October 9, 2018

Two biomedical engineering graduate students named Siebel Scholars

Two Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering students were recently named Siebel Scholars for 2019, an annual award that recognizes nearly 100 of the top graduate students from universities across the nation who are studying in the fields of business, bioengineering, computer science, and energy science.

Siebel Scholars are selected for their outstanding academic performance and demonstrated leadership, and they receive a $35,000 award toward their final year of studies. Since its founding in 2000, the Siebel Scholarship has been awarded to 50 Johns Hopkins graduate students.

“Our Siebel Scholars embody the spirit of investigation and leadership that marks a Johns Hopkins University engineering graduate student,” says Ed Schlesinger, dean of the university’s Whiting School of Engineering. “They have demonstrated a commitment to science and innovation, and a dedication to instructing and mentoring others. We are proud of their many accomplishments.”

The winners from the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering are:

John Hickey

Hickey, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has received numerous awards, including a $25,000 grant to commercialize his research and $20,000 from the Johns Hopkins Idea Lab competition to implement public health campaigns in Baltimore. He is vice president of the nonprofit MEP and created the mobile app T-crunch to increase student feedback in academic classes. He has received NIH, NSF, and ARCS Fellowships to engineer biomaterial artificial lymph nodes and cells for immunotherapy.

Passionate about teaching and community outreach, Hickey created and taught three undergraduate and masters-level immunoengineering courses at Towson University and served as a teaching-as-research fellow. He mentored 12 students, and together they produced eight publications and 31 presentations with multiple research awards.

Luke Osborn

Osborn graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas before joining Johns Hopkins to study biomedical engineering. As a PhD student under the mentorship of Nitish Thakor, Osborn has developed multilayered tactile sensors for prosthetic hands and demonstrated the ability to provide sensations of touch and pain to amputees using noninvasive nerve stimulation.

He has authored nine peer-reviewed papers, including a book chapter and paper in Science Robotics. He’s mentored 23 undergraduate and three high school students and has held numerous leadership positions at Johns Hopkins including biomedical engineering MSE Council president, PhD Council vice president, and president and race director of the JHU Cycling Team.

Other winners from Johns Hopkins include Farshid Alambeigi (mechanical engineering), Ehsan Azimi, (computer science), and Javad Fotouhi (computer science).

Excerpted from the Hub.

October 3, 2018

Do Robot Swarms Work Like Brains?

A new study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (SOM) and Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) will combine research into navigational planning in brains with autonomous robotic swarms to drive advances in both fields.

“This is a very exciting new project from the perspective of a theorist and computational neuroscientist,” said Kechen Zhang, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and the study’s principal investigator. “We propose that individual robots in a group can be thought of as neurons in an animal’s brain. They interact with one another to form dynamic patterns that collectively signal locations in space and time, much in the same way brain rhythms do.”

The study (abstract) will use new information and discoveries about how the brain allows an animal to navigate and change its routes while moving — called dynamic replanning — to improve swarming algorithms to the point that groups of robots will automatically adapt to changes in the environment in the same way that a rat knows which detour to take around an unexpected obstacle. In turn, the neuroscientists will examine the replanning behaviors of drone swarms to evaluate their models of how the rodent brain dynamically replans paths, which will lead to new avenues for neuroscience research.

In this movie, the rodent is stationary at a position on the left side of the lower video. A series of sharp waves (top video) are emitted by the rodent’s brain that generate sequences of spatially decoded locations. These decoded locations are represented by the traveling “hot spot” in the lower video, and show how the rat targets a goal or location to which it is considering moving. The goal location is shown as a square grid on the right side of the lower image.Credit: Joseph Monaco/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Zhang will work with a multidisciplinary team of co-principal investigators from APL, including applied mathematician Kevin Schultz, neuroscientist Grace Hwang, robotics researcher Robert Chalmers and STEM program manager Dwight Carr. Joseph Monaco, a postdoctoral biomedical engineering fellow at SOM, is a theoretical modeler on the study. The project was one of 18 funded in September by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct innovative research on neural and cognitive systems.

