Meet the Team with M4 Director Megan Malara
The Ohio State University's Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) is at the forefront of the intersection of manufacturing and medical modeling. As healthcare technology evolves, the expertise of engineers, like Megan Malara, is vital to providing solutions to real-world problems within clinical medicine.
This installment of our "Meet the Team" Q&A series highlights Malara, a biomaterials engineer and the Director of the Medical Modeling, Materials, and Manufacturing (M4) Laboratory at CDME. The M4 Lab within CDME brings together a collaborative team from the College of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology, CDME and the Institute for Materials Research. This role allows Malara to focus on healthcare product development while connecting to the clinical needs of patients.
Malara came to Ohio State to pursue her Bachelor of Science in Materials Science Engineering with a specialization in biomaterials. With the goal of receiving more opportunities within the biomaterials field, she went on to get her PhD in Materials Science, predominantly studying skin tissue engineering.
CDME: Could you tell me a little more about your education and work background?
Megan Malara: During graduate school, I was looking at ways to design materials to improve the mechanical performance of tissue engineered medical products and, therefore, outcomes for patients. We looked at a lot of different treatments for burn wounds and scarring. I studied under Dr. Heather Powell and finished my PhD at the end of 2019. I did a short postdoc continuing my work in the lab before I started a science policy fellowship in DC.
CDME: Speaking of the MRS/TMS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship, how was that experience?
Malara: I went to DC and worked in Congress for a year on healthcare and education policy. I was there beginning the second half of 2020. It was an interesting time to move and start a new job but it was a really rewarding experience to work on healthcare and education policy during the pandemic because both were so disrupted, and a lot of legislative action was going on. After my fellowship ended, I came here to CDME. I really enjoyed getting back into the engineering side. While I was in DC, I realized that I spent a lot of time in meetings and writing memos, but I wasn’t doing anything with my hands, which is sometimes strange for engineers, so, I was excited to come back to Ohio State.
CDME: How did you end up discovering CDME?
Malara: I met with Ed Herderick, CDME’s director of additive manufacturing, while I was interviewing for my position in DC because he had previously done the same fellowship. So, I met Ed and got to know him and the work that he was doing at CDME. Then, he helped start the M4 Lab at CDME, so I came for a tour and saw all the cool things they were doing. I asked some questions about biologics and if they were getting involved in that space.
CDME: Could you describe in depth the capabilities the M4 Lab has?
Malara: The official M4 Lab was born when our clinical director, Dr. Kyle VanKoevering, came to Ohio State and saw the manufacturing capabilities we had here at CDME. He wanted to pair that with his clinical expertise and access to the clinic. One of the largest projects we do is provide clinical models for complex surgeries in the hospital. We take a patient's CT scan, segment the structures of interest, and 3D print their exact anatomy to help surgeons plan out their procedures. Then, these models can be sterilized and brought into the operating room. It’s some of the most important work we do because it directly impacts patient care.
One of the unique things about working here is getting to do work that is beyond just the benchtop. We can also create other patient specific devices. We can tailor facial and breathing prostheses for patients, specifically to their needs, shape and anatomy. In addition, we're doing more research for 3D bioprinting. This allows me to use my tissue engineering background. The 3D bioprinter allows us to print cells and materials, to create tissue and maybe one day, 3D print somebody a replacement tissue or organ that they need. But that's getting a bit to the future state.
Even prior to the M4 branding of our lab, CDME has been supporting medical device innovation. Mary Pancake, our M4 Program Manager, has been helping clinicians, faculty, and researchers take their idea to realization through product development. We do leverage 3D printing for a lot of the prototyping work, but we also use resources across CDME when it comes to manufacturing these new technologies.
CDME: Is there any interesting project you’re currently working on?
Malara: The M4 lab received a 3D bioprinter this past year. We're working on some projects with faculty here and helping with implants in ophthalmology. Then, we have some of our own research goals, like trying to develop 3D printed bone that is vascularized, which is the blood flow and nutrients supply. People can use 3D printing to create structures of living tissue, but they die if they don't have proper nutrition. So, that's something that we're looking into. How can you 3D print a vascular blood vessel network so that you can keep something of substantial size alive and healthy?
CDME: What are your future hopes for 3D printing in the medical field?
Malara: I think the future is regenerative medicine, specifically tissue engineering. My future hopes would be that somebody who is waiting on a transplant list can get the organ they need. That would transform health care.
CDME: You're a woman in a male-dominated field. So, how have you navigated that? What obstacles or stereotypes have you received throughout either your education or career?
Malara: I have unfortunately, it's not uncommon. There has been a lot of progress, and I've benefited from a lot of work that people before me have filtered through. I would say the biggest thing that has been great for me is having a support network, especially other women in engineering and sciences in general. They're the ones I go to for advice. They're the ones that I can look to for guidance on how I want to lead and how I want to present myself. I think that's been the best way for me to navigate is by building a network of other women that are in this field as well. Overall, the field is getting better and more inclusive, and that doesn't just happen on its own. People have been receptive to it and have been actively trying to make STEM a more inclusive space. We see that a lot in earlier stages in the pipeline. Girls are just as interested in STEM as boys and getting them exposed to STEM earlier is great. We have more women enrolling in an undergraduate curriculum or post-secondary education in STEM fields. But then we still have this, which some people don't like this term, but this leaky pipeline where the support kind of falls off. We know that women are interested in STEM. It's not an interest problem. It's making sure that they're supported throughout their career so that they don't look for other avenues because they've exhausted themselves here. That's what a great network is for, to support and uplift.
CDME: Do you have any advice for students who are interested in 3D printing within the medical field?
Malara: There are so many resources out there. First and foremost, if they are at Ohio State, they could look into working for CDME. Specifically, in the M4 lab, we hire undergraduate students who participate in our research and clinical projects. We have an educational lab space on campus that has dozens of 3D printers that courses or organizations can come to for a hands-on learning experience. Wherever you are, look to folks who are doing this work and see if they would talk to you about it. In the space we’re in with point-of-care medical modeling we're focused on delivering solutions for our patients here at Ohio State and are not in direct competition for business with others in the field. People are excited to have conversations and to help more users enter the community.
Ways to connect with Megan:
By: Evahanna Cruz, CDME Marketing and Communications Student Assistant