Deok-Ho Kim joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering as an associate professor in September 2019. In this interview, Kim discusses his research on human iPSC-based disease modeling and biotherapeutics development, his goals as a researcher and mentor, and career advice for current students.
Through his pioneering research in the fields of mechanobiology, multiscale biofabrication, and human organ-on-a-chip technologies, Kim aims to gain a better understanding of disease biology and contribute to biotherapeutics development. His current work focuses on development of human iPSC-based microphysiological systems for disease modeling, drug screening, and precision medicine.
What made you pursue a career in engineering?
My late father, a middle school teacher, inspired me to become a scientist and educator, and helped cultivate my interest in science and engineering from a young age. Instead of going to medical school, I decided to pursue my career in engineering. I gained professional research experience in nanobiotechnology, and participated in a number of projects on the development of biomedical microdevices for stem cell and tissue engineering at Korea Institute of Science and Technology, including a seven-month academic visit at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. During this period, I began to strengthen and expand my academic career interests in engineering via numerous publications and patent applications with the hope that my scientific discovery and technology innovation could ultimately improve patient outcomes. My enthusiasm of exploring nano- and microscale engineering approaches to study biomedical science led me to pursue my PhD in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Why did you choose Johns Hopkins BME? What are you looking forward to most?
I am very excited at the prospect of applying my group’s bioengineered platforms for basic and translational research in collaboration with world-leading scientists and clinicians. From my own personal experience, I know that the Johns Hopkins University has an excellent scientific and collaborative environment that could significantly further advance my research program. I feel proud of being a Hopkins BME alum, and I look forward to coming back to where I sincerely enjoyed doing science. I expect that the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering will continue to play a leading role in shaping the future of biomedical engineering research worldwide, and I am excited to be part of that journey.
Can you give a brief overview of your current research?
My research program leverages recent advances in human pluripotent stem cell biology, tissue engineering, and microfabrication to create microphysiological systems and organ-on-chip technology platforms that recapitulate human physiology to understand the molecular basis of human disease and/or the effectiveness of diagnostic markers and therapeutic intervention for disease treatment. Through the use of multi-scale biofabrication tools in combination with human pluripotent stem cell technologies, my research currently focuses on the development of human organs- and tissues-on-a-chip platforms for disease modeling, drug development, and precision medicine. Using these novel platforms, my research also explores the interplay between biochemical signaling and mechanics in cell differentiation and morphogenesis that are essential for organ development, disease progression, and regeneration.
What do you consider your biggest research accomplishment so far?
Over the past decade, my laboratory has been developing human iPSC-based microphysiological models of inherited cardiomyopathy and peripheral neuropathy, bioengineered 3D human cardiac and skeletal muscle patches for stem cell-based therapies, and micro/nano-fabricated platforms for phenotypic drug efficacy/toxicity screening. As a result of these research accomplishments, so far I have published more than 180 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers, and filed more than 30 patents (issued or pending). My papers have been cited over 8,500 times and have been highlighted in Science Magazine, the JHU Gazette, UW News, and many newspapers.
I also have extensive experience in commercializing my laboratory technologies. I co-founded a biotech startup company, NanoSurface Biomedical, in 2015, raised over $10M funding from private investment and NIH SBIR grants, and commercialized our nanobiotechnology, biomedical assay instruments, and stem cell/tissue engineering technologies.
What impact would you like your work to have?
I envision that integrating bioengineering expertise in developmental and regenerative biology is the key to success in regenerative medicine. I know there is a lot of synergy between my expertise in human organ-on-a-chip platform technologies and stem cell/tissue engineering, and the existing strengths in organ/tissue developmental and regenerative biology at Hopkins. I would like to team up with Hopkins scientists in this emerging area and provide my expertise to establish the new research initiative on human iPSC-based precision medicine. My entrepreneurial experience will allow me to contribute to the technology commercialization of biomedical engineering technologies originating from the Johns Hopkins University. I would like to closely work with basic and clinical scientists for scientific discovery and technology innovation, and commercialize the promising gene and cell biotherapeutics to facilitate the technology commercialization, and make a real-world impact in healthcare.
What are your goals for the future?
The ultimate goals of my research program are to better understand complex cellular behavior in response to microenvironmental cues in normal, aging, and disease states, to gain new mechanistic insights into the control of cell-tissue structure and function, and to develop multi-scale regenerative technologies for improving human health.
My mission as a teacher and mentor will be to train multi-disciplinary scientists and students undeterred by disciplinary boundaries, and to make them capable of harnessing the best of interdisciplinary approaches by engaging in cutting-edge research. Through an integrated and advanced research and educational program, students and postdoctoral scientists in my training program will gain the principles behind quantitative, cutting-edge engineering approaches, and apply these approaches to address important biomedical questions in their research.
Do you have any career advice to offer to current students?
Students at Hopkins BME are the next generation of leaders, and could become outstanding scientists, educators, and entrepreneurs. I would advise students to be equipped with innovative engineering approaches in studying biological systems in both laboratory and classroom settings, and to establish a solid scientific foundation and philosophical outlook that prepares them to be leaders in the new age of biological complexity. I believe it is also fundamental that students grasp the integration of systems at molecular, cellular, organ, organismal, and ecological levels to better understand the overall place and function of biological systems at hand.
What do you enjoy doing outside the lab?
I enjoy traveling and spending time with family.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am both thrilled and humbled to come back to Johns Hopkins as a joint faculty between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology. I will bring a broad set of my skills and experience to educate and mentor students and establish the strong partnership between Hopkins BME and Medicine departments.