Parks Faculty

Silviya Zustiak, Ph.D.,<br/>Assistant Professor

Silviya Zustiak, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor

Assistant Professor

Phone:
314-977-8331
Education:

Ph.D. in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering
University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)

BS/MS in Bioelectrical Engineering
Technical University, Sofia, Bulgaria

Silviya Petrova Zustiak, Ph.D. joined the Biomedical Engineering Department as an Assistant Professor in spring 2013. She obtained a BS/MS degree in Bioelectrical Engineering from Technical University, Sofia, Bulgaria in 2002 and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, MD in 2009. During her doctoral studies under the guidance of Dr. Jennie Leach, Silviya developed hydrogels as scaffolds for neural tissue engineering. Dr. Zustiak conducted post-doctoral research for three years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, at the Laboratory of Integrative and Medical Biophysics under Dr. Ralph Nossal, utilizing spectroscopic techniques to study solute transport within hydrogel matrices.

Dr. Zustiak’s primary research interests are in Hydrogel Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, with emphasis on developing novel biomaterials as cell scaffolds and drug screening platforms, and elucidating matrix structure-property relationships as well as cell-matrix interactions. Biomaterial-based models are crucial for bridging the gap between traditional tissue culture and animal models by providing a cell environment that closely mimics real tissue. This research is highly multidisciplinary, merging the fields of engineering, materials science, and biology.

Research Interests

Dr. Zustiak’s primary research interests are in Hydrogel Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, with emphasis on developing novel biomaterials as cell scaffolds and drug screening platforms, and elucidating matrix structure-property relationships as well as cell-matrix interactions. Biomaterial-based models are crucial for bridging the gap between traditional tissue culture and animal models by providing a cell environment that closely mimics real tissue. This research is highly multidisciplinary, merging the fields of engineering, materials science, and biology.

Research Projects

  1. Decoupling key cell-matrix interactions that affect cancer cell responsiveness to anticancer drugs in bioengineered 2D extracellular matrix.

    The overall goal of this project is to gain a fundamental grasp of key cell-matrix interactions that affect the cells’ responsiveness to anticancer drugs, with emphasis on matrix stiffness, integrin adhesions and their synergistic effects, since these parameters profoundly affect cancer cell fate including the onset of malignancy. The underlying hypothesis for this work is that matrix stiffness and integrin presentation are also important in drug resistance mechanisms (e.g. by altering cytoskeletal tension or integrin expression).

  2. Role of matrix stiffness on cancer cell responsiveness to anticancer drugs.
    For this project, we are performing methodical and quantitative analysis of the impact of substrate stiffness on anticancer drug cytotoxicity. We use polyacrylamide (PA) gels that span a range of stiffness (0.3 to 300 kPa), coated with extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins to promote cell attachment. High-throughput assays are being developed. Gel stiffness is measured by rheometry and by atomic force microscopy (AFM). Various cancer cell types are subjected to treatment with different concentrations of anticancer drugs for a pre-determined amount of time. We then quantitatively measure cell fate including cell viability, proliferation, morphology, apoptosis, signaling, cell cycle as well as drug IC50.

  3. Role of integrin adhesions on cancer cell responsiveness to anticancer drugs.
    The aim of this project is to isolate the effect of integrin presentation (by precisely controlling the concentration and type of integrin binding sites) from other matrix properties (such as stiffness) and assess its impact on the responsiveness of cancer cells to anticancer drugs. In this project, we use methods, drugs, and cell types similar to those indicated above, and we quantify similar outputs. In addition, we explore the synergistic effects of ligand density and substrate stiffness.

  4. Role of 3D environment in the evaluation of anticancer drug sensitivity.
    Despite overwhelming evidence on the impact of the microenvironment on tumorogenesis and drug resistance, over 85% of tumor research is still conducted on 2D plastic, mainly due to lack of suitable biomaterial-based alternatives. This project utilizes biomaterial scaffolds for elucidating cell-matrix interactions as related to drug toxicity in 3D environments. I plan to methodically investigate cell responses such as viability, proliferation, apoptosis, cell cycle, and cell signaling to various microenvironmental conditions such as matrix stiffness, porosity, and adhesion sites. Specific mechanisms responsible for drug sensitivity in 3D versus 2D environments are investigated. 

