Meet the Team: Dr. Zariel Johnson

Zariel Johnson, PhD, is a Program Manager at UPMC Enterprises where she manages the day-to-day activities associated with the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance and works on broader initiatives to meet the overarching goals of the Alliance.

What led you to the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance?

During my PhD and post-doc, I became interested in academic commercialization as a means to bring the impact of incredible scientific breakthroughs to a broader market. I learned about the work being done at UPMC Enterprises and the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance and am happy to be a part of this team that facilitates the commercialization of exciting digital health technologies through funding and other support. We are in a really unique position to work so closely with UPMC and the two universities within the Alliance.

 

Where are you originally from?

I grew up in northern Wilmington, Delaware, home of tax-free shopping and the Fighting Blue Hens!

 

Where did your career begin? What did you do? What were the most important lessons you learned there?

I did my PhD in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and then moved on to a post-doc at the University of Pittsburgh before joining UPMC Enterprises. Though my time in the lab was very focused on the scientific questions that I was investigating, I learned some lessons that I have brought to my work with the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance. I learned technical skills that help me today, like how to perform thorough background research and the ins and outs of performing research at a university. The more useful lessons related to the importance of building a collaborative team and evaluating a problem from many angles.

 

What have been your biggest takeaways from the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance?

I’m constantly surprised to see the level of scientific talent and entrepreneurial spirit at Pitt and CMU and the broader Pittsburgh region. One of my biggest takeaways is that some of the most successful projects are those with collaborative teams that span multiple disciplines and backgrounds. Those different perspectives and styles of learning coming together is really special.

 

What trends are you most excited about today in data and healthcare? Why?

The recent advances in precision medicine are really exciting. We have understood for a long time that targeting the right treatments or preventative strategies to the right patients can lead to better outcomes. The combination of available -omics techniques and the development of new ways to interpret the data is making this type of treatment a reality.

 

What is a fun fact not a lot of people know about you?

I enjoy learning about animals that have adapted to unique environments. One of my favorites is the tardigrade, or water bear. They’re microscopic animals that can survive for years in a dehydrated state and can withstand temperatures from -300 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit!