have been combined with scaffolds that reinforce the tissue’s structure and function. He and his collaborators are developing a biodegradable scaffold tube – or conduit – that can be implanted to guide stem cells to bridge the gaps in damaged nerves. Li is designing transplantable materials that use drugs to draw stem cells to injured areas and initiate regenerative processes.

Li is also working on novel drug delivery methods for the treatment of vascular diseases. As part of this work, he studies the role stem cells play in blood vessel remodeling and the development of heart diseases. He has discovered that a previously unknown type of stem cell – called a multipotent vascular stem cell – contributes to artery hardening diseases, revealing a new target for novel treatments. ­­

Li earned a doctorate degree in bioengineering and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at UC San Diego.  


Honors & Affiliations


  • National Conference Chair, Biomedical Engineering Society, 2016
  • Chancellor Professorship, UCLA, 2015


  • Fellow, International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering
  • Fellow, Biomedical Engineering Society
  • Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering
  • Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society
  • International Society of Stem Cell Research
  • American Heart Association


Li’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.