To mark International Woman’s Day, we talk to Elaine Lovelady, Assistant Research Manager for Zimmer Biomet, a global leader in musculoskeletal healthcare. Her research interests include biomaterials, wear, corrosion and biocompatibility.
OPN: As a researcher in focus, could you tell us more about your job and training background in this field?
EL: I joined Zimmer Biomet in 2014 after completing a PhD project focused on the use of dual-mobility hip systems. This involved working with hip simulators to measure the wear rate of different implants using aggressive conditions and characterising the resulting wear debris.
Starting as a Research Engineer fuelled my interest in biomaterials and tribology by using mechanical testing, human specimen labs and FEA modelling to evaluate new implant designs. Examining retrieved implants along with radiographs and patient data was also a key aspect of the role. This helped me to understand how systems perform clinically and the difference they make to patients’ lives.
One of the most enjoyable things about being in research is collaborating with a variety of team members. Whether you’re launching a new medical device or supporting current products, each day is spent working with colleagues from Development, Quality, Manufacturing, Regulatory or the Sales and Marketing teams to ensure the project stays on track.
OPN: What are you currently working on?
EL: Right now, I’m focused on supporting ZB in meeting the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR). Medical devices are currently CE marked in Europe under the Medical Device Directive (MDD), but this is being replaced by the MDR. These new regulations lay out new requirements for all implants and instruments to ensure they meet state-of-the-art standards.
Additionally, I’m the industrial supervisor for PhD students across a range of projects related to anti-infective technologies, corrosion and alternative bearing surfaces. Given that my own interest in this field grew from an industrial-sponsored PhD project, I really enjoy working with students at the start of their journey in orthopaedics. It’s always amazing to see how much that person can change over the three years of their project as they grow in confidence and independence.
OPN: What could your research mean for the patient experience, management strategies and surgical outcomes looking forward?
EL: Ensuring that all medical devices meet regulatory requirements allows for the highest standards of patient safety and quality.
I am also part of Zimmer Biomet’s Anti-infective Research Team. This year saw the CE approval of Bactiguard-coated trauma implants in Europe to reduce microbial adhesion to the implant surface and decrease the risk of infection. That’s an important advancement!
OPN: How do you think the future looks within the field of orthopaedic surgery and what are your predictions for the year ahead?
EL: Digital technologies such as robotic-assisted surgery, patient-specific instruments and smart implants will continue to improve and personalise the patient experience. With increasing integration of technology, we are giving people the chance to be co-creators in their health. We’re helping to engage people in their patient journey so that they better understand their condition and intervention and can take an active role in optimizing their health outcomes.
The year ahead will see the US launch of the first total knee replacement with a sensor embedded inside the tibial extension, which is exciting. It will measure patient activity, gait and range of motion remotely, and will be the first generation of sensor-based technologies in orthopaedics.
OPN: As a woman working in a traditionally male environment, do you think enough is being done to implement diversity, equality and inclusion within the field of Research and Development? How could opportunities for women be improved?
EL: When I joined Zimmer Biomet, there were very few older women in research so it’s not surprising that the leadership team was all male. This may be because girls were not encouraged to consider engineering roles in the past. It’s important to not be put off by that, and simply to learn from the experience of everyone around you.
Anyone can choose to study materials science and engineering today so this dynamic is changing slowly as we all grow older! I’m seeing more and more young women enter the workforce, so the promotion of STEM to female students seems to be having a positive impact on workplace diversity. STEM activities, student events and female role models help to promote careers in orthopaedics, which was certainly something I never knew about in school and would have loved to have heard about.
The ‘elephant in the room’ is having a family and the effect that can have on a woman’s career versus a man’s career. I’d like to see shared parental leave become more common practice across the industry. I know lots of men that would love to take more time out to bond with their children, but they may be put off asking. COVID-19 has forced many parents to spend more time working from home, creating a need for enhanced work-life balance and greater sharing of childcare duties. Supporting men in this way could actually lead to a better work environment for women, too.
Zimmer Biomet is increasingly committed to Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. There are Women’s Inspired Network groups to promote diversity, educate colleagues and recognise team members. I hope we will see more women entering R&D to create an even more diverse, innovative and enjoyable workplace.