Biology focused design. engineered for Automation.

Design. Manufacture. Automate. Analyze.

Johnson Digital Bioengineering LAb


Our lab is located in the  Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. We are affiliated with the Departments of Pharmacology & Toxicology and Biomedical Engineering.

What we DO

We leverage the versitility of digital manufacturing to construct models of human development and disease.  

Why we do IT

Our goal is to develop strategies and technologies that lead to the prevention of birth defects and disease in vulnerable populations.

Student Rotations

We are taking rotation students in 2023! Typically BMS gateway and BME.

Currently funded projects are in modeling human orofacial development and teratogenicity, endocrine disruption and in vitro pharmacokinetics and can focus on biology, engineering or both. Rotation projects  typically touch on all aspects of the lab, that is making an existing device as well as constructing something new (the new should be fun),Repeating an experiment that worked and testing a new hypothesis.  Don’t worry, we’ll guide you along the way!   Send an email with student rotation in the header and we can discuss a potential rotation. 

Latest News

Check out some of the  latest news from the lab!

Micromachining Workshop in Biodesign BME841

Thanks to Jacob Reynolds, Dhruv Singh and Vimbai Chado for help with the Micromachining Workshop we host for the Biodesign BME841 students. We cover the basics of computer animated design,[…]

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February 1, 2024 0

Lab fun

We wrapped up a few student rotations (Parker and Congying) and celebrated a great 2023 by going bowling.

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December 8, 2023 0

Congying’s rotation creation!

Congying is just wrapping up her rotation in the lab and generated a beautiful series of dose:response experiments, which she quantified using confocal high-content imaging. She also found some time[…]

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October 18, 2023 0


Focus on the biology.  We engineer devices specifically to phenocopy the normal biological or disease process we aim to study.


A closed loop.  Rapid prototyping via digital manufacturing in-house allows rapid testing and iteration in design that speeds development.


We like to keep it simple, but biology is complex.  We leverage automation to increase throughput and identify robust physiological conditions.


Rigor meets discovery.   High-content imaging enables standard analyses and empowes discovery through deep-learning and artificial intelligence.

Biology driven design.

Intercellular signaling drives early development.  Early organization of the embryo is orchestrated by just a few pathways including the Wnt, Tgf-B, SHH, FGF, and Notch pathways which often act as a means of cell/matrix or cell to cell communication.  We engineered a device to phenocopy the developing facial processes (epithelial cells overlayed onto 3D mesenchymal cells)  since these are sensitive to both genetic and environmental insults during development leading to facial clefting (cleft lip/palate).  The resulting microtissues show critical similarities to tissue sections from the developing palate.  More importantly, they support the spatial signaling interactions that are sensitive to teratogenic insults.  We hope to use these microtissues to identity genetic risk-factors and chemical  exposure combinations that may cause this birth defect in every 700 live births.

Digital manufacturing fuels innovation.

We developed a novel digital manufacturing process dubbed “microplate micromilling” that integrates microfluidic channels and features directly into standard commercially available polystyrene cell culture plates (48, 96, 384, 1536 etc.). This platform is used to generate tractable, adaptable, high content and throughput compatible intercellular signaling models.


High-content confocal imaging identifies cellular heterogeneity

Image of Ishikawa cells imaged at 10x show hetergeneous cells in simple monoculture.  Our high-content imaging pipeline streamlines imaging, image segmentation to identify individual cells and quantification of stains within each indifidual cell.   The imaging cytometry work generates millions of datapoints to feed AI based learning and other quantitative analyses.


Imaged with 10X objective on our Yokogawa CQ-1 high-content confocal imager.


Cells stained with Hoechst (nuclei/blue), wheat germ aggluten (membrane/green), nile red (lipid) and CellRox (reactive oxygen/fucia).

Postdoc in microphysiological model development for drug discovery and toxicity testing.


See a full list of publications on Pubmed using the link below or check out a couple recent articles on the right. 

My Bibliography

Engineered Perineural Vascular Plexus for Modeling Developmental Toxicity

By quantifying 3D cell migration, metabolic activity, vascular network disruption, and cytotoxicity, the PNVP model may be a useful tool to make physiologically relevant predictions of developmental toxicity.By quantifying 3D cell migration, metabolic activity, vascular network disruption, and cytotoxicity, the PNVP model may be a useful tool to make physiologically relevant predictions of developmental toxicity.

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Mammary adipose stromal cells derived from obese women reduce sensitivity to the aromatase inhibitor anastrazole in an organotypic breast model. 

MCF7-derived ducts co-cultured with pre-adipocytes derived from obese individuals help elucidate mechanism of clinical findings. 

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Connect with us!

Brian P. Johnson PhD                 1- 517- 353–2541      

 775 Woodlot Dr   Rm 3315 IQ Bioengineering Building     East Lansing, MI 48824

Rm 3315 IQ-Bioengineering   775 Woodlot Dr     East Lansing, MI  48824
[Contact info above. ]