70 New Projects in Five Years

Message from the Chair

Universities thrive on new ideas—and at UVA, we’ve succeeded in generating conditions that encourage creative thinking and that provide opportunities for our faculty to pursue them. The result: over the next five years we will be launching 70 exploratory research projects at the intersection of engineering and medicine involving hundreds of faculty members.

This is not a goal. If anything, it’s a bare minimum, thanks to faculty who actively seek out opportunities for collaboration and a University that has already allocated funds for the Center for Engineering in Medicine. It is initiatives like Engineering in Medicine—and pioneering efforts in such diverse areas as focused ultrasound and fibrosis—that are making this department the locus of exciting new breakthroughs in biomedical engineering.

Fred Epstein, Mac Wade Professor and Chair


The Center for Engineering in Medicine

By Charlie Feigenoff

Engineering has always been an integral part of medicine. Walk into a hospital or a clinic, and every aspect of care — from the devices physicians use to diagnose and treat disease to the vaccines and pharmaceuticals they prescribe — bear the imprint of engineers. UVA’s new Engineering in Medicine (EiM) initiative is designed to jumpstart medical innovation by explicitly fostering partnerships between engineers and clinicians. It was funded in mid-2017 with a $5 million Strategic Investment Fund grant from the University and another $5 million in matching funds from UVA Engineering and the School of Medicine.

UVA is in many ways the ideal home for this initiative. Only eight universities have top-40 engineering and medical schools located within a mile of each other. UVA is in that group.

In addition, the long history with the UVA-Coulter Translational Research Partnership means that we have experience building highly effective teams of engineers and clinicians. Finally, UVA has leading programs across the Engineering School — in areas like cyber-physical systems and data sciences — that are critical to advancing medicine and healthcare. This breadth of expertise ensures the broadest possible impact of our efforts.

The Center for Engineering in Medicine has already begun to leverage these funds to jumpstart a series of ambitious interdisciplinary projects that bring engineers together with their counterparts from the Schools of Medicine and Nursing and the College of Arts & Sciences. The center’s first group of seven projects — chosen from among 35 proposals — highlights its potential to forge high-impact collaboration across a broad array of healthcare issues. 


Center Director Jeff Holmes Wins Van C. Mow Medal

In 1999, when Professor Jeff Holmes was embarking on his academic career, the department chair at Columbia University who hired him for his first faculty position was Van C. Mow, one of the  pioneers of biomechanics and a member of all the National Academies of Engineering and Medicine.  That’s one reason that Holmes was so pleased to learn recently  that the American Society for Mechanical Engineers had named him to receive its 2018 Van C. Mow Medal. This medal honors a mid-career engineer for contributions to bioengineering research, education, mentoring and service.

“It is really special that I have a personal and professional connection to Van Mow, having worked with him at Columbia,” Holmes says. “The award is also meaningful because I feel that the Bioengineering Division of ASME is my academic home. It is where my heart is.” Holmes had earlier won the organization’s Y.C. Fung Young Investigator Award.

Recipients of the Mow Medal are honored not for a specific paper, but their entire body of work. Holmes’s work fundamentally changed the common understanding of the mechanics of scar tissue formation after a myocardial infarction. He discovered that healing post-infarction scar in some animal models contains highly aligned collagen fibers, which makes them stronger in one direction. He identified the factors that determine that alignment, created a predictive model that can be used to design interventions that modify it and proposed and validated a therapeutic approach to do so after infarction.

The Mow Medal announcement was part of a banner year for Holmes. The prestigious journal PNAS published a paper that arose from discussions with colleagues at the University of Cambridge and the University of California at Santa Barbara during a sabbatical in 2014. Together, they resolved a longstanding mystery in biomechanics: why collagen-producing cells in the body align parallel to a stretch, but when taken out of the body and placed on an elastic membrane, they align perpendicularly. The group experimentally identified the conditions that cause this difference and developed a model of stress fiber dynamics that reproduced their experimental findings. Orientation of these cells determines the orientation of the collagen they produce and the mechanical properties of the resulting tissues.

Dr. Holmes is Having a Good Year