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).
Kevin B. Johnson, David L. Cohen University Professor in Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics and in Computer and Information Science, has been elected to the 2022 Class of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) Fellows. Johnson joined the Penn faculty in 2021. He also holds secondary appointments in Bioengineering, in Pediatrics, and in the Annenberg School for Communication, and is the Vice President for Applied Informatics for the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education.”
Johnson was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the AIMBE College of Fellows for his pioneering discoveries in clinical informatics, leading to advances in data acquisition, medication management, and information aggregation in medical settings.
A formal induction ceremony was held during AIMBE’s 2022 Annual Event on March 25, 2022. Johnson was inducted along with 152 colleagues who make up the AIMBE Fellow Class of 2022. For more information about the AIMBE Annual Event, please visit www.aimbe.org.
Read Johnson’s AIMBE election press release here. Find the full list of 2022 Fellows here.
A new feature in Chemistry World explores the history of CAR (chimeric antigen receptor)-T cell therapy, a revolutionary type of therapeutic treatment for certain types of cancer. One of the pioneers of CAR-T cell therapy is Carl June, Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Perelman School of Medicine and member of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group. His groundbreaking research opened the door for FDA approval of the CAR T therapy called Kymriah, which treats acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.
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
Kevin B. Johnson, M.D., M.S., was featured in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s “Envisioning Our Future for Children” speaker series, discussing “the evolution of the EHR and its future directions.” An electronic health record, or EHR, is a digital record of a patient’s chart, recording health information and data, coordinating orders, tracking results, and providing patient support. Johnson “predicts a new wave of transformation in digital health technologies that could make rapid progress” in several areas of medicine, including reducing cost and improving patience outcomes. Johnson is Vice President for Applied Informatics at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the David L. Cohen University Professor with appointments in Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics and Computer and Information Science and secondary appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication, Pediatrics, and Bioengineering.
Johnson, who has appointments in the Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and a secondary appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication, will become the David L. Cohen University Professor.
“David Cohen’s extraordinary leadership at the University and Penn Medicine, and longtime dedication to Philadelphia, has without a doubt shaped the booming campus, health system, and city we so much enjoy today,” says Gutmann. “His dedication is mirrored by the extraordinarily influential, innovative, and committed Dr. Kevin Johnson, whose university professorship will now bear Ambassador Cohen’s name.”
Cohen has served for two decades on Penn’s Board of Trustees and recently concluded a 12-year term as chair. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last month as United States Ambassador to Canada, bringing to the role decades of experience as a senior executive at Comcast Corp., chair of the Ballard Spahr law firm, chief of staff to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, trustee chair at Penn, and major player in a number of other business, civic, political, and philanthropic venues.
In addition to serving as a Trustee, Cohen is a Penn alum, having graduated from what is now the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law in 1981. His wife and son also attended the Law School. Cohen’s leadership in the University has been credited with helping guide the growth and advancement of both the University and Health System, in close partnership with both President Gutmann and her predecessor, Judith Rodin.
“It’s an honor to hold a professorship named after Mr. Cohen,” Johnson says. “Throughout his career, he has provided inspired leadership across Penn and our city and region. He is a passionate believer in uniting the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to tackle complex challenges and strengthen communities. Those who know me know that I’ve played a similar role as a pediatrician who works with technology, and who uses digital media to communicate to lay audiences about both. His passion for this city and our University’s educational mission are inspiring.”
N.B.: Johnson also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Bioengineering. Read his full appointment announcement here.
Joseph Lance Casila, a doctoral student and Fontaine Fellow in Bioengineering, was profiled by his alma mater, the University of Guam (UOG. Casila was the first person in his family to graduate from a U.S.-accredited university and is now studying tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in the Bioengineering and Biomaterials Laboratory of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering in Penn Engineering and Pediatrics in Penn Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). His research in the Gottardi lab employs “tissue engineering and drug delivery for biomedical problems relating to knees, ears, nose, and throat but specifically to pediatric airway disorders.” The article discusses Casila’s journey from valedictorian of his high school, to a first-generation undergraduate interested bioengineering, and now a graduate student studying at Penn on a full scholarship. After completing his degree, Casila hopes to bring what he’s learned back home to advance health care in Guam.
“My mentors, and especially my friends, helped me make the most of what UOG had to offer, and it paid off rewardingly,” he said. “You get what you put in.”
Manuela Teresa Raimondi was appointed Visiting Professor in Bioengineering in the Associated Faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Science for the 2020-2021 academic year. Raimondi received her Ph.D. in Bioengineering in 2000 from Politecnico di Milano, Italy. She is currently a Full Professor of Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milano in the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “G. Natta”, where she teaches the course “Technologies for Regenerative Medicine” in the Biomedical Engineering graduate program.
Raimondi is the founder and Director of the Mechanobiology Lab and of the Interdepartmental Live Cell Imaging lab. She has pioneered the development of cutting edge tools for cell modelling, ranging from micro-engineered stem cell niches, to miniaturized windows for in vivo intravital imaging, to microfluidic culture systems to engineer tissue-equivalents and organoids for cell modelling and drug discovery. Her platforms are currently commercialized by her start-up, MOAB srl. Her research is funded by the European Research Council (ERC), by The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), by the European Commission, and by the European Space Agency.
“Getting to Penn was quite the challenge with the various travel restrictions and the pandemic, but I am used to overcoming adverse odds and I am really excited to be here now,” says Dr. Raimondi. “In this challenging time, when many new barriers are coming up, I think building bridges and new scientific collaborations is even more important. I very much look forward to being part of the Penn research community.”
