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The Passionate People Behind Five New Health Care Technologies

Three attendees at Healthcare Technology DayFrom left, Jason Kirkness, assistant professor in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine; Erin Hawks, research program manager in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine; and Daniel Roche, mentor in residence in the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer Office. 

Twenty-three companies. Seventeen investors. Unlimited potential. These were the guests at the Healthcare Technology Day on the Johns Hopkins medical campus on Dec. 10. Here, we profile five of the Johns Hopkins inventors, their innovations and the passions driving them.

1. Better targeting for injections and biopsies

Who: Philipp Stolka. While working as a researcher under Emad Boctor in the Medical UltraSound Imaging and Intervention Collaboration research lab, Stolka co-invented and patented an ultrasound guidance technology in 2010.

What: Ultrasound guidance for needles. The device helps clinicians guide a needle using ultrasound imaging to hit a target inside the body. After indicating the desired designation by touching the image on the screen, two cameras on top of the ultrasound work with computer software to see and track the needle in real time.

Why: Better care. Stolka says health care professionals are asking, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” Even though most providers have an ultrasound machine in their offices, most use it for imaging alone. The guidance technology makes it easier for clinicians to use ultrasound for injecting steroids and taking a needle biopsy—and hitting the target on the first injection.

2. Using Nanoparticles to Fight Cancer

Who: Mathias Oelke. In 2000, Oelke joined Jonathan Schneck in his lab in the Department of Pathology. Schneck had developed soluble synthetic antigen-presenting molecules. Using these molecules, Oelke and Schneck developed an artificial antigen-presenting cell for use in immune therapy.

What: Nanoparticle-driven immunotherapy. The nanotechnology is the foundation for an approach to immunotherapy in which the body’s own immune system is guided by a synthetic particle. This particle has been decorated with signals that cause the body to believe it is interacting with natural cells. The targeted response is intended to treat cancers including lung, breast, melanoma, and head and neck.

Why: To cure people. “The treatment is far from having reached its potential, but I believe it will move into the clinic and significantly impact the field of immunotherapy over the next 30 years,” says Oelke.

3. Reducing Unnecessary Invasive Procedures

Who: Albert Lardo. As a professor in the Heart and Vascular Institute and the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Lardo studies cardiovascular MRI, cardiovascular CT and image-guided intervention. 

What: Noninvasive coronary blood flow assessment. Current assessments of blood flow to the heart involve placing a catheter into the heart. Lardo devised an algorithm to assess coronary blood flow based on a standard CT image of the heart. The new technology could assist cardiologists who recommend therapies such as catheterization, surgery, or medications. 

Why: An unmet need. “Over 1 million patients go to the catheterization laboratory unnecessarily each year,” says Lardo. The technology he devised provides information through a noninvasive test about which patients should have therapy versus those who can go home. “It’s an intersection where medicine meets engineering to create a solution for a large unmet need,” he says.

4. Making At-Home Monitoring More Effective

Who: Jason Kirkness. As an assistant professor in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Kirkness studies obstructive sleep apnea and pulmonary physiology. Through his research, he developed and validated a lightweight, low-resistance flowmeter.

What: Flow sensor. The technology is part of a system that continuously monitors positive airway pressure and the flow of oxygen in patients with sleep apnea or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. After being attached to an inhaler, the system transmits data about how often the inhaler was used, whether it was used correctly, and whether the medication reached the lungs. A smartphone sends the data to the cloud for tracking.

Why: To connect people to care. Kirkness started research in respiratory diseases because of his interest in people and breathing instrumentation. “It found me,” he says. Today, he’s inspired by connecting people with the health care professionals who can help them the most. He says, “This technology enables an efficient way for people to be able to help themselves.”

5. Diagnosing Infectious Diseases More Quickly

Who: Alfredo Celedon. After graduating from The Johns Hopkins University, Celedon was a professor in the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins. He discovered a method to detect biomolecules and is now leading the development of a biosensor to test for tuberculosis.

What: TB test. The point-of-care test is being designed to accurately and rapidly detect TB in patient samples. Celedon aims for follow-on development of a universal reader than can test infectious diseases, such as chlamydia, malaria, pneumonia and enteric diseases.

Why: To save lives. Even though TB is curable, Celedon says 5,000 people die from the disease each day in places like India, South Africa and Russia. “The main reason this is such a huge burden is that the method to diagnose the disease is poor. It was developed 100 years ago,” he says. “My passion comes from the possibility of solving a huge burden for so many people worldwide.”