cassia norris

5 Questions with Cassia Norris, Product Development Engineer at OriGen Biomedical

As an undergraduate student majoring in biomedical engineering, Cassia Norris was planning on going to medical school. That changed when she got offered a job as an intern by OriGen Biomedical after working with them during her senior design project and found that industry was where she belonged. Today, Cassia continues to work there as a Product Development Engineer.

What do you do at OriGen?

I work as the lead engineer for the company’s extracorporeal life support products, which consist of a reinforced dual lumen catheter as well as surgical accessories for catheter placement. This procedure is done on patients of all ages who need immediate lung support, if the hospital is equipped to handle the procedure. The Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) catheter essentially functions as a conduit for an artificial lung circuit through the jugular vein. Blood is taken out of the body through the catheter, runs through an oxygenator, and then pumps back into the body through the other side of the same catheter.

What does a lead engineer do?

I ensure that the product is in regulatory compliance, respond to customer feedback, make sure we have appropriate testing, and handle day-to-day product maintenance. Right now, I am in the midst of writing for formal design controls. For FDA approval, you have to keep records of all your design decisions, any risk associated with the product, and all information on how the product was made, including testing and validation processes. I do a lot of writing and protocol organizing, data organizing, and reporting. Technical writing is a big part of my job.

What do you like about your job?

OriGen is basically a family-owned medical device company, which is pretty rare. Our CEO started building catheters in his house, which turned into this business that today specializes in cryopreservation and cell culture products. It's cool to take over the foundational product of the company and learn and work directly with the CEO on projects. Every day is a learning opportunity.

Additionally, working at a facility that does its own in-house manufacturing is great. I solve problems that arise daily. We like to call it "putting out fires." I also receive feedback from the operators who are actually building the product. The people who are sitting in the clean rooms, gowned-up, testing, and assembling the products often have more insight into the building efficiency than the design engineers. It’s also been valuable to see different aspects of business, how device manufacturing business works and learning about all the different quality requirements that go into manufacturing devices. I have recently had the chance to become an internal auditor for the facility and feed those quality requirements back into my design process.

I have found that industry is quite fulfilling. Hearing stories about how our devices help save patients' lives is rewarding.

What was one of your favorite experiences at UT?

I took the Transport Phenomena in Living Systems course as a study abroad participant in Cambridge with Dr. Diller. It was a great experience because Dr. Diller is a world-renowned scientist, and I was able to learn directly from him and his textbook. The techniques I learned from his course, as well as what I learned in biomaterials, are probably the most relevant to what I do in my job. The class was great, and the setting in Cambridge was wonderful. I highly recommend studying abroad.

What advice can you give current undergraduates?

It helps to network. You never know when people will be thinking of you and how you might fit in their organization. I was offered an internship after our final design presentation at the end of the semester. Networking is a real thing. Always put your best foot forward.