Kara McKinley, PhD

Kara McKinley, PhD

Assistant Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Harvard University
Kara McKinley headshot image

The McKinley lab uses live microscopy of mini-organ cultures to watch and target regenerative processes in the intestine and uterus.

The McKinley lab seeks to understand how tissues generate the right cells in the right places as they renew and regenerate during adulthood. Our work focuses on two of the most dynamic organ systems in mammals: the small intestine and the uterus. The intestinal epithelium is in a constant state of flux, replacing almost all of its cells every 3-5 days, and can rapidly regenerate its diverse cell types upon damage. The human uterine lining  (endometrium) undergoes dramatic tissue remodeling each month over the menstrual cycle, followed by shedding during menstruation and subsequent repair, ultimately regenerating ~400 times over the reproductive lifespan. Together, these systems provide powerful complimentary models to reveal unifying principles of regeneration, as well as to identify key aspects of organ-specific physiology.

We use high-resolution live microscopy to watch and perturb regeneration in real time, and use a variety of genetic, molecular, and cell biological approaches to mechanistically dissect these processes over single-cell and tissue length scales. Our goals are to define the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the remarkable regenerative capacity of these organs, to understand how defects in these processes give rise to pathologies including cancers and endometriosis, and to harness their regenerative mechanisms for the precise repair of old or damaged tissues.


Dr. Kara McKinley is an Assistant Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University. She received her A.B. from Princeton University in 2010 and her Ph.D. from MIT in 2016. From 2016-2021 she was a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and NIH K99 Pathway to Independence Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research awards include the Harold M. Weintraub Award from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Kaluza Prize from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), the Merton Bernfield Memorial Award from ASCB, the Regeneron Prize for Creative Innovation, and the Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. She is also the founder of the Leading Edge Symposium, an initiative to promote gender equity among biomedical research faculty.

Contact Information

Harvard University
Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
7 Divinity Avenue
Bauer Laboratory #306
Cambridge, MA 02138