A photo of Aaron Zorn.

Aaron M. Zorn, PhD

  • Director, Division of Developmental Biology
  • Endowed Chair, William K Schubert Program
  • Co-Director, Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM)
  • Associate Director, Digestive Health Center
  • Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics



I’m a developmental biologist and the director of the Division of Developmental Biology. My research studies in the Zorn lab aim to understand the molecular mechanisms controlling the embryonic development of the digestive and respiratory systems. Our motivation is to reveal fundamental principles of development, elucidate the etiology of birth defects and inform strategies for regenerative medicine. We use the complementary advantages of Xenopus, mouse, human pluripotent stem cells and cutting-edge genomics.

Over the last two decades, we have made several significant contributions to the field, elucidating the signaling pathways and gene regulatory networks orchestrating the organogenesis of the digestive and respiratory systems. This work has revealed the developmental basis of trachea-esophageal congenital anomalies and enabled the differentiation of human primitive stem cells (PSCs) into organoids for regenerative medicine.

I have been a researcher for over 35 years and began working at Cincinnati Children’s in 2002. My postdoctoral study at Cambridge University, United Kingdom, was with Professor Sir John Gurdon, a Nobel Prize laureate for cellular reprogramming.

BSc: University of Toronto, Canada.

PhD: University of Texas, Austin, Texas, 1995.

Postdoctoral: Wellcome Trust Cancer Research Campaign Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 1996-1999.

Research Fellow: Wellcome Trust Gurdon Institute, Universtiy of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 1999-2002.


Development of lung, liver, pancreas and gastrointestinal tract; vertebrate embryology

Learn more about CuSTOM.

Research Areas

Developmental Biology



Single cell transcriptomics identifies a signaling network coordinating endoderm and mesoderm diversification during foregut organogenesis. Han, L; Chaturvedi, P; Kishimoto, K; Koike, H; Nasr, T; Iwasawa, K; Giesbrecht, K; Witcher, PC; Eicher, A; Haines, L; et al. Nature Communications. 2020; 11:4158.


Sox17 and β-catenin co-occupy Wnt-responsive enhancers to govern the endoderm gene regulatory network. Mukherjee, S; Chaturvedi, P; Rankin, SA; Fish, MB; Wlizla, M; Paraiso, KD; MacDonald, M; Chen, X; Weirauch, MT; Blitz, IL; et al. eLife. 2020; 9:e58029.


Endosome-Mediated Epithelial Remodeling Downstream of Hedgehog-Gli Is Required for Tracheoesophageal Separation. Nasr, T; Mancini, P; Rankin, SA; Edwards, NA; Agricola, ZN; Kenny, AP; Kinney, JL; Daniels, K; Vardanyan, J; Han, L; et al. Developmental Cell. 2019; 51:665-674.e6.


Modelling human hepato-biliary-pancreatic organogenesis from the foregut-midgut boundary. Koike, H; Iwasawa, K; Ouchi, R; Maezawa, M; Giesbrecht, K; Saiki, N; Ferguson, A; Kimura, M; Thompson, WL; Wells, JM; et al. Nature. 2019; 574:112-116.


Esophageal Organoids from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Delineate Sox2 Functions during Esophageal Specification. Trisno, SL; Philo, KE D; McCracken, KW; Cata, EM; Ruiz-Torres, S; Rankin, SA; Han, L; Nasr, T; Chaturvedi, P; Rothenberg, ME; et al. Cell Stem Cell. 2018; 23:501-515.e7.


Genomic integration of Wnt/β-catenin and BMP/Smad1 signaling coordinates foregut and hindgut transcriptional programs. Stevens, ML; Chaturvedi, P; Rankin, SA; Macdonald, M; Jagannathan, S; Yukawa, M; Barski, A; Zorn, AM. Development (Cambridge). 2017; 144:1283-1295.


A Retinoic Acid-Hedgehog Cascade Coordinates Mesoderm-Inducing Signals and Endoderm Competence during Lung Specification. Rankin, SA; Han, L; McCracken, KW; Kenny, AP; Anglin, CT; Grigg, EA; Crawford, CM; Wells, JM; Shannon, JM; Zorn, AM. Cell Reports. 2016; 16:66-78.


Suppression of Bmp4 signaling by the zinc-finger repressors Osr1 and Osr2 is required for Wnt/β-catenin-mediated lung specification in Xenopus. Rankin, SA; Gallas, AL; Neto, A; Luis Gomez-Skarmeta, J; Zorn, AM. Development (Cambridge). 2012; 139:3010-3020.


Sizzled-tolloid interactions maintain foregut progenitors by regulating fibronectin-dependent BMP signaling. Kenny, AP; Rankin, SA; Allbee, AW; Prewitt, AR; Zhang, Z; Tabangin, ME; Shifley, ET; Louza, MP; Zorn, AM. Developmental Cell. 2012; 23:292-304.


Directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into intestinal tissue in vitro. Spence, JR; Mayhew, CN; Rankin, SA; Kuhar, MF; Vallance, JE; Tolle, K; Hoskins, EE; Kalinichenko, VV; Wells, SI; Zorn, AM; et al. Nature. 2011; 470:105-109.