The study’s genesis began in November 2017, when APL’s Hwang came upon a poster by Zhang and Monaco, based on data from a UCLA collaborator, at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. The poster described their work with a type of neuron they had discovered and named a “phaser cell,” surprisingly found outside the hippocampus in a deep, centrally located region of the brain. Zhang and Monaco theorized that these neurons are critical to how the brain maintains its sense of location during spatial navigation; an animal’s brain uses spike timing patterns in the electrical activity of these neurons (called phase) to determine its specific location in space. Hwang, a neuroscientist with an interest in brain-inspired robotics, noted that unlike other neurons used in spatial perception, phaser cells create a phase map of the environment that is absolute (oriented to fixed directions such as north and south), not relative (i.e., “on my left”).

“That was the big ‘a-ha’ moment for me,” said Hwang, “because both the phaser cells and some robotic control algorithms use phase to determine location. For the first time, I saw a way to create a cognitive map of the entire environment using phase.”

Soon after that meeting, Hwang — who works in the Laboratory’s Intelligent Systems Center — was awarded APL internal research and development funding for an idea to develop brain-inspired small robots for GPS-denied areas. That proposal grew to include applied mathematicians Clare Lau and Schultz, and robotics researchers Chalmers and Bryanna Yeh. “We have neuroscientists here in the Intelligent Systems Center who collaborate with artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists,” said Chalmers. “And APL has an amazing hardware history in swarming vehicles. This is exactly the kind of cross-discipline collaboration the Center is designed to encourage.”

In early 2018, the project was awarded expanded R&D funding; encouraging simulations produced by Hwang and Schultz from that study led Zhang and the APL team to submit their proposal, “Spatial Intelligence for Swarms Based on Hippocampal Dynamics,” for an NSF grant. The key realization of the NSF proposal was the need to include an additional emergent phenomenon that occurs in the hippocampus, called sharp waves, that has been hypothesized to contribute to navigational planning in mammals. (Additionally, a new, related project led by Hwang has also received additional R&D funding from APL.)

The project also includes development of “Swarming Powered by Neuroscience,” a 16-hour micro-seminar for high school students that will be designed and operated by APL’s STEM Office. Robot swarms will be used to teach students about neuroscience, and the content will eventually be transformed into a course at APL’s STEM Academy.

The team envisions that this new approach to navigation will enable the kinds of tasks that society will be increasingly asking robots to perform — disaster relief and search and rescue, in addition to research and defense applications. These tasks require improved and more intelligent spatial coordination among many robots spread over large geographical areas. The team hopes that their research will create a revolutionary algorithmic framework for autonomous behaviors in swarming, as well as informing theoretical advances in understanding the brain. “What we hope to achieve is a more elegant way of expressing swarming behaviors,” Chalmers said.

“I have been at Hopkins for over 15 years, and this is my first collaboration with APL at the intersection of neuroscience and robotics,” said Zhang. “I look forward to a fruitful collaboration at the interplay of neuroscience, engineering and robotics that will find brain-inspired solutions to controlling distributed groups of robotic agents.”

October 2, 2018

Paging the ‘Surgineer’

Advances in high-precision surgery have been enabled by 3-D imaging, navigation and robotics. In neurosurgery, for example, such innovations are now standard of care, with emerging approaches such as magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound and laser interstitial thermal therapy. Similarly, in spine surgery, intraoperative 3-D imaging and navigation are increasingly common, and several robotic assistants have emerged in the last year.

The pace of technology integration—or more often, conglomeration—in the OR is expanding, with researchers looking to orthopaedic, urologic, gynecologic, thoracic, cardiac and otolaryngologic surgery as new frontiers that would benefit from advanced imaging, computer vision and robotics. Moreover, the decade ahead signals a major intersection of data science and surgery, in which information is continuously curated and analyzed to identify factors underlying poor outcomes and help guide optimal treatment.

