Carolyn W.T. Lee-Parsons

Associate Professor,  Chemical Engineering
Associate Professor,  Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Affiliated Faculty,  Bioengineering


Social Media


  • 335 Mugar
  • 617.373.3634


  • 132 Mugar

Research Focus

Production of valuable pharmaceutical compounds from plant cell cultures, specifically the production of important anti-cancer drug molecules from cell cultures of Catharanthus roseus


Joined the Chemical Engineering Department in Fall 1999.

My main research focus is the production of valuable pharmaceutical compounds from plant cell cultures, specifically the production of important anti-cancer drug molecules from cell cultures of Catharanthus roseus. Plant cell culture is potentially a better route for supplying certain structurally complex drug molecules than chemical synthesis or extraction from whole plants. Moreover, plant cell culture can potentially produce these drug molecules at a faster and more consistent rate than whole plants. The overall vision of my research is to meet the needs and demands of important and cost-prohibitive plant-derived pharmaceuticals using plant cell culture, applying engineering strategies, and ultimately developing an economically viable process using plant cell culture.


  • 1995 PhD (Chemical Engineering), Cornell University, Advisor: Prof. Michael L. Shuler
  • BS (Chemical Engineering), University of Kansas Summa cum laude

Honors & Awards

  • University Excellence in Teaching Award, 2019
  • Martin W. Essigmann Outstanding Teaching Award, 2013, 2018
  • Selected for the Northeastern Research Leadership Development Initiative (ReDI) Program, 2016 – 2017
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award, 2002 – 2007

Research Overview

Production of valuable pharmaceutical compounds from plant cell cultures, specifically the production of important anti-cancer drug molecules from cell cultures of Catharanthus roseus

The Lee-Parsons’ Lab seeks to understand how plant cells regulate the biosynthesis of important molecules and then reprograms this regulatory network to increase production.  Towards this goal, we apply methods in molecular biology and analytical chemistry to engineer the production of important compounds from plant cell & tissue cultures.  Our team includes chemical engineers, bioengineers, biochemists, molecular biologists, and plant biologists.  Our research vision is to meet the need for critical plant-derived pharmaceuticals or an alternative source of biofuels using cultures of plants or microalgae.

Cellular & Metabolic Lab

The Lee-Parsons Team investigates and engineers the production of pharmaceuticals from tissue cultures of plants ( Our model is the medicinal plant, Catharanthus roseus, the current source of the chemotherapeutic drugs, vinblastine and vincristine. Our strategy for engineering increased production involves: 1) investigating the network of “on- and off-switches” (called transcription factors) that control the biosynthesis of these medicinal compounds, and 2) developing synthetic biology tools towards engineering their increased production. Aspects of our research involve modular cloning, gene expression analysis, metabolite analysis, genetic engineering, cultivation of aseptic tissue cultures, and bioprocess development.

Cellular & Metabolic Lab

Selected Research Projects

Selected Publications

  • R. Grützner, P. Martin, C. Horn, S. Mortensen, E.J. Cram, C.W.T. Lee-Parsons, J. Stuttmann, S. Marillonnet, High-Efficiency Genome Editing in Plants Mediated by a Cas9 Gene Containing Multiple Introns, Plant Communications, 2(2), 2021, 100135
  • S. Mortensen, D. Bernal-Franco, L.F. Cole, S. Sathitloetsakun, E.J. Cram, C.W.T. Lee-Parsons, EASI transformation: An Efficient Transient Expression Method for Analyzing Gene Function in Catharanthus roseus Seedlings, Frontiers in Plant Sciences, 2019
  • S. Mortensen, J. Weaver, S. Sathitloetsakun, L.F. Cole, N.F. Rizvi, E.J. Cram, C.W.T. Lee-Parsons, The Regulation of Zct1, a Transcriptional Repressor of Monoterpenoid Indole Alkaloid Biosynthetic Genes in Catharanthus roseus, Plant Direct, 3, 2019, 1-13
  • L. Kirchner, A. Wirshing, L. Kurt, T. Reinard, J. Glick, E.J. Cram, H-J. Jacobsen, C.W.T. Lee-Parsons Identification, Characterization, and Expression of Diacylglycerol Acyltransferase Type-1 from Chlorella vulgaris, Algal Research, 13, 2016, 167-181
Lee-Parsons Google Scholar
Student working in lab with test tube


May 13, 2021

BioE Student Wins ASPB Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Amanda Dee, E’22, bioengineering, was awarded the 2021 American Society of Plant Biologists Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (ASPB SURF) to pursue her research with ChE/COS Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons and her graduate mentor, Ms. Krystyna Farrell.

