Mariel Bolhouse

Finding Solutions to Treat Stroke: 5 Questions with Design Engineer Mariel Bolhouse

Mariel Bolhouse graduated with her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering in 2012. She moved to San Francisco with the hope of working at a startup but detoured and took a position with medical technology company Stryker, where she has worked as a neurovascular R&D engineer, project manager, and currently as an associate manager where she leads an R&D team. We talked with Mariel to learn more about the important work she’s doing and how her UT Austin experiences helped her.

What’s your role at Stryker?

I’ve been with Stryker for just over 6 years. I’m an R&D manager with a team of people working on our new product development projects. We interface with physicians to find the optimal solutions to treat ischemic stroke, then turn those insights into next generation products.

There are two kinds of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when there’s a bleed in the brain, and an ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blockage in the vasculature prevents blood from getting to all areas of the brain. My boss likens us to plumbers. We’re either fixing leaky pipes or we’re unplugging clogged pipes. In a nutshell that’s what I do.

Why medical devices?

I had a couple of co-ops and internships as a student at UT Austin. I did my first internship as a sophomore, with help from Jack Hart, who used to work in the department. It was working for a device company in Austin called Apollo Endosurgery. I always knew I liked creating things, and after that first internship it really solidified for me that working on medical devices was my passion.

Working in the area of stroke is rewarding because it’s impactful. People who undergo stroke are in an emergency situation. Right now, is an especially exciting and fast-moving time. In 2015 there were a number of clinical trials that changed the AHA guidelines for how we treat stroke. Stryker just published clinical trial results that showed that more patients can now be treated for up to 24 hours, which opens the doors for many more people to be treated. Technology in this area is exploding, similarly to how coronary artery disease treatment optimization boomed 15 years ago. It’s fun to be on the front end of innovation and to work on streamlining how ischemic stroke is treated. I look forward to the improved patient outcomes that will come with that.

How did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

I come from a family of engineers. My dad, both of my sisters, and then, my sisters and I have all married engineers. It’s a family tradition. I grew up fixing things. My parents were always doing DIY house projects. I have always made things with my hands and enjoyed it.

What’s your favorite part of being an engineer?

It’s exciting to be on the early end of development. In R&D, we’re customer-focused. We’re driven and informed by the Biodesign process. We’re creating devices that are going to add value to the patient and the physician. We’re not just creating something because it’s the next cool thing.

The most exciting thing to me is the translation between a customer’s need and the ideas that we think of to meet that. I love the cycle of seeing an issue, building something to address it, giving it to the customer, checking work, and tweaking. It’s thrilling to be involved from the early stages and then to see the product in use, saving lives.

What were your most memorable experiences at UT Austin?

The entrepreneurial aspect sticks out. I took an engineering entrepreneurship class that teamed up a student team with professor who had intellectual property. The student team would look for ways to commercialize that IP. That was a fun class. We worked with a physics professor, Dr. Mark Raizen on a technology called MaGIS, which stood for magnetically guided isotope separation. The technology allowed researchers to take an elemental sample, atomize it, and then through selective magnetization, purify a specific isotope out of it. It was a method to isolate certain isotopes that are valuable for specific purposes, such as medical imaging or for creating nuclear fuel rod cladding. The team I worked with took that project and we then took the One Semester Startup class taught by Dr. Bob Metcalfe. That experience and later TAing with Dr. Metcalfe was my window into the business side of engineering.

Taking that class eventually led me to Stryker. I initially wanted to work at a startup so I moved to San Francisco. I took a job with Stryker to gain experience that would be helpful at a startup, and I’ve loved it so much I haven’t left.