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.



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. 


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.


Lia Franco, Undergraduate Student

Lia is a sophomore Chemical Engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh, pursuing minors in math and bioengineering. Her research interests include cell-cell interactions and computer modeling systems. She is also involved in Breakthrough Tutoring for underprivileged Pittsburgh youths, Redeye theater, and intramural volleyball. In her free time she likes to solve puzzles and hang out with friends. 


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.


Ashlinn Sweeney, Undergraduate Student

Ashlinn is a senior undergraduate studying Bioengineering on the cellular track at the University of Pittsburgh with a minor in Chemistry. She has previously worked at the Soft Tissue Biomechanics Lab at Pitt synthesizing hydrogels and testing them for cell viability. After graduation, Ashlinn is considering pursuing a PhD focused on oncology or getting a job in industry working on vaccines. Outside of the lab, Ashlinn enjoys volunteering, doing triathlons, and reading.


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. 


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.



Team Alumni

Rosemary Nti-Gyabaah- Undergraduate Research Student, Fall 2019


Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh

© 2020 Tumor Microenvironment Engineering (TME) lab

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