Setting the Pace for Public Health
Biomedical devices such as orthopedic implants and cardiovascular stents are designed to improve human health, but they require investigation to ensure they are safe and effective to use.
Stacey Sullivan, Ph.D., is a mechanical engineer who investigates the interactions between medical devices and the human body. She is a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) in the Division of Applied Mechanics at the Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr. Sullivan quantifies the conditions under which the devices perform safely and effectively.
Sullivan started working in a clinical lab while in high school, and she has continued research in the medical field ever since. After finishing her master’s degree, she left clinical lab work to begin working for a medical device manufacturer. For seven years she worked in industry, and then completed her doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her adviser, who was collaborating with an FDA group at the time, informed her about research opportunities at the FDA. Sullivan believes her career move broadened her knowledge and perspective.
Sullivan joined the ORISE fellowship because she could immediately begin contributing to a project and the on-site laboratory capabilities impressed her. Every project within the Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories is focused on protecting and promoting public health. Study results serve to facilitate the development of current technologies, resolve concerns of existing devices and improve standard testing practices.
Sullivan is working on two projects. The first project investigates corrosion in cardiovascular stents, which will help FDA reviewers provide more accurate and efficient reviews of cardiovascular device safety. The second project identifies the capabilities and challenges of assessing infra-red thermometers, which may lead to improved standard testing practices by creating an accessible and reliable test setup.
There isn’t a typical day on the job: work is plentiful and always changing. Sullivan advises, “Be adaptable and fluid. Discovery is a very dynamic process where you need to be open-minded and innovative to keep it moving.” She also advises engineers to “Document. Document. Document. Documentation may be seen as an unfortunate part of the process, but it is critical. If we fail to communicate our findings, then we have failed.”
She encourages individuals interested in the ORISE fellowship program to pursue the opportunities at the FDA for undergraduates, graduates and post-docs. Her experience has presented many benefits, including making new contacts in her field, training on unique topics and equipment, trying out different testing methods, and collaborating with other experts.
ORISE is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.