Graduate Student Researchers

We are currently looking for graduate students who are interested in hydrogel biomaterials, tissue engineering, and mammalian cell culture. Contact us at szustiak@slu.edu if you are interested.

Undergraduate Student Researchers

  1. P. Iliya
  2. K. Kalinowski
  3. S. Syed
  4. N. Ahmed
  5. C. Cole
  6. A. Guduru
  7. J. Behrens



Below is a list of Silviya Zustiak’s selected publications. For more information on each publication, please visit the Parks College Publication Database.

Printed Archival Peer-Reviewed Journals
  • Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “Multiwell stiffness assay for the study of cell responsiveness to cytotoxic drugs”, Biotechnology & Bioengineering, 2013, doi: 10.1002/bit.25097
  • Zustiak, S.P.,  Pubill, S., Ribeiro, A., Leach, JB., “Hydrolytically degradable poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel scaffolds as a cell delivery vehicle: characterization of PC12 cell response”, Biotechnology Progress, 2013, 29(5), 1255-1264 doi: 10.1021/btpr.1761
  • Zustiak, S.P., Riley, J., Boukari, H., Gandjbakhche, H.A., Nossal, R., “Effects of Multiple Scattering on Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy Measurements of Particles Moving within Optically Dense Media”, Journal of Biomedical Optics, 2012, 17(12), 125004-125004. doi: 10.1117/1.JBO.17.12.125004
  • Zustiak, S.P., Wei, Y., Leach, J.B., “Protein-hydrogel interactions in tissue engineering: mechanisms and applications”, Tissue Engineering Reviews, 2012, 19(2): 160-171. doi: 10.1089/ten.teb.2012.0458
  • Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “Hindered Diffusion in Polymeric Solutions Studied by Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy”, Biophysical Journal, 2011, 101, 255-264. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2011.05.035
  • Zustiak, S.P., Leach, J.B., “Characterization of Protein Release from Hydrolytically Degradable Poly(ethylene glycol) Hydrogels”, Biotechnology & Bioengineering, 2011, 108, 197-206.  doi: 10.1002/bit.22911
  • Zustiak, S.P., Leach, J.B., “Hydrolytically Degradable Poly(ethylene glycol) Hydrogel Scaffolds with Tunable Degradation and Mechanical Properties”, Biomacromolecules, 2010, 11, 1348-1357. doi: 10.1021/bm100137q
  • Zustiak, S.P., Boukari, H., Leach, J.B., “Solute Diffusion and Interactions in Cross-linked Poly(ethylene glycol) Hydrogels Studied by Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy”, Soft Matter, 2010, 6, 3609-3618. doi: 10.1039/C0SM00111B 
  • Zustiak, S.P., Durbal, R., Leach, J.B., “Influence of Cell-adhesive Peptide Ligands on Poly(ethylene glycol) Hydrogel Physical, Mechanical and Transport Properties”, Acta Biomaterialia, 2010, 6, 3404-3414. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2010.03.040
  • Petrova, S., Kostov, Y., Jeffris, K., Rao, G., “Optical Ratiometric Sensor for Alcohol Measurements”, Analytical Letters, 2007, 40(3), 715-727. doi: 10.1080/00032710601017847
  • Pandelova, A., Petrova, S., Neykov, A., “Experimental Research of a Hybrid Biosensor for Ecological Purposes”, Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment, 2003, 17(1), 187-193.
Conference Abstracts
  • Zustiak, S.P., “Substrate stiffness affects cancer cell responsiveness to cytotoxic drugs”, (Oral), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, November, 2013.
  • Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “High-throughput stiffness assay for the study of cancer cell susceptibility to anti-cancer drugs”, (Oral), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, Pittsburg, PA, October 2012.
  • Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “A Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy Study of Hindered Probe Diffusion in Complex Media”, (Oral), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN, October 2011.
In Proceedings
  • Zustiak, S.P., Ferguson, D., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “High-throughput stiffness assay for the study of cancer cell susceptibility to anti-cancer drugs”, AIChE Symposia Proceedings, 2012 Annual Fall Meeting, Pittsburg, PA, October 2012.
