Team Members

Ioannis (Yannis) Zervantonakis, Principal Investigator      PI background and CV

Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Hillman Cancer Center


Ioannis (Yannis) grew up in Heraklion (Crete), Greece and attended the National Technical University of Athens to study mechanical engineering. He then moved to Munich, Germany and obtained a M.S. in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Munich. Yannis received his PhD in the lab of Roger Kamm at MIT, where he engineered an array of microfluidic devices to study the tumor microenvironment. For his postdoctoral studies Yannis joined the lab of Joan Brugge and developed systems biology approaches to study drug resistance and tumor-fibroblast interactions. Yannis is a recipient of a 2014 Department of Defense Breast Cancer Postdoctoral Fellowship and a 2017 NCI Pathway to Independence K99/R00 award. Outside the lab, Yannis enjoys mixing music, kayaking and playing basketball. 

Don Belcher, Postdoctoral Fellow

Don obtained his B.S in chemical engineering from Oklahoma State University where he developed waste treatment technologies to deactivate Ascaris Lumbricoides. After this, Don moved to The Ohio State University where he received his PhD in the lab of Andre Palmer. In his graduate research, he investigated how bioengineered hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers can make chemotherapeutics more effective for breast cancer treatment. Don is interested in development of in vitro and in silico platforms to assess how properties of the tumor stroma lead to cancer drug resistance. Don is a recipient of a 2017 Pelotonia Graduate research fellowship. Outside the lab, Don enjoys baking, tabletop gaming, and 3D rendering.


Youngbin Cho, Postdoctoral Fellow 

Youngbin received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Korea University in 2013 where his undergraduate research focused on the development of a force loading device to observe the real-time bone deformation. After graduation, Youngbin moved to Mechanical Engineering in Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) where he received M.S./Ph.D. degree in the lab of Prof. Jennifer H. Shin. During this period, Youngbin investigated how the mechanical forces regulate the dynamics of 2D/3D collective epithelial cell aggregates using hydrogel system. Youngbin is interested in developing in vitro culture platform to investigate the immune cell recruitment toward breast tumor microenvironment and understanding the interaction between tumor/immune cells. Outside of the lab, he enjoys watching movies, snowboarding, hiking, and traveling.


Dorota Jazwinska, PhD Candidate 

Dorota received her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2019.  Her research focused on developing an antibacterial collagen hydrogel for wound healing purposes.  She has also worked at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. for 3 consecutive summers, in both the Infectious Diseases and Immuno-Oncology groups. Dorota is interested in developing in vitro bioengineered culture platforms to model tumor-immune interactions in ovarian cancer and improve our understanding of therapy resistance. Outside of the lab, Dorota enjoys painting, hiking, and cooking. 


Matthew Poskus, PhD Candidate

Matthew received his B.S./M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 2019 where his research focused on the development of a numerical model of blood damage and membrane transport in microfluidic hemodialysis devices. He also worked at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in Rochester, NY for 2 semesters and was a member of RIT's Formula SAE team for 5 years, serving as the team's Chief Engineer in his last year. Matthew is interested in using systems biology approaches and modeling to study drug resistance. Outside of the lab, he enjoys snowboarding, running, and working on cars.


Ruxuan (Rosy) Li, PhD Candidate

Rosy received her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Southern University of Science and Technology in 2020. In her senior year, she went to Bone Bioengineering Lab, Columbia University for a one-year research program, where her work focused on the mechanobiology of bone modeling and remodeling. She will join Zervalab in Fall 2020. Outside the lab, she enjoys playing piano and singing. 


Diana Kulawiec, PhD Candidate

Diana received her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 2021. She performed research at the Bioprotection Research Centre studying bacterial biocontrol agents for insect pests, and at the Centre for Bioengineering at the University of Canterbury performing computational analysis of physiological processes related to type II diabetes and exercise sciences. She has also spent a summer working at Regenxbio Inc. in the Vector Core department. Diana is interested in studying macrophage migration and interactions with ovarian cancer cells and how this affects tumor response to therapies. Outside of the lab, Diana enjoys cooking, working out, and traveling.


