A University of Notre Dame faculty member, Pinar Zorlutuna is using microfabrication, biomaterials, stem cells, and tissue engineering approaches to create bioengineered disease models to study heart disease and cancer. According to Zorlutuna, scientists are creating these new models in order to overcome some of the limitations found in animal models.
“Usually only one out of 10 therapies that are proven to be successful in mice can be applied successfully to humans,” she said. “One reason is mice and humans are different so these human cell-based tissue engineered and microfabricated disease models are meant to bridge that gap and have a platform where one can study the effects of drug therapy or study the disease biology.”
A second area of her research involves studying electromechanical signals between cells in heart tissue. She and her students created micro-patterned cardiac cell co-cultures to examine how micro- and nanoscale stimulation change the way heart cells contract, which could have applications in heart disease treatment and bio-robotics.
Zorlutuna spent two years (2009-11) as a post-doctoral researcher in Bioengineering Professor Rashid Bashir’s lab at the Micro + Nanotechnology Lab, where she was part of a team that used stereolithography—a maskless photolithography fabrication technique—to engineer tissues made of biocompatible materials and cells.
“We showed for the first time that the [tissues] we fabricated this way could be functional, viable, and cultured for long term,” said Zorlutuna, noting that several of their papers were cover articles in journals such as Advanced Materials and Advanced Functional Materials.
Working with Bashir helped Zorlutuna launch her faculty career. “Dr. Bashir is a great mentor and a wonderful person,” she noted. “He gave me a lot of advice on how to mentor graduate students that I worked with and he taught me how to highlight my research and apply for faculty positions, write grants, and find money for research.”
Recalling her time at Illinois, Zorlutuna said she benefitted from going to research presentations and seminars. “There are so many great researchers in [MNTL] that I’d encourage current students to go listen to speakers—even if it seems like they’re not relevant to what you’re doing,” she said. “Listening to other people who work in slightly different areas opens your mind a lot and helps you think outside the box.”
Zorlutuna also encourages MNTL students to stay in touch with their colleagues after they leave Illinois. “One of my most successful collaborations right now is with a former student from Dr. Bashir’s group, Kidong Park, who is a faculty member at LSU,” she said. “We never collaborated at MNTL, but we saw each other at a conference a couple of years ago and we started a collaboration.”
Posted March 2016
Pinar Zorlutuna’s Top 3 accomplishments since finishing her post-doc at Illinois
- Establishing a multi-disciplinary research group at the University of Notre Dame that includes three post docs, four graduate students, and three undergraduates from bioengineering, electrical engineering, chemistry, and chemical engineering. “I’m happy with my research group and my resources and funding.”
- She and her husband, whom she married while at Illinois, found two tenure-track faculty positions at Notre Dame, which she considers both a personal and professional success.
- Receiving the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Rising Star award in January. Zorlutuna was one of six young investigators selected from around the world.