July 19, 2019

Test shown to improve accuracy in identifying precancerous pancreatic cysts

In a proof-of-concept study, an international scientific team led by Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers has shown that a laboratory test using artificial intelligence tools has the potential to more accurately sort out which people with pancreatic cysts will go on to develop pancreatic cancers.

The test, dubbed CompCyst (for comprehensive cyst analysis), incorporates measures of molecular and clinical markers in cyst fluids, and appears to be on track to significantly improve on conventional clinical and imaging tests, the research team says.

Using information from more than 800 patients with pancreatic cysts who had cyst fluid analysis and cyst removal surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and 15 other medical centers around the world, investigators say CompCyst more often than standard current methods correctly identified which patients needed and likely had a chance to benefit from surgery, and which were unlikely to benefit from surgery or needed further monitoring only. Specifically, they found that using the test would have spared from surgery more than half of patients who underwent cyst removal later deemed unnecessary because the cysts were unlikely to have caused cancer.

A description of the work is published in the July 17 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

“Our study demonstrates the potential role of CompCyst as a complement to existing clinical and imaging criteria when evaluating pancreatic cysts,” says Anne Marie Lennon, professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins multidisciplinary pancreatic cyst clinic. “It could provide a greater degree of confidence for physicians when they advise patients that they do not require follow-up and can be discharged from surveillance.”

“Although we still need to prospectively validate this test, our results are exciting because they document a new and more objective way to manage the many patients with this disease,” she adds. Plans are underway to begin a prospective validation study in the next year.

Pancreatic cysts are common. They are found in 4% of people in their 60s and 8% of people over age 70, according to other published research. That means some 800,000 people with a pancreatic cyst are identified each year in the U.S. alone. By contrast, only a small fraction of cysts progress to cancer.

“The dilemma facing patients and their physicians is the ability to distinguish precancerous cysts from cysts that will not progress to cancer,” says Lennon.

“Currently available clinical and imaging tests often fail to distinguish precancerous cysts from cysts that have little or no potential to turn cancerous, which makes it difficult to determine which patients will not require follow-up and which patients will need long-term follow-up or immediate surgical resection,” says study investigator Christopher Wolfgang, John L. Cameron Professor of Surgery, director of surgical oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Precision Medicine Center of Excellence for Pancreatic Cancer. “As a result, essentially all people diagnosed with a cyst are followed long-term. Surgeons are faced with making recommendations to patients based on the risks and benefits of surgery with limited information. We seldom miss a cancer, but it is at the expense of performing an operation that in hindsight may not have been necessary.  This study directly addresses these fundamental problems in management of pancreatic cysts.”

In the study, the precise nature of the cysts examined was confirmed through histopathological analysis of resected surgical specimens. The cysts were then classified into three groups: those with no potential to turn cancerous, for which patients would not require periodic monitoring; mucin-producing cysts that have a small risk of progressing to cancer, for which patients can receive periodic monitoring for progression to possible cancer; and cysts for which surgery is recommended because there is a high likelihood of progression to cancer.

The CompCyst test, developed by the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center-led investigators, was created with patient data including clinical impressions and symptoms, images from CT scans and molecular features such as DNA alterations within cyst fluid.

In the study, the researchers evaluated the molecular profiles, including DNA mutations and chromosome changes, of a large number (862) of pancreatic cysts. They then fed the molecular information, along with clinical and radiologic data, into a computer-based program that used artificial intelligence to classify patients into the three groups noted previously.

Based on histopathological analysis of the surgically resected cysts, the researchers found that surgery was not needed for 45% of the patients that underwent surgery for their cysts. This unnecessary surgery was performed because the clinicians could not determine if the cysts were dangerous. In these patients, if CompCyst had been used, the researchers estimated that 60% to 74% of the patients (depending on the cyst type) could have been spared these unnecessary surgeries.

The artificial intelligence algorithm was developed by David Masica, an assistant research professor in the lab of Rachel Karchin, professor of biomedical engineering. Masica’s algorithm known as MOCA (Multivariate Organization of Combinatorial Alterations) is an evolutionary algorithm that uses Boolean Set logic to derive combinatorial markers under a user-specified selective pressure (optimized precision, recall, balance, etc.). MOCA is the opposite of a black box, because the resulting classifiers, such as CompCyst, can be employed without a computer.

The study had several limitations, the researchers note, including that pancreatic cyst fluid was obtained at the time of surgery, and that the cysts evaluated are more atypical than those seen in routine clinical practice.

“We think CompCyst has the capacity to substantially reduce unnecessary surgeries for pancreatic cysts. Over the next five years, we hope to use CompCyst in many more patients with cysts in an effort to guide surgical treatment — to determine when surgery is needed and when it is not needed — and evaluate how well the test performs,” says Bert Vogelstein, Clayton Professor of Oncology, co-director of the Ludwig Center at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

July 17, 2019

Low-cost tissue-freezing device could expand access to lifesaving breast cancer treatments

A reusable breast cancer treatment device created by a group of students at Johns Hopkins University offers a low-cost alternative for women in low-income and low-resource countries.

The tissue-freezing probe uses cryoablation, a method that kills cancerous tissue by exposing it to extremely cold temperatures, and employs carbon dioxide, a widely available and affordable alternative to argon, the current industry standard.

A study detailing the tool’s success in animal studies was published this month in PLOS One.

“Innovation in cancer care doesn’t always mean you have to create an entirely new treatment,” says Bailey Surtees, a recent Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering graduate and the study’s first author. “Sometimes it means radically innovating on proven therapies such that they’re redesigned to be accessible to the majority of the world’s population.”

While the survival rate for women with breast cancer in the United States is greater than 90%, it is the largest cause of cancer-related mortality for women across the globe and disproportionately affects women in lower-income countries, where treatment options are scarce. Survival rates for women with breast cancer in Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and The Gambia are just 64%, 46%, and 12%, respectively.

“Instead of saying ‘she has breast cancer,’ the locals we met while conducting focus groups for our research said ‘she has death,’ because breast cancer is often considered an automatic death sentence in these communities,” says Surtees.

In lower-income countries, the main barriers to treating breast cancer are inadequate treatment options. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are often impractical or too expensive, and women in remote areas have long travel times to regional hospitals. Even if a woman is able to travel to a hospital for treatment, she may not be seen, and recovery times will keep her out of work for an additional few weeks.

Cryoablation is an optimal treatment option in these countries because it eliminates the need for a sterile operating room and anesthesia, thus making it possible for local clinics to perform the procedure. It’s also minimally invasive, thereby reducing complications such as pain, bleeding, and extended recovery time.

Current cryoablation technologies, however, are expensive, with a single treatment costing more than $10,000. The devices rely on argon gas, which typically isn’t available in lower-income countries, to form the tissue-killing ice crystals.

With these barriers in mind, the student-led research team, named Kubanda—which means “cold” in Zulu—wanted to create a tissue-freezing tool that uses carbon dioxide, which is already widely available in most rural areas thanks to the popularity of carbonated drinks.

The research team tested its tool in three experiments to ensure it could remain cold enough in conditions similar to the human breast and successfully kill tumor tissue.

In the first experiment, the team used the tool on jars of ultrasound gel, which thermodynamically mimics human breast tissue, to determine whether it could successfully reach standard freezing temperatures to kill tissue and form consistent ice balls. In all trials, the device formed large enough ice balls and reached temperatures below 40 degrees below zero Celsius, which meets standard freezing temperatures for tissue death for similar devices in the United States.

For the second experiment, the team treated rats with mammary tumors. Afterwards, team members looked at the tissue under a microscope and confirmed that the tool successfully killed 85% or more tissue for all tumors. In a third animal experiment, the device was shown to be capable of staying cold enough during the entire experiment to kill the target tissue.

“When we started the project, experts in the area told us it was impossible to ablate meaningful tissue volumes with carbon dioxide,” says Nicholas Durr, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins and the study’s senior author. “This mindset may have come from both the momentum of the field and also from not thinking about the importance of driving down the cost of this treatment.”

While the results are promising, the device still requires additional testing before it’s ready for commercial use. The research team’s next steps include ensuring the device can consistently kill cancer tissue under the same heat conditions as human breast tissue.

In the near future, the team hopes to continue testing its device for human use and expand its use to pets.

The device has been in development by students and researchers at Johns Hopkins since 2015. It debuted in 2016 at Design Day, an annual showcase of projects designed and constructed by undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“This project is a remarkable example of success from the Biomedical Engineering Design Program,” says Durr, who co-directs the undergraduate Design Team program. “This team of undergraduates has been so successful because they created a practical solution for the problem after really understanding the constraints that needed to be met to be impactful.”

