Craniofacial Developmental Biology Laboratory

Advances in clinical treatment of congenital craniofacial malformations require improved understanding of the developmental genetic basis of facial morphogenesis. Our goal in the Craniofacial Developmental Biology Laboratory is to investigate fundamental genetic regulation of facial development, with a focus on translating basic science discoveries to clinical advances. We perform research on palate development and neural crest cell biology.
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Formation of the vertebrate facial structures requires coordination of complex molecular and morphogenetic cues. The genes regulating facial development are well conserved across vertebrate species, where minor molecular variations contribute to dramatic alterations in form.

We take advantage of the versatility of forward and reverse genetics in zebrafish as a model to assay function of human cleft candidate genes and demonstrated that the zebrafish palate (ethmoid plate) is morphogenetically homologous to the mammalian primary palate (Dougherty, Development, 2013). We also showed that convergence and extension mechanisms operate in palate morphogenesis, and we are dissecting the Wnt pathway genetically (Rochard, Development, 2016; Kamel, Developmental Biology, 2013).



Advances in clinical treatment of congenital craniofacial malformations require improved understanding of the developmental genetic basis of facial morphogenesis. Our goal is to investigate fundamental genetic regulation of facial development, with focus on translating basic science discoveries to clinical treatments.

We are applying zebrafish to carry out high throughput functional genomics studies, to characterize human genes implicated in orofacial clefts (Mukherjee, Human Molecular Genetics, 2016; Gfrerer, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 2014). We are also using zebrafish as the biological platform to identify chemicals that specifically regulate craniofacial morphogenesis, or even discover compounds that mitigate malformations (Kong, Chemistry & Biology, 2014).

With continued revolutionary advance in human gene sequencing approaches, there is pressing need to bridge the gap between whole genome analysis and clinical use of this data. Determination of pathogenicity of human gene variants is a major challenge in the field, limiting clinical usefulness of WGS information. We apply functional assays in iPSC and zebrafish models toward functional analysis of human gene variants associated with cleft and craniofacial anomalies (E BH Li, Plos Genetics, 2017).

Our laboratory is located at 185 Cambridge Street in the Simches Research Building, on the Massachusetts General Hospital main campus.


  • Center for Regenerative Medicine
  • Mass General Department of Surgery
    Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Harvard Stem Cell Institute
  • Shriners Hospital for Children


  • National Institutes of Health (NIDCR)
  • Shriners Hospital for Children
  • March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Award
  • American Surgical Association Research Fellowship
  • Harvard Stem Cell Institute Seed Grant
  • Plastic Surgery Foundation
  • Mass General Department of Surgery, Junior Faculty Award
  • Amelia Peabody Charitable Trust




Group Members

Principal Investigator

Liao and Galloway Lab members
Liao (L) and Galloway (G) Lab members, summer 2013. From left to right: Eric Liao, Andrew Maul (G), Yawei Kong (L), Kenta Kawasaki (L), Mike Grimaldi (L), Lisa Gfrerer (L), Matt King (G), Rishita Shah (G), Gia Ciccolo (G), Renee Ethier (CRM), Erin Betters (G), Lucie Rochard (L), Jenna Galloway, and Edward Li (L).
  • Eric C. Liao, MD, PhD
    Associate Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School
    Principal Faculty, Harvard Stem Cell Institute
    Principal Investigator, Harvard Stem Cell Institute
    Faculty, Program in Genetics, Biomedical and Biological Science
    Deputy Director of Research, Boston Shriners Hospital

Research Fellows

  • Kana Ishii, MD, PhD
  • Kusumika Mukherjee, PhD
  • Jonathan Pini, PhD
  • Robert Shore, PhD


  • Edward Li, MD, PhD candidate, Harvard Medical School – MIT
  • Dawn Truong, Harvard College
  • William Misciagna, Belmont Hill Academy

Lab Manager

  • Megan Rebello, BS

Lab Technicians

  • Shawn Hallett, BS
  • David Hu, BS

Aquatics Facility Manager

  • Renee Ethier, BS

Clinical Research Group:

