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Delivering the Promise of Medicine: Johns Hopkins Medicine 2015 Year in Review

Year in Review

Every day at Johns Hopkins Medicine, we push the boundaries of medicine through education, research and patient care.

This past year, we made promising strides in cancer care and research, led efforts to create lasting economic opportunities in our home city of Baltimore, and ceaselessly sought new, innovative ways to improve the health of our communities and the world.

Here are 16 of the ways we delivered the promise of medicine in 2015. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine's 2015 Research Highlights

Research has always been at the heart of Johns Hopkins’ promise of medicine. This year we’ve seen an exceptional run of headline-worthy advances, including discovering surprising new insights into the relationship between ribosomes and mRNA, using nanoparticles to train the immune system to fight cancer, growing implantable segments of gut in the lab, learning about what causes ALS and how we might treat it, and developing a new imaging technology to help surgeons remove brain tumors. Learn more about these and other efforts to fulfill the promise of medicine at

HopkinsLocal Initiative Supports Baltimore Through Jobs and Economic Opportunity

Johns Hopkins and Baltimore. Baltimore and Johns Hopkins. It’s nearly impossible to think of one without the other. Building on the historic relationship we have with our city, we are reinvigorating our long-held commitment to economic growth in the place we call home. 

The HopkinsLocal initiative will change the way The Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins Health System do business in three areas: building, hiring and buying. Through the program, we’ve set out an expansive plan to bring more construction contracts to local minority- and women-owned businesses, to hire more people from our city’s most underserved neighborhoods, and to build strong relationships with Baltimore-based vendors. We know that as our communities thrive, we are all uplifted. 

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center: Recognition, Expansion and Celebration

woman with cancer holding her child

It’s been a big year for the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. In the six-hour PBS documentary series Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, the nation got an unprecedented and poignant look into the history of cancer care and research at Johns Hopkins.

The Cancer Center also expanded its services in the Baltimore area, opening a new treatment center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for patients with mesothelioma and lung and esophageal cancers. On the East Baltimore campus, a groundbreaking ceremony marked the new Skip Viragh Outpatient Cancer Building, set to open in 2017. This building, also housing what will be the Skip Viragh Center for Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Research and Patient Care, will provide services for patients with blood and bone marrow cancers and offer 24-hour oncology urgent care. 

Educating Medical Students About Health Care for LGBT Patients  

doctor talking with a patient

Understanding how to meet the medical needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients can be a challenge if providers aren’t given the necessary education and resources. A group of faculty members and students from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is developing the best ways to weave LGBT health education throughout the curriculum to enhance medical knowledge and communication skills.

Resident Lisa Kodadek says, “I was never taught how to ask these questions, so I can understand how resident physicians don’t know how to broach these topics.”

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A New Primary Care Track at the School of Medicine
Johns Hopkins is known as a place where many of the world’s best medical specialists are educated and trained. To address the looming shortage of physicians going into the primary care field, a new primary track was launched at Johns Hopkins this year. The first nine students enrolled in the program this fall. 

High-Tech Device May Help People Monitor Vital Signs at Home

illustration of person blowing into a device

Deciding whether a symptom is serious enough to see a doctor could become much easier thanks to a hand-held device that quickly captures vital signs. The user first breathes into a disposable mouthpiece, and then the device measures blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, temperature and pulse. The data are wirelessly transmitted to a computer or smart device, where software extracts the vital information.

Assistant professor and MouthLab inventor Gene Fridman says that while the technology is designed for people to use in their homes, it can also increase efficiency in emergency departments and doctors’ offices, where multiple devices are used to check vital signs. 

Learn More

Hear biomedical engineer and MouthLab inventor Gene Fridman explain how vitals can be taken in just seconds.

Man Receives Bionic Eye Implant to Restore Vision

After nearly a decade of complete blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa, Adolf Levi, 83, underwent the first bionic eye implant at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute to restore his vision. Eye surgeon James Handa performed the procedure.

The tiny implant is connected to a camera mounted to a pair of glasses, and the device sends digital signals to the retina that translate a sense of “vision” to the brain.

The prosthesis is a result of more than 20 years of research and clinical trials to find treatments for retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that slowly causes blindness. 

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Delivering on the Promise of Medicine
Hear more from eye surgeon Dr. James Handa on his mission to provide top-notch patient care and discover new treatments for vision loss.

New Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute to Investigate the Workings of the Brain

scientist in the lab

Since pioneering the first brain tumor surgeries in the 1900s, Johns Hopkins has remained at the cutting edge of neuroscience. This year’s $20 million investment in the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute will help us continue that legacy by joining experts in neuroscience, engineering and data science to provide a unified understanding of the relationship between the brain and behavior. 

This dynamic approach to research will advance approaches of treating and preventing disorders ranging from depression to Alzheimer’s. “The challenges of tomorrow will not be confined to distinct disciplines, and neither will the solutions we create,” says Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels

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Learn more about the $100 commitment from The Kavli Foundation and the dedication to brain research.

iPad App Teaches Pathology Around the World

illustration of an ipad screen with a medical image on it

Residents, fellows and pathologists have a new tool for diagnosing pancreatic conditions — a free iPad app with 1,400 images and 26 medical illustrations.

Unlike a textbook, which may have one example of a certain lesion on the pancreas, the app provides numerous examples through photos with captions, microscopic views and illustrated videos. The app also has a decision tree where users answer questions to arrive at a diagnosis.

There are more than 33,000 users of the Atlas of Pancreas Pathology app in over 100 countries. The team plans to develop iPad apps on the pathology of more diseases. 

Learn More

Watch a demonstration of the Atlas of Pancreas Pathology iPad app and read more about the development of this educational technology.

Johns Hopkins Youth Summer Job Program Supports 300 Teens

Johns Hopkins knows that early exposure to science, technology, engineering and math can have an influence on the future career choices of teens. That’s why we have provided paid summer internships to Baltimore high school students for 21 years. This year’s group of 300 teens was the largest in the program’s history.

The Johns Hopkins Summer Jobs Program provides Baltimore City students with the opportunity to complete a five-week-long paid internship in one of more than 200 departments throughout the university and health system. The program offers mentorship while promoting exposure to workplace culture and potential career paths.

EpiWatch: The New Way to Manage Epilepsy Through an Apple Watch App

epi watch logo with an apple watch

The use of smart devices to monitor wellness is becoming more and more common, and researchers have now developed an app as a research tool to explore the ways people with epilepsy could use Apple Watch and iPhone to monitor and manage their condition. The EpiWatch research application allows users to use activate monitoring, including detection of movement, heart rate and orientation in space, when they sense warning signs of an oncoming seizure. Researchers will use the data to investigate whether smart devices could eventually detect seizures. 

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Learn more from the Johns Hopkins neurologists Gregory Krauss and Nathan Crone on the development of the EpiWatch to track epilepsy symptoms and share data.

New Methods to Detect Cancer Through Biopsy Technology and Imaging of Sugar Molecules

sugar molecules under the microscope

In the search for detecting cancer, doctors often rely on biopsies, or small samples of tissue. Because these are taken from only a few places, diseased tissue may go undetected. This year at Johns Hopkins, we developed a new approach using “microgrippers” to gather thousands of tiny tissue samples from many sites, providing a more comprehensive view of an organ’s cells and genes.

Researches are also working to detect cancer by using MRI to image sugar molecules that are shed when certain cells become cancerous. This may help detect cancer at an earlier stage or guide biopsies to ensure the most malignant part of a tumor is sampled. 

Supporting Diversity of Faculty Through $25 Million Initiative

group image of professors

One of our core values at Johns Hopkins is a dedication to diversity and inclusion. We recently announced a comprehensive approach to increasing diversity among faculty. The $25 million initiative will support more expansive and inclusive faculty searches, create a pipeline of diverse scholars, and broaden support for underrepresented members of the faculty. The Faculty Diversity Initiative is a result of an extensive review over the past year to assess strategies and develop best practices across Johns Hopkins.

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School of Medicine Reaches Milestone: 200-Plus Women Full Professors
The growth of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine would not have been possible without the endowment from philanthropist Mary Elizabeth Garrett and her historic mandate that women be admitted on the same terms as men. A part of this historic legacy, behavioral scientist Felicia Hill-Briggs became the 201st woman at Johns Hopkins to become a full professor, the highest academic rank. In 2003, the school promoted its 100th woman to that rank. That it took more than a century to reach the 100 milestone and only 12 additional years to reach the 200 mark is a testament to the institution’s commitment to gender equality, says Barbara Fivush, associate dean of women in science and medicine. 

Making Brain Tumor Removal Safer Through New Imaging Technique

When it comes to brain tumor removal surgery, the ultimate hurdle surgeons face is removing as much of the cancer as possible while still keeping crucial brain tissue intact. But a new innovative imaging technique could provide surgeons a color-coded map of a patient’s brain, showing which areas are and are not cancer.

Optical coherence tomography operates on the same principle used by ultrasound scanners but uses light rather than sound waves. Researchers say the system could potentially be adapted to identify cancers in other parts of the body and aid surgeons in detecting and avoiding blood vessels.

Tiny Nanoparticles Could Make Big Impact for Patients in Need of Cornea Transplants

eye closeup

Injuries or diseases to the cornea — the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye — can cause blindness and may require a transplant. However, cornea transplants have up to a 20 percent rate of rejection in people, partly because patients aren’t using their eyedrops as prescribed. 

An emerging technology could boost the success rate of cornea transplants and reduce the effect of poor medication compliance. When researchers treated mice with tiny nanoparticles designed to protect the cornea, the innovation was 100 percent effective. Eventually, researchers hope to use the nanoparticles at the time of the cornea transplant to reduce the need for using use eyedrops after surgery.  

Advancing Cancer Care and Research

cancer molecule

From teaching the human body to fight cancer to stopping the development of cancer altogether, 2015 has seen numerous landmarks in cancer treatment. Precancerous tissue can take about 10 years to become cancerous, and one clinical trial found a way to halt the process. Using a genetically engineered vaccine, researchers successfully eliminated high-grade precancerous cervical damage caused by HPV in nearly one-half of the women treated. 

Another study used magnetic nanoparticles to activate the body’s own army of cancer-fighting T cells. The new process could be used to treat a variety of cancers and chronic infectious diseases, like HIV.

Researchers also gained new insight into the spread of cancer using a device designed to mimic blood vessels in the body. For the first time, researchers successfully simulated metastasis and filmed the process. Next, they plan to use the tool to test new drugs to prevent the disease. 

Living in the Suburbs Doesn’t Mean Kids Breathe Easier

girl practicing using her inhaler in doctors office

New research is challenging the long-standing belief that city dwellers are more prone to developing asthma, suggesting that income, race and ethnic origin play a stronger role. In a study of more than 23,000 children, the highest rates of asthma were among African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and those whose family incomes fell below the federal poverty level. The new findings could help inform public health experts about newly emerging hot zones with high rates of asthma.