For my stretch experience this summer, I had the opportunity to conduct research at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based in Silver Spring, Maryland. My first thought about researching at the FDA was that I would be either working on something food or drug related. However, the scope of the FDA was much larger than I anticipated.
Specifically, I worked on a public health project regarding the pathogenicity of humidifiers versus heater-cooler devices that are used during cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. This research project was a collaboration between the Division of Applied Mechanics (DAM) and the Division of Biology, Chemistry, and Material Sciences (DBCMS). Sorry for all the acronyms! Although my research experience is in the field of developmental biology, I worked on the aerosolization aspect with Dr. Guha of DAM. During my time at the FDA, I conducted literature reviews regarding the aerosolization potential of bacteria through different aerosolization techniques. Subsequently, we worked with three different devices and polystyrene latex spheres to develop aerosolization standards.
Sponsors would use the standards to test their devices for aerosolization potential. The PSL spheres were used as surrogates for bacteria, specifically non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM). There have been numerous cases of patient infections post-surgery with the cause of the NTM infection linked back to the heater-cooler device that was present during their surgical procedure. The next step in this project is to replace the spheres with actual bacteria. This would lead to another set of standards for sponsors to test their products against to ensure that they do not aerosolize NTM. In terms of internship standards, this experience was great for personal and professional development. Collaborative work with students from Tunisia and the United States provided opportunities to apply the concepts in Foundations of Leadership. Additionally, this internship allowed me to step out of my comfort zone in terms of pursuing research in another field. The FDA, under the Department of Health and Human Services has a key role in protecting the public health interests of their nation. Working on the regulatory side of research was a great learning experience to see the day-to-day impact that research can have.