In March, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia released a groundbreaking report on efforts to create an artificial womb to potentially improve survival odds for extremely premature infants. Led by Dr. Flake, an attending pediatric and fetal surgeon at CHOP, the researchers created a fluid-filled “Biobag” to extend the gestational period; in a study, the device kept fetal lambs alive for up to four weeks.
Category: Scientist of the Year
Scientist of the Year honors a local scientist working on amazing projects that benefits the scientific world and gives back to Philadelphia’s innovative community.
Dr. Alan W. Flake
When an Old City construction project unearthed an 18th century burial ground this March, the Mütter Museum raced into action to exhume and preserve the historic bones and artifacts. Led by museum curator Dhody—a former Harvard osteologist—the resulting campaign (dubbed the Arch Street Bones Project) sought to conduct biological profiles of the skeletal remains, providing a historic look at some of Philadelphia’s first residents.
Dr. Elaine Zackai
As the director of Clinical Genetics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Zackai has treated many rare conditions in her 49 years of practice. Her research has also included how we can learn from Holstein cows’ genetics when it comes to human reproduction. Recently, she was the recipient of the first-ever American Society of Human Genetics mentorship award, given for many years of professional development mentorship and training.
Dr. Himmelstein is a leader in the areas of open data licensing and open science. Using open resources, he carried out a research project that aims to find new uses for existing drugs entirely in the open (https://thinklab.com/p/rephetio), and his predictions are freely available to the scientific community at http://het.io/repurpose/. A recent article in Nature highlighted his struggles with data licensing during this project (https://doi.org/bndt).
Not content with simply performing open science in an ivory tower, Dr. Himmelstein has engaged with the Philadelphia tech community. Since arriving he has launched Project Cognoma, a citizen-science project to enable every cancer biologist to apply sophisticated machine learning algorithms to large public cancer genomics datasets. This project has been run in collaboration with Code for Philly and DataPhilly, and Daniel has spearheaded the operation.
Danielle S Bassett
Dr. Danielle Bassett applies graph theoretical work in math and physics to the study of real-world networks, most notably the human brain. She publishes in the fields of applied math, engineering, psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. In 2006 she wrote (with Ed Bullmore) the seminal work on “small-world” structure in the human brain, now with over 1,100 citations, illuminating how the brain balances tight, nearby functional “communities” with long-range cross-brain communications. She was a 2014 MacArthur Fellow (the “Genius” grant), and in Spring 2016 was awarded tenure in the Bioengineering Department at Penn after only 2.5 years.
Stephan Grupp treated Emily Whitehead, for whom the Emily Whitehead Foundation is named. Enrolled in an experimental T-Cell Therapy clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), she became the first child in the world to have her immune system trained to fight cancer. With the help of Grupp and others, not only did Emily survive, in just a few weeks she was declared cancer free — she’s now 11 and healthy.
Penn’s “Twitter Predicts Heart Disease” Team
The World Well-Being Project (WWBP) is a multidisciplinary research group at the University of Pennsylvania. A collaboration between computer scientists and psychologists, WWBP is pioneering big data techniques for measuring physical and psychological health and well-being based on language in social media.
In a study released in January of 2015, led by graduate student Johannes C. Eichstaedt, the Penn team found that Twitter can predict community mortality rates from heart-disease better than 10 common demographic, socioeconomic, and health risk factors, including smoking and hypertension.
Specifically, language patterns reflecting negative social relationships, disengagement, and negative emotions—especially anger—emerged as risk factors; positive emotions and psychological engagement emerged as protective factors. WWBP’s work suggests that Twitter is not only a meaningful indicator of community well-being, but that big data language analysis can complement, and in part replace, traditional survey methods.
Read more about the project at wwbp.org.
An associate professor at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and amember of the GRASP Lab at the Penn School of Medicine, Michelle Johnson is currently doing work in the new field of rehabilitation robotics.
Using robotics, rehabilitation, and neuroscience techniques, her lab seeks to translate their findings into the development of assistive and therapeutic rehabilitation robots.
An active member of the Philadelphia scientific community, Michelle participates in outreach activities, like the Franklin Institute’s Science After Hours program. She spoke at TEDxPhiladelphia this year, and was one of Technically Philly’s four favorite talks from the 2015 program.
Peter Lloyd Jones
The first Associate Dean of Emergent Design + Creative Technologies in Medicine for the Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Peter is the founder and director of the MEDstudio@JEFF.
Focused on bringing the humanistic approach of design into the medical field through the research and education incubator, MEDstudio@JEFF is also home to the College within a College-Design Track, a program that seeks to foster creative thinking in medical students, Peter Jones works to bring science and design together at Jefferson University.
Using technology developed at Philadelphia’s hackerspace Hive76, Jordan Miller created a method to make a 3-D matrix of blood vessels to encourage cell growth. Miller is researching ways to grow human tissues for organ replacement by printing them. A significant contributor to the biomedical field and the hackerspace movement as a whole, Miller is a true innovator.