Ricardo Cruz-Acuna, PhD

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Ricardo Cruz-Acuña, PhD is an assistant professor of cancer engineering in the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and a member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. In his lab, Dr. Cruz-Acuña focuses on integrating aspects of biomaterial engineering, cell and molecular biology, and 3D organoid biology to (1) understand the contributions of the extracellular matrix properties to metaplasia and tumorigenesis, and (2) identify mechanisms important for esophageal developmental patterning and organogenesis. His work will help elucidate how cancer progresses within a dynamically evolving extracellular matrix that modulates every behavioral facet of the tumor cells, and will reveal novel mechanisms that drive human esophageal development.

Dr. Cruz-Acuña completed his PhD in Bioengineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology under the supervision of Dr. Andrés J. García. He then joined the laboratory of Dr. Anil K. Rustgi at University of Pennsylvania and at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbia University Irving Medical Center for his postdoctoral research training.

In addition to several awards he received during his training, Dr. Cruz-Acuña is the recipient of a NIH/NIDDK K01 Research Scientist Development Award (2023). He is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Society for Biomaterials (SFB).

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • BS, Chemical Engineering, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
  • PhD, Bioengineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Fellowship: University of Pennsylvania / Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Honors & Awards

  • 2023 NIH/NIDDK K01: Research Scientist Development Award
  • 2021 Charles H. Revson Senior Fellowship in Biomedical Science
  • 2021 NIH/NCI Diversity Supplement
  • 2018 NIH T32 Translational Research Training Program in Environmental Health Sciences


Research Interests

  • 3D Organoid Biology
  • Biomaterials
  • Cancer Cell Biology
  • Epithelial Morphogenesis

Selected Publications

Cruz-Acuña, R., Kariuki, S.W., Sugiura, K., Karaiskos, S., Plaster, E.M., Loebel, C., Efe, G., Karakasheva, T.A., Gabre, J.T., Hu, J., Burdick, J.A., Rustgi, A.K. Engineered hydrogel reveals contribution of matrix mechanics to esophageal adenocarcinoma and identifies matrix-activated therapeutic targets. J Clin Invest, (2023) Oct 3:e168146. doi: 10.1172/JCI168146. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37788109.

Cruz-Acuña, R., Kariuki, S.W., Sugiura, K., Loebel C., Karakasheva, T., Gabre, J.T., Burdick, J.A., and Rustgi, A.K. Engineered hydrogel reveals contribution of matrix mechanics to esophageal adenocarcinoma 3D organoids and identify matrix-activated therapeutic targets. bioRxiv, (2022) 11.13.516357. Under peer review at Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Kabir, M.F.*, Karami, A.L.*, Cruz-Acuña, R., Klochkova, A., Saxena, R., Mu, A., Murray, M.G., Cruz, J., Fuller, A.D., Clevenger, M.H., Chitrala, K.N., Tan, Y., Keith, K., Madzo, J., Huang, H., Jelinek, J., Karakasheva, T., Hamilton, K.E., Muir, A.B., Tétreault, M.P., Whelan, K.A. Single cell transcriptomic analysis reveals cellular diversity of murine esophageal epithelium. Nat Commun, (2022) Apr 20;13(1):2167. (*co-first authors)

Cruz-Acuña, R., Burdick, J.A., Vunjak-Novakovic, G. and Rustgi, A.K. Novel Technological Approaches Provide Insights on the Role of Extracellular Matrix Properties in Cancers and Therapeutics. iScience, (2021) May;24(5).

Cruz-Acuña, R., Mulero-Russe, A., Clark, A. Y., Zent, R. & García, A. J. Identification of matrix physicochemical properties required for renal epithelial cell tubulogenesis by using synthetic hydrogels. Journal of Cell Science, (2019) Oct 21;132(20). 

Cruz-Acuña, R.*, Quirós, M.*, Huang, S., Siuda, V., Spence, J. R., Nusrat, A. and García, A. J. PEG-4MAL hydrogels for human organoid generation, culture, and in vivo delivery. Nature Protocols, (2018) Sep;13:2102-2119. (*co-first authors)

Cruz-Acuña, R.*, Quirós, M.*, Farkas, A. E., Dedhia, P. H., Huang, S., Siuda, D., García-Hernández, V., Spence, J. R., Nusrat, A. and García, A. J. Synthetic Hydrogels for Human Intestinal Organoid Generation and Colonic Wound Repair. Nature Cell Biology, (2017) Nov;19(11):1326-1335. (*co-first authors)

Enemchukwu, N. O., Cruz-Acuña, R., Bongiorno T., Johnson, C. T., García, J. R., Sulchek, T., & García, A.J. (2016). Synthetic matrices reveal contributions of ECM biophysical and biochemical properties to epithelial morphogenesis. Journal of Cell Biology, (2016) 212(1), 113-24.