Advances in surgical technology have been and will be integral to success, but the complexity of intervention increases in proportion to the density of technologies conglomerating about the treatment process. At some point, the complexity is unsustainable: The proportionality exceeds human capacity, workflow is broken, information is discarded and shortcuts—or errors—are made. The complexity conundrum is not unique to medical intervention. Cellphones, cars, airplanes and a surprising array of systems with which we interact every day operate upon complex underpinnings. But the complexity has been buried.

In the decade ahead, the partnership of surgery and engineering will be tasked with a challenge greater than that of geometric precision: to bury the complexity of technologies in the OR, streamline systems to the point of invisibility, broaden their applicability in the mainstream, and enable the continuous capture, curation and learning from each intervention to the benefit of the next.

Such partnership will require a new kind of engineer: a surgineer. Beyond expertise in math, computing, physics and physiology, which are foundational to biomedical engineering, the surgineer will require a systems view of the interventional process. Beyond contributing another gadget to the arsenal, the surgineer will innovate in ways that bury complexity in the OR and enable technological advances without paralyzing workflow. Beyond measurements and monitoring, the surgineer will help to transform the OR into an environment of continuous quality assurance, data capture, learning, prediction and adaptation.

Such expertise within the circle of care is not without precedent. Physicists have been integral to the practice of radiology and radiation oncology for a century—not only in the development of new systems but also in daily clinical care—and they have helped to position these fields well in burgeoning areas of data science and precision medicine. A surgineer holds similar promise for routine delivery of advanced surgical techniques and building a foundation for surgical data science.

The surgineers are coming—and some are among us already. This fall semester, we launched a new course, called Surgery for Engineers, which is open to master’s students in the Whiting School of Engineering and doctoral students in the school of medicine. In the first week of class, engineers learned the basics of suturing, cautery and wound closure. They learned to scrub in. They learned to tell a Kelly from a mosquito. They were introduced to the anesthesia cart, practiced biopsies and used endoscopes. They studied techniques ranging from mainstream to cutting edge, and they will soon suit up and head to the clinic.

In 2019, the strongest students will be matched with clinical collaborators for a semesterlong course—Surgineering—in which they will embed in the circle of care at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Under clinical mentorship, they will bring perspectives of systems engineering and data science to the clinical theater. Their goal is not to add to the surgical arsenal. Rather, it is to help transform the arsenal into a system of seamless integration: to bury complexity, facilitate mainstream adoption of advanced techniques and help position surgery for the era of data science in medicine.

–Jeff Siewerdsen

Jeff Siewerdsen is John C. Malone Professor of Biomedical Engineering and co-director of the Carnegie Center for Surgical Innovation at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

This article first appeared in HopkinsMedicine.

September 25, 2018

Identical driver gene mutations found in metastatic cancers

Driver genes in different metastases from the same patient are remarkably similar, providing optimism for the success of future targeted therapies, according to a published study by Science.

The report, “Minimal Functional Driver Gene Heterogeneity Among Untreated Metastases,” looked at data from samples that have spread from the site of origin to another part of the body in 20 patients with breast, colorectal, endometrial, gastric, lung melanoma, pancreatic or prostate cancers. The researchers found within individual patients, driver gene mutations were common to all metastatic deposits.

Bert Vogelstein, M.D., and Kenneth Kinzler, Ph.D., co-directors of the Ludwig Center at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, and Rachel Karchin, Ph.D., from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Computational Medicine, were involved in this study.Vogelstein noted that though there are thousands of mutations in every tumor, the only ones that matter are driver genes.

“If the driver gene mutations in different metastatic lesions from the same patient were heterogeneous, there would be little hope for new targeted therapies to induce clinically important remissions or cures,” Vogelstein said.

“Such therapies would shrink only a subset of the metastatic lesions, and the rest would continue to grow unabated.  Fortunately, this does not appear to be the case, providing optimism for the success of future targeted therapies, particularly when combinations of such therapies can be used.”

Driver gene mutations can be captured in single biopsies, providing essential information for therapeutic decision making.

“If numerous biopsies from different parts of the tumor were always required to capture this information, the task for the clinician and the discomfort to the patient would be much more challenging,” Vogelstein said.

