John P. Wikswo
University Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, and Physics
B.A. - Physics, University of Virginia, 1970
For the past 47 years, John Wikswo has worked on measurements and modeling in bioengineering and electrophysiology, originally at the scale of humans, dogs, and rodents, and more recently at the level of nanoliter bioreactors and individual cells. He explored in depth the relationship between cardiac electric and magnetic fields and the generation of the vector magnetocardiogram. With his collaborators, he made the first measurements of the magnetic field of a single axon and a single skeletal muscle fiber. All of these studies provided key insights into the parameters that relate the intracellular action currents to the transmembrane potential and extracellular electric and magnetic fields. His group played a central role in demonstrating the part performed by tissue anisotropy in the response of cardiac tissue to defibrillation-strength electric shocks and the behavior of cardiac virtual electrodes, which are explained by the doubly anisotropic bidomain of cardiac electrical activity. He also participated in pioneering magnetic measurements of the magnetoenterogram, a non-invasive recording of the magnetic field of the electrical activity in the human gastrointestinal tract. He spent a decade exploring the capabilities of superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) magnetometers for non-destructive testing of plastics, electric power generation hardware, and corroding aluminum.
Wikswo is the founding Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE), which was created in 2001 to foster and enhance interdisciplinary research in the biophysical sciences, bioengineering, and medicine at Vanderbilt. Within its first decade, VIIBRE fully accomplished its ten-year goal of using this investment to bring Vanderbilt to the forefront of cellular instrumentation and control using microfluidics in projects such as organs-on-chips, cellular biosensors, nanoliter bioreactors, chemotaxis devices, and models for cancer and toxicology research; identification of chemical and biological warfare defense agents and infectious pathogens; new technologies for tracking metabolic and signaling dynamics, particularly using ion mobility-mass spectrometry; biomedical imaging; cellular/tissue bioengineering; development of microfabricated devices for measuring cellular properties and controlling cellular behavior; custom digital and analog electronics; replica casting and injection molding of microfluidic devices; fabrication of large-scale instruments and biomedical devices; data analysis; design of experiments; development and application of mathematical models; and inference of drug mechanism of action. VIIBRE researchers pioneered the use of microfabricated multitrap nanophysiometers for studying metabolism and signaling in immune cells. VIIBRE coordinates its graduate and postdoctoral training with its Systems Biology and Bioengineering Undergraduate Research Experience (SyBBURE), a year-round, multiyear program funded by Gideon Searle that has mentored more than 400 students since 2006.
Wikswo’s group is developing microfluidic devices and analytical and computational techniques to solve problems in human biology, medicine, drug discovery, and environmental toxicology. Their current research addresses important questions in systems biology, particularly organs-on-chips, stem cell differentiation, suspension cell culture, and optimization of automated systems for combined experimental control and inference of quantitative metabolic and signaling models to better span the spatiotemporal scales of systems biology. Central to this effort is the development of intelligent well plates that serve as perfusion controllers, microclinical analyzers, and microformulators, and the refinement and use of tissue-chip models of the blood-brain barrier, blood-cerebral spinal fluid barrier, airway, and engineered cardiac and aortic smooth muscle tissue constructs. Wikswo’s group and colleagues at Vanderbilt are merging multichannel microfluidic pumps and valves, sensors, mass spectrometry, computational systems biology models, digital twins, and artificial intelligence/machine learning software developed by Ross King of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden to create Continuous Automated Perfusion Culture Analysis Systems (CAPCAS) that serve as autonomous robot scientists capable of operating as self-driving biological laboratories for microbial and mammalian cells.
Wikswo nurtures innovation among VIIBRE staff and students, and he loves teaching and learning and sharing his enthusiasm for research and inventing with high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. With his group he has published more than 250 peer-reviewed articles, commentaries, reviews, methods papers, and book chapters. He was Editor of two thematic issues for Experimental Biology and Medicine, “The Biology and Medicine of Microphysiological Systems” in 2014 and “Progress Toward Adoption of Microphysiological Systems in Biology and Medicine” in 2017. He is a fellow of seven professional societies. His inventions have resulted in 47 issued patents, several of which have been licensed. He has extensive experience with industrial and academic collaborations, particularly in Phase I and Phase II SBIRs and large DARPA, DTRA, NIH, and NSF projects.