Carolyn Lee-Parsons and Erin Cram


Mar 03, 2021

Investigating the Defense-Related Responses of Plants

ChE/COS Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons and BioE Affiliated Faculty member Erin Cram were awarded an $800K NSF grant for creating ” A Novel CRISPR SynBio Tool for Investigating and Reprogramming the Regulation of Alkaloid Biosynthesis in Catharanthus roseus.”

gapfund logo


Jan 30, 2020

Eight COE Projects Selected for GapFund360

Northeastern’s GapFund360 program helps Northeastern’s researchers bridge the gap between promising lab results and demonstrating a commercially viable prototype. Awards range from $50K -$100K. Nine projects were selected from a pool of 39 applications from across the university; COE contributed 25 of the applications and seven projects were selected for funding. Congratulations to the following COE researchers whose projects were selected for Phase I or Phase II GapFund360 funding: ChE Assistant Professor Sidi Bencherif, MIE Assistant Professor Safa Jamali, ECE Assistant Professor Sarah Ostadabbas, ChE/COS Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons, ECE Professor Tommaso Melodia, ECE Associate Research Scientist Salvatore D’Oro, ECE Associate Professor Kaushik Chowdhury, ECE Principal Research Scientist Yousof Naderi, ECE Postdoc Ufuk Muncuk, ECE Professor Vincent Harris, ECE Associate Research Scientist Parisa Andalib, ECE Associate Professor Matteo Rinaldi, and ECE Research Assistant Professor Zhenyun Qian.

Jan 27, 2020

Spring 2020 PEAK Experiences Awardees

Congratulations to the COE student recipients of the Spring 2020 PEAK Experiences Awards. The PEAK Experiences Awards are a progressively structured sequence of opportunities designed to support learners as they continue climbing to new heights of achievement in undergraduate research and creative endeavor throughout their Northeastern journeys. BASE CAMP AWARDS Developing HPLC Methods for Characterizing […]

Carolyn Lee-Parsons


Jan 14, 2020

Lee-Parsons Receives 2020 ACORN Innovation Award

ChE/COS Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons received a 2020 ACORN Innovation Award from The Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center for her project entitled “The Production of Chemotherapeutic Drugs from the Periwinkle Plant”.

Pik Leng Wong


May 13, 2019

ChE Alumna Discusses Career Journey

Pik Leng Wong, MS, Chemical Engineering, 2001 and BS, Chemical Engineering, 1999—Pik Leng Wong graduated from the Chemical Engineering BS/MS program in 2001. Pik Leng recently recounted her BS/MS experience at NU, with her Advisor Prof. Carolyn Lee-Parsons, and how it prepared her for her industrial career. How has your Bachelor’s education at Northeastern prepared […]


Mar 29, 2019

Lee-Parsons Wins Excellence in Teaching Award

Chemical Engineering Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons recently received the Northeastern University Excellence in Teaching Award. Nominations for the Excellence in Teaching Awards are made by students. They consider several criteria, including depth of knowledge in the subject; ability to provide effective links among course content, research, and experiential learning; and the rigor of course content. The award […]


May 01, 2018

Faculty and Staff Awards 2018

Congratulations to all the winners of the faculty and staff awards, and to everyone for their hard work and dedication during the 2017-2018 academic school year.


Jun 08, 2017

Belmont Resident Delivered Keynote Speech at the Interdisciplinary Plant Science Symposium

ChE/COS Associate Professor Carolyn W.T. Lee-Parsons was featured in the Belmont Patch after giving the Keynote Speech at the Interdisciplinary Plant Science Symposium.


May 18, 2017

Deb Pano and Dr. Diana Bernal-Franco Win Advanced Research/Creative Endeavors Grant from Northeastern University

After over a year of research, ChE BS/MS student Deb Pano and Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr. Diana Bernal-Franco were awarded an Endeavor Grant from Northeastern University. Both Ms. Pano and Dr. Bernal-Franco work in lab of ChE/COS Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons. Their research began with looking at the defense mechanism of the Catharanthus roseus plant, […]

View All Related News