The authors noted that it will be critical to extend this analysis to larger groups of patients and more cancer types to investigate whether minimal driver gene mutation heterogeneity is a general phenomenon of advanced disease.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, Harvard University, and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center were involved in the study and included Johannes Reiter, Alvin Makohon-Moore. Jeffrey Gerold, Alexander Heyde, Marc Attiyeh, Zachary Kohutek, Collin Tokheim, Alexia Brown, Rayne DeBlasio, Juliana Niyazov, Amanda Zucker, Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue and Martin Nowak.

September 21, 2018

Biomedical engineering undergraduates win 2018 DEBUT Design Challenge

A team of undergraduate students studying biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University took home the top prize at the 2018 DEBUT Design Challenge, which recognizes promising students and their work in biomedical design and innovation.

Winning teams were evaluated on the significance of the problem being addressed, the impact on potential users and clinical care, the innovation of the design, and the creation of a working prototype.

Team CortiTech earned first place and $20,000 for its minimally invasive brain retractor, Radiex, which provides safer surgical access to deep-seated brain lesions. The device’s rounded design distributes force around a small circular opening, creating a corridor that allows surgeons to reach the problem area with minimal damage to the brain. By radially displacing brain tissue in hard-to-reach areas, the device improves surgeons’ ability to safely and effectively treat conditions such as tumors, blood clots, and aneurysms, leading to better patient outcomes.

“The team has been working extremely hard, spending countless hours in the BME Design Studio. The device is always on our minds,” said current team leader and fourth-year biomedical engineering student Jack Ye.

CortiTech formed by Rohith Bhethanabotla ’18 in March 2017 through the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s undergraduate Design Team program. After observing and interviewing physicians at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the team identified a pressing clinical need for new ways to minimize trauma during neurosurgical procedures. The students spent the school year developing and prototyping their device to address this need, supported by faculty mentor Amir Manbachi, assistant research professor, and clinical mentors Alan Cohen, director of pediatric neurosurgery, and Rajiv Iyer, chief resident of neurosurgery. Practical feedback from Cohen and Iyer allowed the team to maximize the effectiveness of the Radiex prototype in the operating room.

“As one of the team’s coaches, I am proud of what CortiTech has achieved,” said Manbachi. “Our students are some of the best in the nation and this award is a testament to their ability to solve real-world problems, proposed by top-notch surgeons.”

The team continues to improve their design and plans to apply its winnings toward upcoming legal and regulatory milestones. Prizes will be awarded at the annual Biomedical Engineering Society conference in October.

In addition to Ye, CortiTech’s team members include Linh Tran, Sun Jay Yoo, Jody Mou, and Kevin Tu. Bhethanabotla and Callie Deng ’18 serve as graduate advisors for the team.

The DEBUT Design Challenge is managed by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and VentureWell, a non-profit that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions.

September 12, 2018

3D virtual simulation gets to the ‘heart’ of irregular heartbeats

In a proof of concept study, scientists at Johns Hopkins report they have successfully performed 3D personalized virtual simulations of the heart to accurately identify where cardiac specialists should electrically destroy cardiac tissue to stop potentially fatal irregular and rapid heartbeats in patients with scarring in the heart. The retrospective analysis of 21 patients and prospective study of five patients with ventricular tachycardia, the researchers say, demonstrate that 3D simulation-guided procedures are worthy of expanded clinical trials.

Results of the study are described in the Sept. 3 issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering.

“Cardiac ablation, or the destruction of tissue to stop errant electrical impulses, has been somewhat successful but hampered by a lot of guesswork and variability in the way that physicians figure out which locations to zap with a catheter,” says Natalia Trayanova, the Murray B. Sachs Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University’s schools of Engineering and Medicine. “Our new study results suggest we can remove a lot of the guesswork, standardize treatment and decrease the variability in outcomes, so that patients remain free of arrhythmia in the long term,” she adds.

When a normal heart contracts to pump blood throughout the body, a wave of electrical signals flows through the heart, stimulating each cardiac cell to contract—one after the other—in a normal rhythm. After the heart contracts, it relaxes and refills with blood.

