Close Menu

Austeja Staneviciute

2020 Pritzker Fellow

Illinois Tech, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate

Austeja Staneviciute

About

I’ve always sought  to challenge myself. I’ve never been afraid to try new things. Taking advantage of new opportunities has helped me get to the point where I am today -- a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, specializing in cell and tissue engineering. I have a thirst for knowledge that will help improve people’s lives through medical advancements.

In 2020, I graduated from Illinois Tech with a co-terminal degree in biomedical engineering (B.S) and chemical engineering (M.A.S). I was actively involved with the Society of Women Engineers and MEDLIFE. To help me determine my career path, I participated in multiple undergraduate research projects. I volunteered in the laboratories of Dr. Marcella K. Vaicik and Dr. Georgia Papavasiliou, as well as at Argonne National Laboratory and the Medical Imaging Research Center. My summers were dedicated to internships and I had the opportunity to work at Medtronic (California), Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (Washington, D.C), and ThermoFisher Scientific (Lithuania).  

Research 

As an undergraduate, I volunteered in Dr. Vaicik’s and Dr. Papavasiliou’s laboratories and I found great interest in the cell and tissue engineering field. I analyzed the extracellular matrix in myocardial tissue and studied the construction of hydrogel scaffolds. When I was awarded the Pritzker Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Fellowship in 2020, I decided to continue my work with my two research advisors. My Ph.D. will focus on the development of a tissue model to aid in the restoration of the osteochondral interface.

Defects to the osteochondral interface are areas of permanent injury to articular cartilage and underlying bone due to trauma, disease, and aging. This type of defect can lead to osteoarthritis, which is a major source of pain, disability, and health care expenditures. The standard treatments for osteochondral defects include bone marrow stimulation, allografts, and autografts that may improve clinical symptoms but are not curative therapies. Tissue engineering strategies involving mesenchymal stem cells embedded in a 3D tissue model hold great potential for osteochondral defect repair. Thus, my goal is to develop a tissue model that influences mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate into bone and cartilage cell lineages. I will be utilizing a method with continuous gradients that has not been previously explored. 

Currently, I have been working on the initial baseline of the study that is focused on 2D MSC differentiation into chondrogenic (cartilage) and osteogenic (bone) lineages. I will be transitioning into the next stage of the study to design a scaffold (3D tissue model) that has combinatorial gradients of various mechanical and chemical properties. As I investigate, I hope my findings can contribute to the development of a minimally invasive cellular therapy for osteoarthritis patients. 

Extracurricular Activities 

MEDLIFE is a non-profit organization with a mission to build a worldwide movement to empower the poor to fight for equal access to healthcare, education, and a safe home. Since I was a freshman, I had the opportunity to be part of the executive board of Illinois Tech’s MEDLIFE chapter and held various positions (marketing chair, vice-president, president). Through this organization, I learned how to be a global citizen and bring awareness to healthcare and human rights issues across the globe. Through MEDLIFE, I had the opportunity to volunteer in medical brigades in Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Peru. With Illinois Tech students, we worked alongside dedicated, local physicians to help provide healthcare services to rural communities in need. 

One of my most memorable moments during a medical brigade was when I had a conversation with a local elderly man in Ecuador. Even though he faced a tremendously challenging life and had health issues, he was very optimistic and supportive of the new generation of students. He really inspired me to become an innovator that will always give back to the community and help make scientific innovation accessible for all. 

Society of Women Engineers

Since my first semester in college, I have been an active member of Illinois Tech’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter. Through this organization, I have developed professionally and had the opportunity to participate in annual SWE conferences across the United States. I enjoyed attending the learning sessions and networking with like-minded individuals. The conferences helped me gain internship opportunities. I also met motivating women engineers with wonderful career advice, whose impact inspires me to become a mentor that will guide others to reach their full career potentials. Also, I had the chance to be the treasurer and president of Illinois Tech’s SWE executive board and I learned how to organize events (lunch and learns, career development events, outreach etc.). By upholding the SWE mission, I was honored that our chapter was awarded as the Best Collegiate Section in the Chicagoland area, the first time in our chapter’s history.