Spark of Innovation

Spark of Innovation: Joe Kiani, Masimo Corp.


Editor’s note: Local business leaders and educators are concerned that there will not be enough students interested in science, math, engineering and technology to support the demand for these skills, and, consequently, the rate and quality of innovation in America will decline. These skills are vital in Orange County, home to a variety of technology companies, from Broadcom to Blizzard Entertainment to Allergan. So, our Editorial Board is showcasing local scientists and engineers, having them explain their work, and maybe get a student thinking about the kind of inventor or engineer he or she could become. Bill Blanning coordinates this feature.

Masimo is an Irvine-based medical-technology company focused on noninvasive medical advances. It employs about 2,500 people and expects 2011 revenue of about $436 million.

What project/research are you working on?

We are constantly working on new and innovative ways to help clinicians improve and automate the standard-of-care. We are developing a sophisticated new algorithm that intelligently aggregates and processes the real-time and historical data of all of our noninvasive measurements (including hemoglobin, methemoglobin, carboxyhemoglobin, PVI, acoustic respiration rate, oxygen saturation, perfusion index, and pulse rate) and how they relate to each other to provide a single numerical indication of a patient’s overall health status. We are calling this new parameter the HALO Index because we believe it will provide an additional safeguard to help protect patients from unrecognized deterioration.

What is your specific role in moving this project/research forward?

I am the engineering visionary leader and initial creator of the overall project. I lead the algorithm, testing and evaluation initiatives that will bring this product to commercial markets.

What would be the most successful outcome of your work, and what impact would it have on how we live?

We expect the impact of the HALO Index to be critically important as clinicians and health care facilities increasingly look for ways to assess, detect, diagnose, and treat patients easier and faster than they can do today. Ultimately, HALO one day may allow clinicians to predict problems before they manifest so clinicians can treat patients before the patient enters the danger zone.

What about this project is important to you personally? What is the very best part of your job – when do you feel the most satisfaction?

HALO is personally important to me because the idea came to me from a conversation I had with my good friend Dr. Jeremy Swan, (late chairman emeritus of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Division of Cardiology and a co-inventor of the Swan-Ganz heart catheter) who said the ability to quickly glance at a patient and see that their condition was either green (good), yellow (cautious), or red (danger) would be of tremendous benefit to all medical care providers. Dr. Swan has passed away, but his dream became my dream. The best part of my job is when I hear that our engineering breakthroughs have saved lives and changed the outcomes of patients for the better. Masimo’s innovations are saving lives and helping to transform the practice of medicine in ways most people thought were impossible.

Why did you choose this career?

I chose medical technology as a career because I wanted to make a contribution to society by helping people live better lives and thrive in good health. Unlike the defense industry, or even the software or semiconductor industries, medical technology engineering has an immediate and direct reward because we can develop solutions that save and improve lives.

Who or what inspired you to study in your field?

My inspiration came from my Dad, who was an electrical engineer, and my Mom, who was a nurse. They planted the seeds of passion for engineering and medical technology in me as a child. Then in college, professor Fred Harris at San Diego State University ignited a fire in me to pursue the most complex engineering challenges and problems because he had such a natural ability to make complex issues easy to understand.

What makes you particularly well-suited to this work?

I have a strong sense of curiosity, a passion for mathematics and a great ability to look beyond what others think is possible to bring impossible solutions to life.

Where did you go to college? What degrees do you have?

San Diego State University: B.S.E.E. and an M.S.E.E. degree.

During high school and college, which courses helped best prepare you for your current position?

In high school, it was math, calculus, and social science. At SDSU, there were a few courses that really armed me with the knowledge and ability to tackle the world’s most challenging medical conundrums. My adaptive signal processing classes with professor Harris opened my mind to what is technically possible and to how engineering algorithms could extract signals out of “in-band noise.” My technical writing class prepared me to effectively communicate processes and ideas in the simplest way, and my anthropology, philosophy and sociology classes gave me a better understanding of people and what matters.

What is the best advice that has helped you further your career? What advice would you give, particularly to the student who may think math, science or engineering is “too hard” for him or her?

Invention is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. I echo that statement and add that you need to find what you are passionate about and work hard at it. Also you need to get the work done first. If you get the work out of the way, then whether you have just 30 minutes or six hours left for play, you will enjoy it much more than if you left your work unfinished and just skipped out to play. Practice makes perfect! Math and science are no harder than learning to walk; it just takes courage and practice. Keep practicing, and math and science will become as easy as putting your right foot in front of your left!