Born and raised in New York City, New York, Irene Bacalocostantis attended the 6th largest public high school in the nation. Irene’s parents, who immigrated to the United States from Greece in the 1970’s, were encouraging and supportive of her desire to focus her studies on the sciences. “All of my advanced courses were in biology and physics. I had an inclination and draw toward science.” A career in bioengineering was a natural fit for Irene.
Irene Bacalocostantis is a Biomedical Engineer working for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She serves as a Pre-Market Medical Device Reviewer within the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Office of Device Evaluation. Her work largely focuses on reviewing the safety and efficacy of medical devices within the area of gastroenterology. Her areas of concentration include obesity devices, capsule endoscopes, and safer connectors for feeding tubes. In addition to her review work, Irene is involved in several working groups intended to develop internal policies and guidelines to assess the safety and mitigate the risk of these devices.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from New York University, Irene moved to Greece and began working as a Research Assistant for a chemical engineering research foundation. Her research focused on identifying biomarkers for the early onset of neurological disorders. “My time in Greece gave me the hands-on experiences that I needed to get a broader knowledge base,” said Irene. “I was nervous that my background was too focused on a specific topic and that I wouldn’t be able to expand, but that wasn’t the case.”
Irene returned to the states to pursue a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her doctoral research focused on drug delivery systems for improve gene therapy. Irene designed a polymer vector, or carrier, to encapsulate healthy genes and send them to cells to replace defective genes. This research has applications for a wide-range of disorders, including cancer.
Following her doctoral studies, Irene began working for the U.S. federal government within the FDA, where she currently reviews medical devices and provides recommendations regarding their approval for market. “I love the people I work with at FDA; I am surrounded by such smart individuals and I am continuously learning from them,” said Irene.
To Irene, the opportunities afforded to you by the field of bioengineering are endless. “You can work in industry, academia, and government. The doors are wide open.” Irene advises students interested in biomedical engineering to conduct informational interviews with biomedical engineering professionals in order to learn more about their experiences. “Internships are also a great way to get your foot in the door.”