Before Kimberly Kontson decided to switch fields, she had spent three years researching medical physics as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). Her research took place in the Office of Science and Engineering Lab (OSEL) in the Division of Imaging, Diagnostics and Software Reliability under the guidance of her graduate adviser, Robert Jennings, Ph.D.
Kontson entered the fellowship as a graduate student in bioengineering, but upon receiving a doctoral degree, she decided to switch fields to neural engineering. ORISE helped her gain the experience she needed to contribute in her new field through a postdoctoral fellowship. She stayed with the FDA in OSEL, but moved into the Division of Biomedical Physics (DBP), where she researched evaluative methods for prosthetic limbs with her mentor, Gene Civillico, Ph.D.
Kontson originally applied to the FDA program to take advantage of the opportunity to improve her skills as a researcher, work with experts in her field and learn about the ongoing scientific research and regulatory processes conducted at the FDA. She heard about the program through her graduate school director, Peter Kofinas, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland.
Her postdoctoral research with OSEL pursued better metrics for evaluating upper limb function as a way of improving regulatory science in prosthetic technology. Her research included upper limb prostheses linked to the peripheral nerves. These nerves link the central nervous system to limbs and organs. Linking prostheses to the body’s peripheral nervous system has the potential to lead to significant advancements in prosthetic technology regarding dexterity and sensory feedback. However, the use of implanted electrodes to link the nervous system to the prostheses carries additional risks.
“With these additional risks come greater regulatory scrutiny, elevating the importance of metrics that can be used to evaluate these new technologies,” Kontson stated.
By developing more quantitative, objective metrics to evaluate this technology, Kontson’s research helped to create better benchmarks for prosthetic research, improve the design of clinical trials for upper limb prostheses, facilitate device evaluation, and inform clinician and prosthetic user decisions.
Kontson now continues her research with the DBP as a staff fellow. She encourages individuals interested in pursuing a scientific career to look into ORISE fellowship opportunities.
“This program can open many doors not only in the government space, but also in industry and academia,” Konston said. “A wide variety of projects cross many scientific disciplines, so chances are that you will find something that aligns with your interests,” she continued.
“As a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, the ORISE program enabled me to pursue my degree in a rich, challenging research environment and allowed me to fearlessly switch fields to pursue a longtime passion,” Konston said. “With my current position at the FDA, I am able to interact with the ORISE program as a mentor and give these great opportunities to passionate, motivated participants wishing to start carving their own career paths, just as I did several years ago.”
(For more information about Kontson’s research with OSEL, visit https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ScienceandResearch/ResearchPrograms/ucm477385.htm)