– Chanapa Tantibanchachai

July 1, 2019

A snapshot in time: Study captures fleeting genetic mutations that can alter disease risk

Using a series of genetic snapshots, a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago captured evidence of a so-called “butterfly effect”—a term popularized in film and literature as the ability for even a small action in the past to have major, sometimes life-changing effects in the future—in heart muscle cell development. They say this new view into the sequence of gene expression activity may lead to a better understanding of disease risk.

The study, published June 28 in Science, identifies hundreds of DNA regions that are associated with differences in gene expression between individuals.

“The human genome has been studied extensively, but how each person’s cells use the genome is complex, dynamic, and not as well understood. In this study we looked for cases where genetic differences between people change during cell development,” says Alexis Battle, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and one of the paper’s senior authors. Working with Battle was Ben Strober, lead author and a biomedical engineering PhD student.

Previous studies have identified thousands of regions of DNA that can affect gene expression—called expression quantitative trait locus, or eQTL—but they’ve relied on data collected at a single point in time, says Battle. Many of these differences in gene expression can occur at different stages of development or vary depending on environment, leading researchers to potentially miss important disease associations that can’t be studied in fully-developed tissue.

“Those associations are like shooting stars,” says Yoav Gilad, chief of genetic medicine at the University of Chicago and the other senior author of the study. “They appear at one point and never again during development, and they might actually be important to the phenotype of the mature tissue and maybe even disease. But unless you study those particular cell types at that particular time, you’ll never see them.”

To find these fleeting associations, the team used induced pluripotent stem cells, a type of master stem cell that can become nearly any type of cell. For the study, the research team sampled RNA from the stem cells of 19 people once a day over the course of 16 days as they differentiated into cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells. To Battle’s knowledge, this effort is the first large-scale time-course study of gene expression in heart muscle cells in multiple individuals, with the largest number of time points sampled.

By obtaining data every day, the researchers gained important information about gene expression during the in-between stages when a cell is neither a new stem cell nor a fully-formed heart muscle cell.

These small mutations that occur during cellular development could potentially account for differences in risk for complex diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes that aren’t caused by a single genetic mutation, but possibly hundreds. The new research demonstrates that, on their own, each of these small “shooting star” genetic differences don’t affect overall health dramatically, but together they can elevate risk for particular diseases.

“To fully understand how genetics impacts disease risk, we’ll ultimately have to consider all the different cell types, developmental time points, and environmental conditions that could be relevant to different diseases. This study is one step in that direction,” says Battle.

Because the research team’s method of using stem cells and sampling RNA expression at regular intervals is still resource-intensive, it’s not likely to be a commonly-used diagnostic tool anytime soon. Battle hopes, however, the approach can be used to help identify genes that affect disease and guide efforts to design effective, targeted interventions.

– Chanapa Tantibanchachai

June 27, 2019

Meet Jeremias Sulam, assistant professor of BME

Jeremias Sulam joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering as an assistant professor in October 2018. With an interest in computer vision and signal processing, Sulam plans to provide the department additional knowledge of machine learning and its application to biomedical problems.

In this interview, Sulam discusses his research, his passion for engineering, and his advice for current students.

What made you pursue a career in engineering?

As a kid, I would either take little gadgets apart to see how they worked, or try to tweak them so they would do what I wanted them to do instead. I guess the little gadgets progressively became bigger ones, and getting them to do what I want meant solving real-world problems.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins BME, and what are you looking forward to most?

Even though I studied biomedical engineering as an undergraduate, I later went on to obtain my PhD in computer science. My desire to go back to biomedical sciences was always present, and I cannot think of a better place to pursue it than at Hopkins. This is the best place to bring new advancements in data science in order to tackle important medical challenges.

Can you give me a brief overview of your current research?

My research focuses around trying to understand the underlying information in data sources, from selfies to MRI scans and ECG signals. This is central if one is to employ this data to make decisions: Is that picture of a particular person? Is there anything unusual in the MRI scan or in the ECG that should be reported to a clinician?

One way of capturing this information is through signal models, which are mathematical constructions that explain (to some extent) how this information should behave or what natural properties it should have. Much of my recent work has been centered around sparse models and designing ways to adapt or train these models in high-dimensional settings. More recently, similar techniques have also enabled us to explore some fundamental principles behind deep neural networks.