During her sabbatical at Penn, Raimondi is investigating her hypothesis that stem cells pluripotency reprogramming can be guided by mechanical cues. Over the past five years, she has cultured many different stem cell types in the “Nichoids,” the synthetic stem cell niche she developed, and gathered robust evidence on how physical constraints at the microscale level upregulate pluripotency. Raimondi is hosted in the Bioengineering and Biomaterials Lab of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering and in Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine, where she is helping to refine human stem cell sources that could be minimally manipulated for translational tissue engineering for a safe and effective use in regenerative therapies, as a key issue for clinical translation is the maintenance or enhancement of multipotency during cell expansion without exogenous agents or genetic modification.
“Dr. Raimondi is a trailblazer in Italy in regenerative medicine who has introduced many new concepts in a sometimes musty academic environment and has shattered a number of glass ceilings,” says Dr. Gottardi. “I think her sabbatical at Penn is a great opportunity for her and for the Penn community to build new and exciting trans-Atlantic collaborations.”
“Kevin Johnson is a gifted physician-scientist,” Gutmann said, “who has harnessed and aligned the power of medicine, engineering, and technology to improve the health of individuals and communities. He has championed the development and implementation of clinical information systems and artificial intelligence to drive medical research, encouraged the effective use of technology at the bedside, and empowered patients to use new tools to better understand how medications and supplements may affect their health. He is a board-certified pediatrician, and his commitment to patient health and welfare knows no age limits. In so many different settings, Kevin’s work is driving progress in patient care and improving our health care system. He is a perfect fit for Penn, where our goal is to create a maximally inclusive and integrated academic community to spur unprecedented global impact.”
Johnson is currently the Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he has taught since 2002. He is a world-renowned innovator in developing clinical information systems that improve best practices in patient safety and compliance with medical practice guidelines, especially the use of computer-based documentation systems and other digital technologies. His research bridges biomedical informatics, bioengineering, and computer science. As senior vice president for health information technology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center from 2014 to 2019, he led the development of clinical systems that enabled doctors to make better treatment and care decisions for individual patients, in part by alerting patients as to how medications or supplements might affect their body chemistry, as well as new systems to integrate artificial intelligence into patient care workflows and to unify and simplify all the Medical Center’s clinical and administrative systems.
The author of more than 150 publications, books, or book chapters, Johnson has held numerous leadership positions in the American Medical Informatics Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, leads the American Board of Pediatrics Informatics Advisory Committee, directs the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Library of Medicine, and is a member of the NIH Council of Councils. He has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine (Institute of Medicine), American College of Medical Informatics, and Academic Pediatric Society and has received awards from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Academy of Pediatrics, among many others.
“Kevin Johnson exemplifies our most profound Penn values,” Pritchett said. “He is a brilliant innovator committed to bringing together disciplines across traditional boundaries. Yet he always does so in the service of helping others, finding technological solutions that can make a tangible impact on improving people’s lives. He will be an extraordinary colleague, teacher and mentor across multiple areas of our campus in the years to come.”
Johnson earned an M.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, an M.S. in medical informatics from Stanford University, and a B.S. with honors in biology from Dickinson College. He became the first Black chief resident in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins in 1992, and was a faculty member in both pediatrics and biomedical information sciences at Johns Hopkins until 2002.
The Penn Integrates Knowledge program was launched by Gutmann in 2005 as a University-wide initiative to recruit exceptional faculty members whose research and teaching exemplify the integration of knowledge across disciplines and who are appointed in at least two Schools at Penn.
As COVID-19 vaccines roll out, the concept of using mRNA to fend off viruses has become a part of the public dialogue. However, scientists have been researching how mRNA can be used to in life-saving medical treatments well before the pandemic.
The “m” in “mRNA” is for “messenger.” A single-stranded counterpart to DNA, it translates the genetic code into the production of proteins, the building blocks of life. The Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines work by introducing mRNA sequences that act as a set of instructions for the body to produce proteins that mimic parts of the virus itself. This prepares the body’s immune response to recognize the real virus and fight it off.
Because it can spur the production of proteins that the body can’t make on its own, mRNA therapies also have the potential to slow or prevent genetic diseases that develop before birth, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia.
However, because mRNA is a relatively unstable molecule that degrades quickly, it needs to be packaged in a way that maintains its integrity as its delivered to the cells of a developing fetus.
To solve this challenge, Michael J. Mitchell, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering, is researching the use of lipid nanoparticles as packages that transport mRNA into the cell. He and William H. Peranteau, an attending surgeon in the Division of General, Thoracic and Fetal Surgery and the Adzick-McCausland Distinguished Chair in Fetal and Pediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recently co-authored a “proof-of-concept” paper investigating this technique.
In this study, published in Science Advances, Mitchel examined which nanoparticles were optimal in the transport of mRNA to fetal mice. Although no disease or organ was targeted in this study, the ability to administer mRNA to a mouse while still in the womb was demonstrated, and the results are promising for the next stages of targeted disease prevention in humans.
Penn bioengineering professor Michael J. Mitchell, the other senior author of the mouse study, tested various combinations of lipids to see which would work best.
The appeal of the fatty substances is that they are biocompatible. In the vaccines, for example, two of the four lipids used to make the delivery spheres are identical to lipids found in the membranes of human cells — including plain old cholesterol.
When injected, the spheres, called nanoparticles, are engulfed by the person’s cells and then deposit their cargo, the RNA molecules, inside. The cells respond by making the proteins, just as they make proteins by following the instructions in the person’s own RNA. (Important reminder: The RNA in the vaccines cannot become part of your DNA.)
Among the different lipid combinations that Mitchell and his lab members tested, some were better at delivering their cargo to specific organs, such as the liver and lungs, meaning they could be a good vehicle for treating disease in those tissues.