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Meet Annie Kathuria, assistant professor of biomedical engineering

September 18, 2023

Annie Kathuria joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering as an assistant professor in summer 2023. In this interview, Kathuria discusses her research, the impact she hopes her work will produce, what excites her most about Hopkins, and more.

What made you pursue a career in engineering?

I always had a deep-rooted fascination for the intricacies of biological systems which led me to undertake undergraduate studies in genetics, cell biology, development, and neuroscience. This foundation empowered me to envision the potentials at the intersection of biology and engineering. As I ventured deeper into the realm of research, I found myself drawn to the challenge of utilizing pluripotent stem cells to create organ-specific tissue models. This work not only required a deep understanding of biology but a mind engineered to think about systems, structures, and the multi-modal strategies to explore and develop solutions that mimic complex biological systems in a controlled environment.

My journey then led me to a focus where I could use engineering principles to create 3D in vitro constructs that emulate in vivo structures, a challenge that truly represented a harmonious blend of biology and engineering. It was this compelling area of study where I found the application of my skills could potentially revolutionize our understanding of diseases and facilitate groundbreaking discoveries in medical science.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins BME? What are you looking forward to most?

I was driven by the program’s renowned reputation for innovation and interdisciplinary research in biomedical engineering. Being at an institution that is at the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries offers a rich environment for learning and collaboration with other passionate individuals. What I look forward to the most is the prospect of being involved in cutting-edge research and being able to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the field. The opportunity to be a part of a community that is pushing the boundaries of what is possible in biomedical engineering is incredibly exciting, and I can’t wait to contribute to the advancements coming out of the department.

Can you give a brief overview of your current research?

My current research revolves around leveraging the regenerative potential of human pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) to craft organ-specific tissue models or “organoids.” These 3D structures emulate the complex micro-architecture and multifunctionality of living organs, thus representing a transformative tool in biomedical research.

I am creating advanced in vitro models including cerebral organoids and cortical spheroids, facilitating a deeper understanding of neurological disorders like Autism, Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Alzheimer’s. A significant part of my work involves multi-modal research to create disease-specific cellular signatures that could act as biomarkers, utilizing technologies such as multi-electrode arrays and high-throughput imaging. Furthermore, I am venturing into personalized medicine, utilizing a blend of genetic sequencing and metabolomics, and employing patient-derived stem cells to develop a spectrum of organoids including those mimicking retinal and lung tissues, encapsulating individuals’ genetic and epigenetic profiles. This initiative not only aids in disease modeling and drug screening but also paves the way for personalized organ repair and transplantation in the sphere of regenerative medicine.

Across all my research endeavors, the ultimate objective is to pioneer advancements in precision medicine, aiming to revolutionize disease modeling and drug screening processes.

Have you ever experienced a “eureka moment?”

Yes – the successful reprogramming of somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). It signified the realization of the extensive possibilities this technique holds, not just in understanding diseases better through disease modeling but also in potentially rectifying organ-specific maladies through regenerative medicine.

What do you consider your biggest research accomplishment so far?

One of my biggest research accomplishments was being one of the first few labs around the world to successfully use the cerebral organoids as a model system schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

What impact would you like your work to have?

I would like my work to pioneer advancements in personalized medicine, enhancing our capacity to understand, diagnose, and treat a range of neurological disorders and other diseases with greater precision and efficacy. Through the innovative use of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) to develop organoids, I aim to craft a toolkit for biomedical engineers that can potentially revolutionize the way we approach disease modeling and drug screening.

What are your goals for the future?

I have two main goals. One of my most ambitious goals is to explore the frontier of regenerative medicine actively. I am particularly keen on pioneering approaches that facilitate personalized organ repair and transplantation, effectively addressing organ-specific maladies and offering patients a new lease on life.

The second one is empowering the Next Generation of Women Engineers. I am fully committed to encouraging more women to pursue careers in the STEM fields, including engineering. By sharing my journey and fostering a supportive and inclusive research environment, I hope to inspire the next generation of women engineers to break barriers and achieve unprecedented heights in the field.

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

Research often involves trial and error. Develop a resilient mindset to face failures and be patient to see your hypotheses through to their conclusions.

Category: Faculty
Associated Faculty: Annie Kathuria

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