This is particularly exciting, as there is an urgent need for a more thorough understanding of these new machine learning algorithms. For instance, how should these models be designed and deployed in cases where one cannot afford to make mistakes? Or even more interesting, how can we analyze the particular features that these algorithms have learned to recognize as important for producing a particular prediction? These are questions that lead my current research.

Have you ever experienced a “eureka moment?”

Not yet. I certainly remember moments when I came up with an idea and thought it was a pretty good one. These ideas and realizations are usually just the beginning of the path towards an interesting and important contribution, paved with hard work and dedication.

What do you consider your biggest research accomplishment so far?

I would say my biggest achievement so far has been part of a team that extended much of the theory of sparse representations to convolutional models, and connected them to convolutional neural networks.

What impact would you like your work to have?

There is currently a disconnect between modern machine learning techniques and their principle application to biomedical problems. I would like my work to provide some of the missing links that would enable these tools to be deployed in the medical domain and produce solutions to challenging problems.

What are your goals for the future?

I am very much looking forward to the interaction with other colleagues and students here at Hopkins, and collaborating with them to tackle some of the problems that I’m interested in while also helping them with their challenges. I’m sure all of this will develop into fun and exciting projects.

Do you have any career advice to offer to current students?

It’s a fantastic time to be a student in STEM. Let curiosity drive the problems you choose to work on, and be passionate about them.

What do you enjoy doing outside the lab?

I enjoy the outdoors, so I’m always looking forward to some time to run or hike. While indoors, I enjoy playing piano or listening to music.

What does the future of engineering look like to you?

Engineering, and perhaps all of science, has been evolving. Individual disciplines are disappearing, and the borders between them have blurred. In this sense, biomedical engineering is one of the most interdisciplinary types of engineering, and this can only expand to other disciplines in the future.

Technology and the access to vast collections of data are influencing these disciplines, too. Data science is changing the way scientists carry out experiments, or the way engineers come up with a particular design or a solution to an engineering problem. I believe we are in the infancy of a this data-driven era. This is very exciting as it will certainly provide ways to solve many of our current problems, but it will also bring to us just as many other fascinating questions to tackle. In fact, I believe the new BME 2.0 program is aiming for this very same point–training our engineers to identify and solve the new and most important problems in biomedical engineering–indeed, engineering the future of medicine–and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

June 25, 2019

Drug crystals to prevent medical device fibrosis

Implanted medical devices can save lives, but can also put patients at the risk of fibrosis, a condition in which the immune system attacks the device and produces scar tissue around it, interfering with the device’s functionality.

Working with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joshua Doloff, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University and former MIT postdoc, has devised a new way to prevent fibrosis: loading implantable devices with a crystallized immunosuppressant drug, which is slowly released into the patient’s system, inhibiting the immune response in the area surrounding the device.

“The drug crystal formulations allowed for tightly controlled, local, and long-term release to the point where we don’t really see any drug in global serum or plasma levels beyond the first few days, eliminating the possibility of side effects in other tissues of the body,” said Doloff.

In a paper published in a recent issue of Nature Materials, the researchers showed that this coating could dramatically improve the performance of encapsulated islet cells, which they are developing as a possible treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes. Encapsulated islet cells are special primary tissue or stem cell-derived grafts that are enclosed in a protective capsule before being implanted in the body with the purpose of eventually producing insulin.

Doloff’s team believes that such strategies also could be applied to a variety of other implantable medical devices, including pacemakers, stents, or sensors, the last of which was demonstrated in practice in the study.

“We showed that the drugs released very slowly and in a controlled fashion,” says Shady Farah, an MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital postdoc and co-first author of the paper. “We took those crystals and put them in different types of devices and showed that with the help of those crystals, we can allow the medical device to be protected for a long time, allowing the device to keep functioning.” Farah will soon serve as an assistant professor of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Doloff and Farah are working on ways to encapsulate islet cells and transplant them into diabetic patients, in hopes that such cells could replace the patients’ nonfunctioning pancreatic cells and eliminate the need for daily insulin injections.

Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), is the senior author of the paper. 

June 21, 2019

Hopkins BME senior awarded Astronaut Scholarship for second year in a row

For the second year in a row, Vinay Ayyappan, a rising senior in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, has been awarded an Astronaut Scholarship, which recognizes talented students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. He is among 52 students from 38 universities to be awarded the scholarship this year.

Established in 1984, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation supports students who pursue scientific education to keep America a leader in technology. The scholarship was founded by a group of astronauts—Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton—who were test pilots when NASA recruited them for space missions in 1959.

Recipients of the award are given a $10,000 scholarship, a paid trip to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s Innovators Weekend in the fall, and the opportunity to network with fellow scholar alumni and with the founding astronauts themselves.

“It’s incredibly humbling,” Ayyappan said. “The competition is so fierce, that to be selected again is an honor.”

During his time at Hopkins, Ayyappan has worked on the molecular imaging of cancer and helped develop biomedical devices to improve breast biopsy procedures in low-resource settings.

Ayyappan said he is currently most interested in imaging and systems biology, and is looking to pursue his MD and PhD following graduation.

Along with Ayyappan, Kathy Le, a rising senior biophysics major at Johns Hopkins, was also named an Astronaut Scholar. Read the full story on the Hub.

June 18, 2019

Meet Tim Harris, research professor of BME

Tim Harris joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering as a research professor in April 2018. Harris leads the Applied Physics and Instrumentation Group at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus, and is the originator of the project that produced the Neuropixels Si probe for extra cellular recording in animals, mostly mice and rats. Now sharing his time between Janelia and Johns Hopkins, Harris will pursue this thread to produce a more advanced technology.

In this interview, Harris discusses his experience working for Janelia, his interest in neuroscience, and the secret to success in industry.

What is it like working for Janelia?

It’s a unique experience. It’s quite small, compared to a place like Hopkins. There are only 400 or so scientists, so almost everyone knows each other. It has a narrow mission and no interest in making money. I used to tell people that I work for a charity where my job is to create things and then give them away.

Janelia does not have an education mission or a product mission. It has a knowledge mission. Scientists make tools that everyone can use, and the tools they develop are imaging-at-large, mostly for cell biology but also for neuroscience. The tools that I work on are directed either as imaging resources of general utility with the life sciences, or as tools designed to enhance circuit neuroscience studies. Sometimes both.

How do you identify which projects you want to work on?

I listen to my colleagues. I arrived at Janelia without any special neuroscience knowledge, and was on a team whose mission was to make things important to the people in that building. If they are important to the people in our building, they’ll be important to lots of other people as well.

What can you tell me about your career and research findings so far?

I was trained as a physical scientist and I built instruments my whole life. Physical scientists have a different relationship with instruments than biologists do. Physical scientists will tell you what they want to know, while neuroscientists will tell you what they want to do.

What makes you excited to get into biomedical engineering?

What I find intrinsically interesting is how to measure things. I was attracted to Janelia because its projects solve measurement problems. I thought getting into neuroscience would be a good fit for me because neuroscientists measure things all the time. My mission is to exercise my broad literacy and my intrinsic interest in measurements to figure out how to do stuff. Hopkins BME has a broad neuroscience community and it’s the most logical place for me to be.

What would you like to accomplish next?

I would like to write a research grant to improve irrational exuberance for neuropixels. What we have now is great inside the brain, but what’s outside the brain is clunky. We need to effectively make that go away so people can record the whole brain. That doesn’t mean we need to record every neuron, because there would be no brain left. We need to adequately sample all over.

What advice would you give to current students?

 If you want to get into industry, you need to be able to learn enough about a product to ask the right questions early. Don’t be afraid to appear ignorant. Would you rather look ignorant or be ignorant? That’s an easy choice for me. That concept has lasted through my whole life, and that’s how I do things.

June 17, 2019

Seven from BME receive Johns Hopkins Discovery Awards

Johns Hopkins University announced 32 multidisciplinary endeavors that have been selected to receive support this year from the JHU Discovery Awards program. Seven faculty from the Department of Biomedical Engineering are part of those endeavors.

Each project team includes members of at least two JHU divisions or other entities who aim to solve a complex problem and expand the horizons of knowledge. Altogether, the winning project teams—chosen from a record 222 proposals—include 120 individuals representing 12 Johns Hopkins entities.

“This year’s proposals attested to the intellectual creativity and collaborative spirit of our university,” says Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University. “With these awards, faculty will have the freedom to pursue new avenues for discovery with colleagues across our community and to take up the most pressing questions we face as a society.”

