Update on the Department of Systems Biology

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing with news that Andrea Califano, Dr, the founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology, will be leaving the chair role this fall to launch an exciting new program in collaboration with multiple universities in the tri-state area. We look forward to sharing further details on this new endeavor soon. In the meantime, I am pleased to share that Harris Wang, PhD, another founding member of the department, has agreed to serve as the interim chair.

While Dr. Califano is leaving his post as chair, his lab will remain at Columbia and he will continue to be a full-time faculty member in systems biology, biochemistry & molecular biophysics, medicine, and biomedical informatics, as well as a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. As Dr. Wang steps into his role as interim chair, Dr. Califano will work closely with him to ensure continuity during the leadership transition.

Dr. Wang is well respected within the department and widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the field of synthetic biology. He holds dual bachelor’s degrees in physics and applied mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in biophysics & medical engineering from Harvard University, where he served as an instructor in systems biology before joining the Columbia faculty in 2013. Dr. Wang's research focuses on advancing next-generation microbiome and cellular therapeutics using systems and synthetic biology approaches. His development of Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE), a technique allowing rapid genome editing of microbial cells, was celebrated as a breakthrough in the field of synthetic biology in 2009. More recently, Dr. Wang has been recognized for his pioneering work in spatial mapping and precision editing of the gut microbiome and using CRISPR technologies to track and record transient cellular processes. He was named a Schaefer Research Scholar at VP&S in 2018, one of many honors he has received. He received the 2022 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from the White House, and the NIH Director’s Early Independence award.  

The Department of Systems Biology has made exceptional strides since its inception in 2013. Under Dr. Califano’s leadership as founding chair, the department has grown to more than 30 faculty members and is now funded by multiple center grants. Over the past 10 years, it has grown to become one of the top three departments of its kind in the country and is characterized by the quality of its interdisciplinary and collaborative science. It has been funded by all three of the NCI Cancer Systems Biology multi-investigator programs: the Physical Sciences in Oncology Network (PS-ON), the Cancer Systems Biology Centers (CSBC), and the Cancer Target Discovery and Development (CTD2). The department has generated over 50 patent applications and multiple startup companies. It counts three members of the National Academies and five recipients of Outstanding Investigator Awards (R35 OIA) among its faculty.

Please join me in thanking Dr. Califano for his role in the growth of the department and welcoming Dr. Wang as he begins his interim role during a search for Dr. Califano’s permanent successor.  

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences