Meet the man behind "the Dave and the Goliath”
Article by: You You Xia
Every other week at VitroLabs, scientists and engineers gather to hear their peers present data and outcomes from a myriad of experiments that are going on at any given time. These are always my favorite gatherings because you never know what is possible until you see it for yourself. Also, there is always food, lots and lots of food, which is a thing around here.
On this particular Wednesday afternoon a couple months ago, the mechanical engineering team took the stage and showed us what went into the design of the latest large-scale tissue bioreactor that was about to launch. The person behind the mic was Bryan McNeil – who, upon joining the VitroLabs team, was introduced by his hiring manager, Lee Sierad, as our new “secret weapon”. With a background in designing diagnostic machines for cancer research and blood perfusion sensors, Bryan was tasked to build bioreactors that would allow for better tissue growth, efficiencies in inputs, and scalable production capacity in pilot manufacturing.
[cue ascending scale harp music…] Fast forward a year later, there were surprises and there were learnings along the way, but the team finally unveiled its new bioreactor and took it for a spin. I was there the day they launched, it felt like a scene from a surgical room – everyone had a specific job, every action and step was programmed and curated down to the tee, and no detail was left unchecked.
“You never know what is possible until you see it for yourself.”
“There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to starting a tissue experiment. Coming into this new arena, the biggest surprise to me was how sterility comes into play during the process of tissue growth,” Bryan later told me. “Our bioreactors have to account for sterility and autoclaving because not all materials are biocompatible. Another challenge is considering the human factor, because for now everything is done in a BSC hood for assembly, and whoever is working has limited space, so you have to consider human ergonomics as well.”
Over the following year there were many trial runs and various prototypes developed. “I still remember the first time tissue was harvested from the small prototype bioreactor I designed, seeing that it had worked and that tissue had grown was definitely a moment I will never forget. We decided to call them "the Dave and the Goliath.”
"My input is valued and I feel like I have real influence on the overall design and process of our product."
Naming the bioreactors is just one of the ways that the team connects deeply to their work at the company. There is the work itself, and there is supporting one another’s work. “At VitroLabs, my input is valued and I feel like I have real influence on the overall design and process of our product. I have people who support me and my growth as much as I support them, and that is why I’m here.”
When he is not designing bioreactors at VitroLabs, Bryan likes to take on other challenges as wide ranging as salsa dancing and archery, but that’s for another day. He did let me know that somehow he does everything through the lens of an engineer, take archery for instance, it is about “staying focused on the target, and trying to repeat everything that works (like your form and posture) in order to achieve precision - every single time.”