The Discovery Awards are intended to spark new interactions among investigators across the university rather than to support established projects. Teams can apply for up to $100,000 to explore a new area of collaborative work, with special emphasis on preparing for an externally funded large-scale grant or cooperative agreement.

The record pool of applications also required the highest number of reviewers used to date: more than 90 faculty members from across the university were called upon for their input.

Awarded projects that involve biomedical engineering faculty include:

A Novel Method of High Flow Portable Oxygen SupplementationSoumyadipta Acharya (Engineering) & Sonye Danoff (Medicine)

A Platform for Brain-scale Imaging and Patterned Optogenetics at Cellular Resolution– Kishore Kuchibhotla (Arts & Sciences), Joshua Vogelstein, (Engineering) & Patricia Janak (Arts & Sciences and Medicine)

Brain Light: Brain Wide Reconstruction of Neuronal Circuitry– Ulrich Mueller (Medicine and Arts & Sciences) & Michael Miller (Engineering)

Deep “X-map” for Acute Ischemic Stroke– Katsuyuki Taguchi (Medicine), Jerry L. Prince (Engineering), Nafi Aygun (Medicine), Ferdinand Hui (Medicine), Steven R. Zeiler (Medicine), Meiyappan Solaiyappan (Medicine) & Jeffrey H. Siewerdsen (Medicine)

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Regulation of Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocyte Maturation– Chulan Kwon (Medicine), Hai-Quan Mao (Engineering) & Leslie Tung (Medicine)

Integrative Systems Biology Approach to Decipher Novel Protective Mechanisms Against Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular DiseaseAlexis Battle (Engineering), Marios Arvanitis (Medicine), Emily Brown (Medicine), Stephen Chelko (Medicine), Steven Jones (Medicine) & Thorsten Leucker (Medicine)

Novel Techniques for Early Diagnosis and Monitoring of Organ Dysfunction in Critically Ill Children– Melania Bembea (Medicine) & Raimond Winslow (Engineering)

“These new collaborations exemplify the impressive work being done at Hopkins,” says Denis Wirtz, vice provost for research. “I appreciate our numerous researchers for submitting such brilliant projects, and I look forward to seeing the results unfold. These awards would not be possible without the continued support of university leadership and the reviewers’ guidance.”

The full list of recipients and descriptions of their projects is available on the Office of Research website.

June 10, 2019

Trayanova to join the International Women in Technology Hall of Fame

Natalia Trayanova, the Murray B. Sachs Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the co-director of ADVANCE (the Alliance for Cardiovascular Diagnostic and Treatment Innovation), and a member of the Institute for Computational Medicine, will be inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in a ceremony on June 10, 2019.

The WITI Hall of Fame was established in 1996 to recognize, honor, and promote the outstanding contributions women make to the scientific and technological communities that improve society. Each year, five women are selected from around the world to receive this honor, and Trayanova now joins the ranks of other scientists, engineers, and CEOs whose exceptional contributions to advancing their fields of inquiry have made an impact on society.

“We launched the Women in Technology Hall of Fame in 1996 – at a time when there were no platforms showcasing the contributions of women in technology,” said Carolyn Leighton, chairwoman and founder of WITI. “Since then, more than 100 exceptional women have been selected for this award. These Women in Technology Hall of Fame inductees inspire future generations to reach higher, push boundaries, and create breakthroughs that will positively impact our future.”

Trayanova has pioneered the use of 3-D virtual heart models that are personalized using data from individual patients with ventricular or atrial fibrillation, two types of irregular heartbeats. With these heart replicas, Trayanova and her clinical collaborators are able to predict who is at risk for sudden death or stroke from ventricular or atrial fibrillation, as well as determine the optimal patient-specific treatments for these disorders.

Earlier this year, the FDA approved Trayanova’s 160-patient randomized clinical trial, the first of its kind to demonstrate the utility of computer simulations in driving atrial ablation procedures for patients with persistent atrial fibrillation and fibrosis.

By leveraging innovations in cardiac imaging, computer simulations, and data science, Trayanova’s research is aimed at eliminating much of the guesswork involved in the diagnosis of cardiac disease, simplifying the lengthy and invasive cardiac mapping process, reducing the complications associated with treatment, and improving patient outcomes.

