What led you to the PHDA?
CCA Co-director Don Taylor and I collaborated on several initiatives at Pitt during our overlapping PhDs in Bioengineering. Most of these initiatives related to engaging more innovation and commercialization training opportunities for Bioengineering graduate students in a department where, at the time, most graduates were choosing career paths in academia. During the final year of my graduate training, Don introduced me to CCA co-director Mike Becich and gave me an opportunity to join the CCA team as we launched our first cycle of funding proposal solicitation. Joining the CCA team gave me a great opportunity to leverage my biomedical research background, clinical knowledge, and commercial translation training to help Pitt and CMU researchers transition the projects from research to real-world applications.
What brought you to Pittsburgh?
I’m originally from Erie, PA. I knew that I wanted to study bioengineering in undergrad and had narrowed my list down to three universities. Pitt offered a very strong and research-centric undergraduate program and an exciting urban campus with a world-class academic medical center on it. I knew Pitt (and Pittsburgh) would be the perfect place to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with a bioengineering degree.
Where did your career begin? What did you do? What were the most important lessons you learned there?
I’ve never left Pitt, so has it really begun? Just kidding. After I finished my PhD, I was able to create a research faculty position that allows me to spend half my time in the lab moving my dental biomaterials research towards commercialization and the other half supporting the CCA and other commercial translation programs that sciVelo leads. The challenges in creating this very non-traditional position taught me the value in being proactive about telling people what you want and what you can offer them and the need for persistence when being innovative.
What have been your biggest takeaways from the PHDA?
All of my research and training has been in regenerative medicine and medical device development where products can take many years and millions of dollars just to get to the start of clinical studies. I’m amazed by how quickly our digital health researchers can establish a minimum viable product, get it into the hands of patients and healthcare providers, and begin generating real-world validation data! Another core principle of the PHDA that I incorporate to my own research is integrating lots of clinical input throughout the entire product development process. Too often researchers forget about the patients and providers that eventually need to use the fruits of their research and end up spending time and money developing products with significant barriers to adoption and clinical impact.
What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
I run marathons and ultramarathons to unwind. This May will be my 10th consecutive Pittsburgh marathon!