Kevin Johnson is used to forging his own path in the fields of healthcare and computer science.
If you ask him to locate his niche within these fields, Johnson, David L. Cohen and Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor with appointments in Penn Engineering and the Perelman School of Medicine, would say “informatics.” But that doesn’t tell the whole story of the board-certified pediatrician, who has dedicated his career to innovations in how patients’ information is created, documented and shared, all with the goal of improving the quality of healthcare they receive.
Informatics, the study of the structure and behavior of interactions between natural and computational systems, is an umbrella term. Within it, there’s bioinformatics, which applies informatics to biology, and biomedical informatics, which looks at those interactions in the context of healthcare systems. Finally, there is clinical informatics, which further focuses on the settings where healthcare is delivered, and where Johnson squarely places himself.
“But you can just call it ‘informatics,’” says Johnson. “It will be easier.”
He mainly studies how computational systems can improve ambulatory care — sometimes known as outpatient care, or the kind of care hospitals give to patients without admitting them — in real time. If you’ve ever heard your doctor complain about the amount of time it takes them to input the information they get from you during your visit, or wondered why they need to capture this information during the visit in the first place, these are some of the questions Johnson is investigating.
“We’re taking care of patients but we’re getting frustrated by things that we thought these new computers should be able to fix,” says Johnson.” I think there’s a very compelling case for using engineering principles to reimagine electronic health records.”
Kevin Johnson is the David L. Cohen University of Pennsylvania Professor in the Departments of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics and Computer and Information Science. As a Penn Integrates Knowlegde (PIK) University Professor, Johnson also holds appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering and Pediatrics, as well as in the Annenberg School of Communication. Johnson is the Vice President for Applied Informatics for the University of Pennsylvania Health System and has been elected to the American College of Medical Informatics (2004), the Academic Pediatric Society (2010), the National Academy of Medicine (Institute of Medicine) (2010), and the International Association of Health Science Informatics (2021).
After a year of hybrid learning, Penn Bioengineering (BE) seniors were excited to return to the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace for Senior Design (BE 495 & 496), a two-semester course in which students work in teams to conceive, design and pitch their capstone projects in bioengineering. This year’s projects include tools for monitoring health, software to improve communication for the healthcare and supply chain industries, and devices to improve patient care for women and underrepresented minorities.
The three winning teams went on to compete in the annual interdepartmental Senior Design Competition sponsored by the Penn Engineering Alumni Society. BE took home two of the four interdepartmental awards: Team Modulo Prosthetics won the “Technology and Innovation Prize,” recognizing the project which best represents the highest and best use of technology and innovation to leverage engineering principles; and Team ReiniSpec won the “Leadership Prize,” which recognizes the team which most professionally and persuasively presents their group project to incorporate a full analysis of their project scope, advantages, and challenges, and addresses the commercialization and future potential of their research.
All BE teams were also required to submit their projects to local and national competitions, and were met with resounding success. “The creativity and accomplishment of this Senior Design class is really unparalleled,” said David Meaney, Solomon R. Pollack Professor in Bioengineering, Senior Associate Dean of Penn Engineering, and instructor for Senior Design. “The number of accolades received by these students, as well as the interest in transforming their ideas into real products for patients, reached a new level that makes us extremely proud.”
Keep reading for a full list of this year’s projects and awards.
Team 1 – MEViD
MEViD (Multichannel Electrochemical Viral Diagnostic) is a modular, low cost device that leverages electrochemistry to rapidly diagnose viral diseases from saliva samples.
Team members: Yuzheng (George) Feng, Daphne Kontogiorgos-Heintz, Carisa Shah, Pranshu Suri, & Rachel Zoneraich
MOD EZ-IO is a low-cost, novel intraosseous drill that uses force and RPM readings to alert the user via an LED when they have breached cortical bone and entered cancellous bone, guiding proper IO placement.
Team members: Gregory Glova, Kaiser Okyan, Patrick Paglia, Rohan Vemu, & Tshepo Yane
CliniCall helps streamline and centralize communication channels, offering a real-time monitoring device that enables on-site/attending physicians to communicate with on-call physicians through a livestream of patients and data.
Team members: Neepa Gupta, Santoshi Kandula, Sue Yun Lee, & Ronil Synghal
Team 5 – PneuSonus
PneuSonus is a low-cost, user-friendly wearable strap that aids in detecting pediatric pneumonia by using frequency analysis of sound waves transmitted through the lungs to identify specific properties related to fluid presence, a valid indicator specific to pneumonia.
Team members: Iman Hossain, Kelly Lopez, Sophia Mark, Simi Serfati, & Nicole Wojnowski
Team 6 – Chrysalis
Chrysalis is a smart swaddle system comprising an electric swaddle and accompanying iOS application that comforts neonatal abstinence syndrome infants via stochastic resonance and maternal heartbeat vibrational patterns to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms without pharmacological intervention or constant nurse oversight as well as streamlines the Eat, Sleep, Console documentation process for nurses.
Team members: Julia Dunn, Rachel Gu, Julia Lasater, & Carolyn Zhang
Modulo Prosthetic is an adjustable, low-cost, thumb prosthetic with integrated haptic feedback that attaches to the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint of partial hand amputees and assists in activities of daily living (ADLs).