In people with ventricular tachycardia, the electrical signals in the heart’s lower chambers misfire and get stuck within the fist-size organ, crippling the relaxation and refilling process and producing rapid and irregular pulses—or arrhythmias—linked to an estimated 300,000 sudden cardiac deaths in the United States each year.

Numerous drugs are available to treat and manage so-called infarct-related ventricular tachycardia, but side effects and limitations of the drugs have increased focus on other interventions, especially the potential of cardiac ablation that essentially “rewires” the electrical signaling that gives rise to the arrhythmias. Trayanova says current estimates indicate that cardiac ablation is successful anywhere between 50 and 88 percent of the time, but outcomes are difficult to predict.

To perform a traditional ablation, doctors thread a catheter through blood vessels to reach the heart, and use radiofrequency waves to destroy regions in the heart tissue believed to sustain and propagate erratic electrical waves. Mapping of the heart’s electrical functioning with a catheter is used to locate likely problem areas, but as Trayanova notes, precise pinpointing of those tissues has been a challenge.

In a bid to locate arrhythmias more precisely, Trayanova and her research team developed 3D personalized computational models of patients’ hearts based on contrast-enhanced clinical MRI images. Each heart tissue cell in the model generates electrical signals with the aid of mathematical equations representing how heart cells behave when they are healthy, or when they are semi-viable when near the scar. By poking the patient’s virtual heart with small electrical signals in different locations, the computer program then determines whether the heart develops an arrhythmia and the location of the tissue that perpetuates it. Using the model, Trayanova then simulates an ablation to that area of the heart and runs the computer program repeatedly to find multiple locations that doctors should ablate on the actual patient.

Among the experiments in the current study, Trayanova and her team used MRI images to create personalized heart models of 21 people who previously had successful cardiac ablation procedures for infarct-related ventricular tachycardia at The Johns Hopkins Hospital between 2006 and 2017. The 3D modeling of these patients correctly identified and predicted the locations where physicians ablated heart tissue. In five patients, the amount of ablated tissue identified by the 3D model was smaller overall—in some cases, more than 10 times smaller—than the area that was destroyed during the patients’ procedures.

Next, the research team tested the 3D simulation to guide cardiac ablation treatments for three patients with ventricular tachycardia at the University of Utah and two patients at the University of Pennsylvania. Two patients who received the simulation-guided ablation procedure have remained free of tachycardia throughout follow-up periods of 23 and 21 months. One patient who had the simulation procedure remained free of tachycardia after two months of follow up. In two patients, the virtual heart approach predicted that tachycardias would not be inducible — this was confirmed during the clinical procedure, so cardiac ablation was not performed.

With this prospective test, the research team demonstrated the feasibility of integrating a computer-simulated prediction into the clinical routine. The patient is scanned approximately 24 hours or less before the procedure. Then, the simulation is created and a prediction is made of where physicians should perform the ablation. Finally, the predicted set of ablation targets is imported into the mapping system before the patient’s procedure so that the ablation catheter is navigated directly to the predicted targets.

The study represents the first attempt to incorporate personalized simulation predictions as part of anti-arrhythmia treatment. The researchers believe that implementing these predictions will cut down the lengthy and invasive cardiac mapping process and reduce complications experienced by patients. The technology could also reduce the need for repeat procedures through its ability to make the infarcted heart incapable of creating new arrhythmias.

“It’s an exciting blend of engineering and medicine,” says Trayanova.

“One of the main challenges of catheter ablation is that we are performing procedures on very sick patients with advanced heart disease who have multiple areas in their heart that could sustain arrhythmias,” says Jonathan Chrispin, M.D., Robert E. Meyerhoff Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who will lead the clinical trials of this technology. “We are excited to begin testing Trayanova’s approach in a prospective clinical trial. We are hopeful that it can help us achieve our overarching goal of improving quality of life for patients suffering from treatment-resistant ventricular tachycardia.”

Trayanova says the results of a clinical trial are needed to validate the promise of personalized simulation guidance for infarct-related ablation treatments. Further clinical study planned at Johns Hopkins was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration under an investigational device exemption.