“I am deeply honored and excited to receive this recognition. I am humbled to be in the company of four other amazing women, whose contributions have profoundly affected science and technology, and who are leaders in their fields,” said Trayanova. “While I have always strived to be a role model for female scientists and trainees, being inducted into the WITI Hall of Fame sharpens this responsibility to empower women to pursue and advance careers in the STEM fields, and to further societal change to end the disproportionate representation of women in these wide-reaching and important areas. Through these actions, we can bring about a more inclusive and gender-equal world.”

Trayanova joins the WITI Hall of Fame with Heather Hinton, distinguished engineer at IBM; Julia Liuson, corporate vice president of Developer Tools at Microsoft; Sara Rushinek, professor of Business Technology & Health Informatics at the University of Miami; and Blanca Treviño, president and CEO at Softtek.

June 8, 2019

Meet Joshua Doloff, assistant professor of BME

Joshua Doloff joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering as an assistant professor in November 2018. In this interview, Doloff, who has an interest in technology and biology, describes his eagerness to build research collaborations and provide mentorship to students. He also discusses his “eureka moments,” the research he plans to conduct at Hopkins, and the future of engineering.

What made you pursue a career in engineering?

As a child, I was always drawn to the technical side of things, from pulling apart gadgets to wondering about internal componentry. In addition, having a twin brother and being curious about various biological concepts (the simplest being nature vs. nurture), led me to dabble in anatomy, physiology, and AP biology classes in high school. Over time, it become clear that I was interested in the intersection between technology and living systems, so focusing on biomedical engineering was a natural fit.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins BME, and what are you looking forward to most?

The status, history, and community of Hopkins BME speak for themselves. It was an honor to be invited to join such a prestigious and accomplished organization. I am looking forward to forming research collaborations, not only within Hopkins BME, but also within the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital. This, of course, includes scholarship and the ability to give back in the form of education and mentorship to the student body.

Can you give me a brief overview of your current research?

My research will focus on systematically breaking down how the body’s immune system works in various capacities such as cancer, autoimmunity (i.e. type 1 diabetes), and transplantation/regenerative medicine, in order to immunoengineer new therapeutic solutions.

Have you ever experienced a “eureka moment?”

That’s a great question. I think I have had two. The first “eureka moment” occurred during my PhD work in the realm of cancer immunology. We realized that by changing the way a chemotherapeutic agent, even one that was deemed immunosuppressive by traditional clinical standards, was administered, one could instead engage the body’s own immune system to repeatedly attack a tumor. The second “eureka moment” happened during my postdoc, when I helped our team identify the core required immunobiology as well as associated next-generation drug targets involved in immune-mediated rejection of large biomedical device implant systems. More so, work with an amazing friend, colleague, and chemist, allowed us to take compounds identified in that screen and package them as large crystalline monoliths for localized, targeted, and long-term controlled drug release for a period of many months to years.

What do you consider your biggest research accomplishment so far?

The two “eureka moments” I mentioned were great accomplishments. Also, the related opportunity of helping to develop a number of important biocompatibility technologies, which have been licensed by a recent lab startup. It is our hope that they will soon lead to realized improvements in patients’ lives.

What impact would you like your work to have?

Everyone loves to tinker and explore their own curiosities, and I am no exception. I’ve always perceived doing so, however, as a more personal and perhaps even somewhat selfish act of taking from society around us. As I’ve progressed through my own educational process over time, my urge to give back to others just as I’ve received from my own mentors has grown. Ultimately, I would love my work to benefit others, whether it be to improve patient care or to pay it forward in helping another find their passion and calling in life.

Do you have any career advice to offer to current students?

Screen out the noise. Follow your own path and passions, despite what society and others tell or try to dictate to you. Knowing what will truly make you passionate and happy isn’t always obvious, and can change as we grow. While the unknown can be scary, the best way to find one’s calling is to be open to trial and error, and test multiple possibilities. You’ll naturally gain clarity, whittling down and refining over time.

What do you enjoy doing outside the lab?

Many things. Not only to maintain mental and physical acuity, but to also explore the unknown, both in terms of what I’m capable of, as well as the world around us.

What does the future of engineering look like to you?

Modern technology is bleeding into science in ways we never would have predicted years ago, and such will be the case tomorrow and the day after. The unknown and yet untapped potential is sitting just in front of us all the time. Can you see it? I can, and it’s wonderful.