  • Petrova, S., Leach, J.B., “Development of a novel hydrolytically degradable PEG hydrogel with tunable degradability and protein release”, MRS Symposia Proceedings, 2008 Annual Fall Meeting, Boston, MA, December 2008.
Conference Posters
  • * Zustiak, S.P., Kalinowski, K., Ahmed, N., Cole, C., “Effect of stiffness and dimensionality on cancer cell responsiveness to cytotoxic drugs”, (Poster), Functional Analysis and Screening Technologies, Boston, MA, October 2013.
    * Best Poster Award
  • Zustiak, S.P., Kalinowski, K., Ahmed, N., Cole, C., “Substrate stiffness affects cancer cell responsiveness to cytotoxic drugs”, (Poster), Gordon Research Conference: Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering, Holderness, NH, July 2013
  • Kalinowski, K., Zustiak, S.P., “The role of dimensionality on cancer cell response to cytotoxic drugs”, (Poster), Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES)Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, September 2013
  • Ferguson, D., Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “Development of a Polyacrylamide-Based Stiffness Assay for “High-Throughput” Drug Testing”, (Poster), Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), San Jose, CA, November 2012.
  • Ferguson, D., Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “Development of a Polyacrylamide-Based Stiffness Assay for “High-Throughput” Drug Testing”, (Poster), National Institute of Health (NIH) Summer Research Program Poster Day, Bethesda, MD, August 2012.
  • Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., “Effects of Scattering on Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy Measurements of Diffusion in Complex Media”, (Poster), Predictive Functional Tissue Models, Boston, MA, November, 2011.
  • Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “Hindered Diffusion in Polymeric Solutions Studied by Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy”, (Poster), Biophysical Society Annual Meeting, Baltimore, MD, March 2011.
  • Taylor, T., Zustiak, S.P., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., “Development of Poly(ethylene Glycol)-Collagen 3D Scaffolds”, (Poster), 14th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences at UMBC, Baltimore, MD, October 2011.
  • Taylor, J., Nossal, R., Sackett, D., Zustiak, S.P., “Development of Poly(ethylene Glycol)-Collagen 3D Scaffolds”, (Poster), National Institute of Health (NIH) Summer Research Program Poster Day, Bethesda, MD, August 2011.
Patents
  • Kostov, Y, Petrova, S., Rao, G., “Optical Alcohol Sensor”, Provisional Application 60/720, 444. UMBC Ref. No. 2482YK, September 2005.
Books
  • * Zustiak, S.P., “Hydrolytically degradable polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogel: synthesis, gel formation, and characterization”, INVITED book chapter, for Neuromethods: Extracellular Matrix, Humana Press, accepted. doi: 10.1002/bit.22911
    * Feature Article in Tissue Engineering Part B: Reviews April 2013 Issue.

Soft Tissue Engineering Laboratory

The focus of our lab is on biomaterial design and evaluation towards the development of 3-dimensional (3D) in-vitro tissue models and high-throughput toxicity screening platforms, in order to address the growing concerns of the biopharmaceutical industry with late stage drug failures. We are primarily interested in models of solid tumors as well as models to study neurotoxicity, a side effect associated with chemotherapy. Specifically, we are striving to build tunable biomaterials, where mechanical, biochemical, and physical material properties are selectively and independently altered. We then explore cell-matrix relationships in the presence to various drugs, by assessing cell fate, including cell viability, proliferation, morphology, apoptosis, signaling, cell cycle as well as drug IC50. Our broad goal is to provide robust 3D platforms for systematic and quantitative investigation of the large number of drug candidates that are constantly being discovered, as well as environmental toxins associated with a negative impact on human health.