In addition to Trayanova, other scientists who conducted the experiments and clinical studies and contributed to the research include Adityo Prakosa, Hermenegild Arevalo, Dongdong Deng, Patrick Boyle, Plamen Nikolov, Hiroshi Ashikaga, Carolyn Park, Henry Halperin, Robert Blake III and Jonathan Chrispin from Johns Hopkins; Joshua Blauer, Elyar Ghafoori, Rob MacLeod, Frederick Han and Ravi Ranjan from the University of Utah; and David Callans and Saman Nazarian from the University of Pennsylvania.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Director’s Pioneer Award (DP1-HL123271).

September 10, 2018

Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Program Ranked #1 in Nation

The Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering earned the nation’s top spot once again in the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of “Best Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Programs” for 2019, announced today. Founded in 1961, the department is among the oldest BME departments in the world, and has been consistently recognized as the discipline’s leading program since U.S. News began ranking colleges and universities in the 1990s. The department also earned 2019’s #1 spot for graduate programs in biomedical engineering.

Last year, the department announced BME 2.0, a next-generation undergraduate curriculum designed to provide a vertically integrated program of research, design, and hands-on, project-based learning opportunities for students. Under BME 2.0, students specialize in one of six focus areas, driven by the department’s cutting-edge research discoveries in biomedical data science, regenerative and immune engineering, neuroengineering, and more.

“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized as the #1 undergraduate program in the country,” said Michael I. Miller, the Bessie Darling Massey Professor and Director of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “This ranking is a reflection of our faculty’s commitment, not only to their pioneering research programs, but to the success of our students. Our undergraduates are the best and brightest in the nation, and we are dedicated to giving them the best possible educational experience so that they will thrive as the leaders of tomorrow.”

Johns Hopkins University was tied for No. 10 in U.S News’ overall rankings of colleges and universities. Read more here.

August 9, 2018

BME students identify global health needs by traveling to clinics in Brazil, China, India, and Uganda

For graduate students studying biodesign in the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design at Johns Hopkins University, the ultimate goal is to develop new medical technologies that will improve the lives of patients around the world. Each summer, these students form teams and travel abroad, working side by side with primary care providers in some of the world’s most underserved communities. Through immersion in the field, students experience firsthand the unique challenges associated with patient care in low-resource environments, allowing them to design solutions that overcome these barriers.

During their month abroad, CBID student teams observe hospital procedures, interview health care providers, and interact with local residents to understand the pressing clinical needs of the community. After returning to the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Baltimore, the teams spend the remainder of the school year designing, prototyping, and building solutions to the global health challenges they identify during their travels.

This summer, CBID students are:

  • studying infectious disease control in Brazil
  • examining the diagnosis and treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in China
  • learning about ophthalmology and equitable eyecare in India
  • empowering mothers to identify neonatal illness in Uganda and Bangladesh

Read the teams’ blogs, linked above, to follow their journeys and discover what it takes to design the next generation of health care solutions.

August 6, 2018

A New Wave of BioTech Workers

The BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, Inc. (BTI) provides tuition-free training to high school graduates in Baltimore City. Johns Hopkins is one of the 25 organizations that provide hands-on experience for their interns, so they can go on to pursue careers in in-demand biotech jobs.

David Maestas, a Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering Ph.D. student, has trained five BTI students in his lab, where he studies regenerative medicine.

He says mentoring interns through the BTI program allows him to give back to the community while getting extra help in his lab. “I came across BTI from an internet search. In the beginning, I thought that I was going to start from ground zero with training them, but I quickly realized these people are well-trained before they get here,” said Maestas.

That’s because they go through a nine-week program that combines classroom instruction and hands-on training in laboratory basics, such as how to grow and harvest cells, the basics of molecular biology, clean room gowning and properly disposing of biohazardous waste.