Team members: Alisha Agarwal, Michelle Kwon, Gary Lin, Ian Ong, & Zachary Spalding
COR-ASSIST by Cygno Technologies is a low-cost intra-aortic balloon enhancement that directly supports heart function by increasing cardiac output to 2.8L/min, at a much lower cost and bleeding risk than the current Impella cardiac assist device.
Team members: Francesca Cimino, Allen Gan, Shawn Kang, Kristina Khaw, & William Zhang
Pedalytics Footwear is a rechargeable sandal that continuously monitors foot health and prevents diabetic foot ulcer formation by novelly tracking three key metrics indicative of ulceration, temperature, oxygen saturation, and pressure, and sending alerts to patients via the Pedalytics app when metric abnormalities are detected.
Team members: Samantha Brosler, Constantine Constantinidis, Quincy Hendricks, Ananyaa Kumar, & María José Suárez
ReiniSpec is a redesigned speculum to improve the gynecological exam experience, increasing patient comfort with a silicone shell and using motorized arm adjustments to make it easily adjustable for each patient, while also incorporating a camera, lights, and machine learning to aid in better diagnosis by gynecologists.
Team members: Caitlin Frazee, Caroline Kavanagh, Ifeoluwa Popoola, Alexa Rybicki, & Michelle White
University of Pennsylvania Interim President Wendell Pritchett announced the recipients of the 2022 President’s Engagement, Innovation, and Sustainability Prizes. Awarded annually, the Prizes empower Penn students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each Prize-winning project will receive $100,000, as well as a $50,000 living stipend per team member.
A Penn Bioengineering student is behind one of the prize-winning projects. Grapevine, winner of the President’s Innovation Prize, aims to increase resilience within the healthcare supply chain. BE senior Lukas Achilles Yancopoulos and his partner William Kohler Danon created Grapevine, and Lukas went on to adapt the Grapevine software into his award-winning senior design project Harvest by Grapevine along with team members Nicole Bedanova, Kerry Blatney, Blake Grimes, Brenner Maull.
“This year’s Prize recipients have selflessly dedicated themselves to improving environmental, health, and educational outcomes for others,” said Pritchett. “From empowering young people through free creative writing education to building robotics that minimize fish waste to reducing microfiber pollution in the ocean, these outstanding and inspiring projects exemplify the vision and passion of our Penn students, who are deeply committed to making a positive difference in the world.”
William Kohler Danon and Lukas Achilles Yancopoulos for Grapevine: Danon, a history major in the College of Arts and Sciences from Miami, and Yancopoulos, an environmental studies major in the College and a bioengineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science from Yorktown Heights, New York, will work to increase resilience across the health care supply chain, with a particular focus on small-to-medium businesses. Grapevine builds upon Danon and Yancopoulos’sinspiring work with Pandemic Relief Supply, a venture that delivered $20 million of health care supplies to frontline workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are mentored by David F. Meaney, the Solomon R. Pollack Professor of Bioengineering and senior associate dean for Penn Engineering.
Read about all the winning projects at Penn Today.
Catherine Michelutti, a junior in Bioengineering and Wharton and fellow in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Paideia Program, shared her virtual internship experience with the Orion Organisation, a healthcare NGO based in South Africa that provides for “the educational, training and therapeutic needs of children, youth and adults living with physical, psychosocial challenges, intellectual and neurological disabilities”:
“My internship with the Orion Organization has prompted me to reflect on my identity in terms of where my passions and future career interests lie. My previous work experiences have all been in biomedical research fields, which is something I’m passionate about and want to continue doing throughout my career. However, working with Orion has opened my eyes to the realms of interdisciplinary work that comes with operating a healthcare NGO and the joys that come with it.”
The process of discovery sometimes starts with a hunch. Maria Ovando arrived at Penn Engineering with an affinity for math and science, extensive experience volunteering at her local health clinic and an assumption that she was preparing for a career in medicine. She was drawn to Penn Engineering because of the flexibility in the curriculum and the ability to both tailor her course of study and pursue cross-disciplinary subjects.
As a pre-med student, bioengineering seemed to be the natural choice for a major, but during her freshman year, Ovando found that she genuinely enjoyed bioengineering as a discipline in its own right, and only then did her future goals come into view.
“I’ve discovered that I have a passion for research, working on low-cost devices that can have a direct impact on individuals,” she says.
One of the most important opportunities she’s had at Penn is her work with Dr. Michelle J. Johnson at the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab in the Perelman School of Medicine. There, Ovando has been working to improve aspects of the Community-based Affordable Robot Exercise System, which helps stroke patients with lower extremity impairment. She’s also worked on a project that involved analyzing and reevaluating data in the early detection of cerebral palsy in infants. As an undergraduate, she found it both meaningful and moving to have a role in this groundbreaking research.
Data show that healthcare disparities plague the Black community in America, making it harder to receive adequate treatment and care. But rather than just accepting the status quo, Ruby Washington, senior in the Department of Bioengineering, is dedicated to leveraging her interest in biomedicine to change outcomes and systems.
“I feel that I have a duty to help my community and make the healthcare system better for people who look like me,” she says.
That’s a challenge well suited to a woman who is both fascinated by the intersection of materials science and biology and dedicated to representing and leading a community of Black engineers.