Engineering a path: From inspiration to innovation


Donna Padavan, BESc’01, MESc’04, PhD’10 in Biomedical Engineering is a Co-Founder and Director and VP of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at ROSE Diagnostics (East Side Studios photo)

Embarking on a journey through the lens of a seasoned engineer, we delve into the intricate tapestry of experiences that have shaped the career of Donna Padavan, BESc’01, MESc’04, PhD’10 in Biomedical Engineering. From the sparks of inspiration ignited in early years to the forefront of innovation, Padavan shares insights garnered through academic rigour, professional tenacity and a relentless pursuit of impact.

We caught up with a Co-Founder and Director and VP of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at ROSE Diagnostics to explore the milestones, challenges and guiding principles that define a career dedicated to engineering excellence and biomedical breakthroughs.

What sparked your interest and passion to pursue Engineering?

During my high school years in London, Ontario, my father, Wilson I Padavan, ignited my passion for engineering. My father, an electrical engineer with a distinguished career at Bell Canada and a Master’s degree from Western (supervised by the esteemed L.S Lauchland, a founding member of the Department of Engineering Science), served as a profound influence. Attending Western Engineering open houses and career days with him, where he conducted engaging demonstrations and delivered captivating presentations on behalf of Bell Canada, deeply inspired me. His meticulousness, organizational skills, remarkable attention to detail and extensive knowledge across various subjects shaped my career aspirations. As I matured, I recognized our shared characteristics and began to view him not just as a parent but also as an engineering role model. I saw his passion and joy in his career and wanted the same for myself. When the time came to apply to university, Western was an obvious first choice. I enrolled in engineering, but instead of electrical, I ventured into the world of Chemical Engineering and eventually found my niche in Biomedical Engineering.

Can you provide a high-level overview of your career and tell us about your current role as VP Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at Rose Diagnostics?

During my doctorate, I researched stents, bypass procedures and developed device materials and drug delivery vehicles for these procedures. Following this, I pursued a post-doctoral fellowship at the Ottawa Heart Institute. It was during this time that I delved deeper into clinical settings, realizing my desire to not only develop medical devices but also to actively participate in their implementation within hospitals. This realization led me to aspire to bring these devices to market, necessitating a thorough understanding of the clinical and regulatory pathways involved.

Transitioning away from academia, I joined Abbott Point of Care, where I honed my skills in navigating these pathways for innovative diagnostic products. Between my time at Abbott and transitioning to a small Canadian diagnostics company, I pursued further education by completing a Clinical Training Program at Harvard University. This program allowed me to serve as the Director of the Clinical Program at SQI Diagnostics. In this capacity, I spearheaded multiple clinical device studies across hospitals in the US and Canada, while also playing a pivotal role in preparing, presenting and securing approvals from various regulatory agencies (Health Canada, New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)).

Currently, I hold the positions of Co-Founder, Director and VP of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at ROSE Diagnostics, a small US Company headquartered in San Diego specializing in developing Point-of-Care biopsy sample screening tests for cancer. ROSE Diagnostics is looking to accelerate the time between biopsy and cancer diagnosis to decrease the time a patient waits for treatment. In this capacity, my duties extend beyond overseeing clinical operations and guiding the development of clinical and regulatory strategies. I continue to leverage my engineering skills today as I navigate intricate business challenges within a fiercely competitive industry landscape.

Having completed your BESc, MESc and PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Western, how has your engineering education and student experience benefited your career success?

My engineering education and student experience have provided me with multifaceted opportunities to actively engage and contribute within academia, industry and my community. Throughout my student journey at Western, I have had many opportunities that have honed my leadership, communication and problem-solving skills.

During my time as the Graduate Student Chair, I took on the responsibility of organizing national conferences and meetings. This role allowed me to develop organizational expertise that proved invaluable in navigating complex academic environments. While working towards my doctorate, I gained valuable communication experience through teaching a Biomedical Engineering graduate course and delivering guest lectures across different departments and campus events. One particular experience that stands out was being part of a women’s panel at Western’s Medical Hall of Fame. It was a highlight for me and allowed me to engage with a diverse audience on topics I am passionate about. These experiences have not only enhanced my technical knowledge but also sharpened my ability to communicate complex ideas effectively.

Beyond the classroom, my involvement in extracurricular sports activities as captain of the university’s co-ed soccer team and as a player of London’s girls’ competitive team provided invaluable leadership skills and opportunities. These experiences fostered what it means to be part of a team, individual discipline and resilience and a competitive spirit, all of which I believe have been essential to my engineering career.

Furthermore, my engagement as the VP of Finance for the Biomedical Engineering Society introduced me to financial management and organizational leadership, skills that are highly transferable to the professional realm and ones that I continue to use in my role as a Co-Founder.

Overall, my engineering education and student experience have equipped me with a diverse skill set, a strong network and a deep sense of responsibility to contribute positively to society both professionally and personally. These foundations have been instrumental in my success professionally, as well as in my family and as a member of my community, enabling me to navigate complex challenges, seize opportunities and make meaningful contributions.

Throughout your career, you have been at the forefront of biomedical innovations. Is there a particular life-changing technology or research project you wish to share that you were involved in that is a highlight or turning point in your career?

One pivotal moment in my career occurred during my twenties while I was in graduate school. At a remarkably early age, I had the opportunity to be a named inventor on a US patent in the area of biocompatible coronary stent surface coatings. These coatings offer numerous advantages over metal and dissolvable stents. They have the potential to reduce the risk of artery re-narrowing by inhibiting cell proliferation, assist in tissue integration, enable controlled release of therapeutic agents directly to the site and decrease the risk of thrombosis on the stent surface. Moreover, the coatings promote endothelialization, thereby reducing the risk of late stent thrombosis.

This milestone marked an early highlight in my career, bridging my academic research with a biomedical application that directly impacted patients.

Furthermore, being an inventor on my first patent was both exhilarating and transformative, shaping the trajectory of my career and instilling a passion for pioneering advancements in the field of biomedical engineering.

Now, I am eager to channel the same drive and passion into my work at ROSE Diagnostics, where I can continue making a positive impact by advancing research and enhancing patient care through innovative biomedical solutions.

International Women’s Day and National Engineering Month are coming up in March. What advice might you have for students wishing to pursue a career in STEM, in Engineering specifically and/or in the biomedical industry?

The landscape of engineering has evolved significantly since I graduated. Thankfully, there are now many more women in engineering, which has positively impacted the engineering field, making it more collaborative, inclusive and attentive to societal responsibility. My advice is to embrace challenges, step out of your comfort zone and strive for the extraordinary. Taking risks is essential; while outcomes may vary, you will never wonder ‘what if’ if you don’t try. Failure is intrinsic to learning; success does not come immediately. Stay resilient and learn from setbacks; they often provide valuable lessons. Engineering provides a holistic perspective on problem-solving, equipping you with invaluable life skills to navigate various challenges, technical or otherwise. A career in STEM offers a fulfilling journey filled with challenges that become more manageable with experience. Embrace mistakes, as they are essential for future growth both professionally and personally. Within this field, you’ll find joy in teamwork, creativity and the chance to make society better, particularly in biotech, where impactful advancements change lives.