Margaret “Sue” Penno of the Johns Hopkins Genetic Resources biorepository and All Children’s Hospital biorepository founded BTI 20 years ago. Kathleen Weiss, executive director of BTI, says the institute has lifted economic and social barriers to meaningful careers for hundreds of Baltimore area residents. “We have people who come to us at a level of skill that needs upgrading and we are here to do that,” she says, “You learn best when you do and when you perform. You put on the goggles and lab coat. You are a professional.”

Students complete the program with a paid internship of up to 400 hours, which serves as a capstone, and Maestas says he is ready to take on more interns. “I can only spend so much time myself at the lab bench, organizing, labeling and running things on machines,” said Maestas. “Having the interns here to help has been a huge boost for our research.”

Weiss says the hope is that the internships lead to permanent employment. To date, about 375 program graduates have filled lab technician jobs in scores of universities, hospitals and life science companies. Johns Hopkins alone employs 25 percent of program alumni.

Weiss recalls one of her students who came to BTI homeless and living in emergency housing. After graduating from BTI, she accepted a lab position at an emerging local biotechnology company, all the while pursuing her bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree. She is now working at a senior level for an international life sciences firm, has become a homeowner and is contemplating a Ph.D.

Maestas wants his Johns Hopkins colleagues to know that hiring a BTI intern is a win-win opportunity. “The interns are sincere, enthusiastic and dedicated to learning new things,” he said. “It provides experience and mentoring for people in the local community who you can trust with your experiments. What’s better than that?”

This article originally appeared on Johns Hopkins Medicine.

July 31, 2018

Johns Hopkins BME partners with world’s top engineering school

The Johns Hopkins University’s top-ranked Department of Biomedical Engineering has entered into an international partnership with the world’s No. 1 engineering school, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, to give master’s level students the opportunity to earn graduate degrees from both institutions.

The Tsinghua JHU-BME Dual Degree MS program, finalized in May 2018, marks the first academic collaboration between Johns Hopkins BME, which boasts the nation’s top-ranked graduate programs, and Chinese powerhouse Tsinghua University, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the world’s best global engineering school. The initiative will further enhance the research collaboration between the two institutions that started in 2008 with the establishment of a joint Center for Biomedical Engineering Research.

Over the two-year curriculum, students will study and conduct research in the United States and China, earning an MSE degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins and an MS degree from the Tsinghua Electronic Engineering or Biomedical Engineering departments.

“This partnership brings together the two best engineering programs in the world to position our students at the forefront of the rapidly expanding and dynamic medical technology innovation field,” says Michael I. Miller, the Bessie Darling Massey Professor and Director of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins. “The future of biomedical engineering education is global, and we are proud to partner with Tsinghua University to offer students this exciting opportunity.”

Tsinghua JHU-BME program students will spend their first year at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., taking advanced, project-based courses in one of six BME focus areas that include biomedical data science, regenerative and immune engineering, neuroengineering, biomedical imaging and instrumentation, genomics and systems biology, and computational medicine. They will have the opportunity to work with top researchers, clinicians, and physicians at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Whiting School of Engineering.

During a second year, dual-degree MS students will travel to Tsinghua University in Beijing, where they will pursue a year of thesis research under the mentorship of China’s leading scientists and engineers. In China, students also will gain first-hand knowledge of the country’s rapidly growing medical technology industry and have the opportunity to participate in summer internships with leading Beijing companies and hospitals.

“This provides our students with the best of both worlds,” says Raimond L. Winslow, the Raj and Neera Singh Professor of Biomedical Engineering, director of the Institute for Computational Medicine, and the BME department’s vice chair of academic programs. “At Johns Hopkins, they receive specialized, hands-on training in emerging BME disciplines and access to one of the nation’s best medical schools. At Tsinghua, they gain a global perspective of research and product development that will make them an asset for future employers. Together, these experiences give them a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”

Designed to foster international collaborations, students from Johns Hopkins will be joined by their counterparts from Tsinghua University. Program managers from both universities will support students enrolled in the dual degree MS program, providing personalized assistance with housing, transportation, course schedules, and other aspects of life in a new country.

More information about the Tsinghua JHU-BME Dual Degree MS Program can be found on the program webpage.

-Kristen Swaney