Clinical Research Coordinators

  • Megan Rebello, BS
  • Kassandra Nealon, BS

Medical Student

  • Emily Ji, BS
  • Nikhil Sobti, BS


  • Richard Maas, MD, PhD, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
  • Yang Chai, DMD, PhD, University of Southern California
  • Cynthia Morton, PhD, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
  • Jim Gusella, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Leonard Zon, MD, HHMI, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Robert Cornell, PhD, University of Iowa
  • Patricia Donahoe, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Jenna Galloway, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Mike Talkowski, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Broad Institute of Genetics
  • Daniel MacArthru, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Broad Institute of Genetics
  • Elizabeth Leslie, PhD, Emory University
  • Mary Marazita, PhD, University of Pittsburgh
  • Benjamin Levi, MD, University of Michigan
  • Yoshi Mischina, PhD, University of Michigan


  • Graham Hickey, BS – PhD Program, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Eugene Curtin, MD – Plastic Surgery Residency Training, Ireland
  • Max Dougherty, BS – MD/PhD Program, University of Washington
  • George Kamel, MD – Surgery Residency, Mount Sinai, New York
  • Valeriy Shubinets, BS – Plastic Surgery Residency, University of Pennsylvania
  • William Tse, PhD – Assistant Professor, University of Hong Kong
  • Beste Kinikoglu, PhD – Assistant Professor, University of Istanbul
  • Tatiana Hoyos, MD – Surgical Residency, University of Washington
  • Jeremy Welbourn, Belmont Hill Academy – Harvard College
  • David Mattos, MD, MBA – Plastic Surgery Residency, Harvard Program
  • Lisa Gfrerer, MD, PhD – Plastic Surgery Residency, Harvard Program
  • Matthew Armstrong, Belmont Hill Academy – Dartmouth College

Research Projects

Fundamental and Translational Research

Our research projects include:

  • Zebrafish models of cleft lip and palate malformation
  • High throughput functional analysis of candidate genes implicated in facial morphogenesis
  • Neural crest biology of craniofacial development
  • Wnt signaling in craniofacial development
  • Cranial neural crest biology
  • Tissue engineering and vascularized constructs

Clinical Research 

  • Breast reconstruction outcomes
  • Cleft care, fetal diagnosis and congenital personal medicine

Research Positions

Post-doctoral research fellowship positions are available; please arrange with Dr. Liao. Funding can be guaranteed for the candidate with appropriate experiences and references.

Job Description

The Liao Laboratory at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in affiliation with the Division of Plastic Surgery and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is seeking a highly motivated research fellow interested in craniofacial developmental biology and malformations. The laboratory has innovated application of the zebrafish model toward the study of human craniofacial anomalies, contributing recent papers on zebrafish cleft models and cranial neural crest lineage maps. The fellow will join a collaborative group of scientists who study the basic and translational biology of facial morphogenesis, cranial neural crest specification and development. In this instance, the fellow’s work will have a direct bearing on discovery of drugs to mitigate malformation phenotypes and functional genomics of human candidate genes implicated in orofacial clefts. We are also inherently interested in the basic biology of neural crest cell specification, migration, differentiation and potential for regeneration. We integrate the approaches of classical developmental and modern stem cell biology and use these to explore human tissue regeneration and disease. We primarily work with the zebrafish model with collaborators in human and mouse genetics. We apply the latest technology in zebrafish genetics with routine use of TALENs and CRISPR, morpholinos, cell transplants, FACS, live confocal labeling and imaging, transgenics, chemical screening, and many other experimental approaches are routine. Our laboratory has a dedicated zebrafish facility outfitted with the latest imaging, injection and cell manipulation instruments. Researchers work in open format laboratory space that foster interactions with other stellar researchers working in CRM, with ample opportunities to participate in scientific seminars and professional development.

Job Requirements

The candidate should have PhD or an MD/PhD in a relevant field or equivalent training. A strong foundation in cell, developmental, or cancer biology with strong skills in molecular biology is necessary, including a foundation in the genetic modulation of a model organism. Prior experience working in zebrafish genetics is strongly desired but not a requirement. An ancillary knowledge of genomics or systems biology is welcome. Knowledge of human and clinical genetics is unnecessary, as it will be acquired rapidly within the laboratory environment. Outstanding oral and written communication skills are required.

Please email your CV, statement of interest and career goals, and names and contact information of at least three references toEric Liao.



Contact Us

Craniofacial Developmental Biology Laboratory

Simches Research Building

185 Cambridge Street Boston, MA 02114
  • Near Public Transit
  • Accessible
  • Phone: 617-643-5975

For information about our work, or interest in collaboration or research positions, please contact Dr. Liao,, 617-643-5975.

Email this investigator

Call this investigator: 617-643-5975

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