Alexis Scott, Research Technician

Alexis received her Bachelor's degree in Biochemical and Molecular Biology from Dicknson College. As an undergraduate, her research focused on the sustainable production of algal and lignocellulosic biofuels. During summer 2018, Alexis worked at Michigan State University with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center where her research focused on evaluating the effect of a biomass treatment on the cell wall architecture of poplar. Outside the lab, Alexis enjoys digital art, skiing, and video games.


Nicholas Genco, Undergraduate Student

Nicholas is an undecided engineering freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently considering a major in bioengineering, as well as a major in either electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, with a bioengineering minor. His research interests involve using bioengineering principles to study possible treatments for cancer. Outside the lab, he is the hall president of the Engineering Living Learning Community, and enjoys hanging out with friends and playing basketball.


Oluwadamilola Ayoola, Undergraduate Student

Damilola Ayoola is a currently a sophomore bioengineering student with a double minor in Chemistry and Africana studies. She is also on the pre-med path with hopes to continue studying oncology or neonatology. Dammy is from Baltimore, Maryland and is a visual artist with a focus on real-life pencil drawings. She is also the fundraising chair of Pitt's National Society of Black Engineers as well as a math tutor/mentor for middle-school students.


Jacob McDonald, Undergraduate Student

Jacob is a junior Bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a minor in Chemistry. His research interests include investigating the role of the extracellular matrix in both cancer development and tissue regeneration. Outside of the lab Jacob enjoys being involved in the Biomedical Engineering Society, playing video games with friends, and growing carnivorous plants. 


Tuo Wang, Undergraduate Student

Tuo is a senior undergraduate majoring in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh with minors in Computer Science and Mathematics. Tuo has broad research interests in advanced manufacturing methods and their applications in a variety of areas such as mechanics, materials, bioengineering and robotics. Currently, he is working on rapid fabrication of microfluidic devices for cell culturing and testing. Outside the lab, Tuo enjoys playing badminton, long-distance running and reading history.


Sydney Borcherding, Undergraduate Student

Sydney is a junior Bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh, pursuing a minor in Chemistry and a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. Her research interests include studying the role of cell-cell interactions in oncology. Outside of research she is involved in Breakthrough Tutoring and The Imagination Project. She also enjoys crocheting and spending time outdoors. 


Sarai Morato, Undergraduate Student

Sarai is a sophomore bioengineering student who is also potentially pursuing a minor in mechanical engineering. Sarai is originally from Fairfax, VA and she enjoys being involved in SWE as high school outreach chair and SHPE as Academic Excellence Chair. Outside of the lab, she also enjoys playing the piano and traveling.


Jonathan Williams, High School Summer Student

Jonathan is a rising senior at Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He wishes to pursue an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics, and a minor in computer science. His research interests involve utilizing mathematical modeling and MATLAB programming to study various facets of oncology. Outside of research, he enjoys playing chess and teaching the game to underprivileged youth at his local Boys and Girls Club.


Griffin Hurt, High School Summer Student

Griffin is a rising senior at South Fayette High School near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wishes to pursue a degree in computer science and eventually earn a PhD. His research interests include the use of probability, statistics, and neural networks in making predictions and inferences. He has eight years of coding experience with a multitude of languages and technologies. Outside of doing research, Griffin enjoys teaching international students Python, developing web applications, and collaborating on open-source software. He also enjoys writing music and playing golf.



Team Alumni

Rosemary Nti-Gyabaah- Undergraduate Research Student, Fall 2019

Lia Franco- Undergraduate Research Student, Spring 2020 Linkedin

Ashlinn Sweeney- Undergraduate Research Student, Spring 2020- Fall 2020 Linkedin