The University of Alabama at Birmingham has named Dr. Jeffrey W. Holmes, UVA professor of biomedical engineering and medicine and director of the Center for Engineering in Medicine, as its next dean of engineering. His appointment begins in July.
“This is a prestigious and well-deserved opportunity for a faculty member who has significantly advanced UVA Engineering’s mission for benefitting society through bold research and world-class education,” said UVA Engineering Dean Craig H. Benson. “Jeff has great vision and a talent for building high-impact programs, and he will thrive in his new role. I am proud that other universities seek leaders like Jeff from UVA Engineering.”
Holmes received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1989 and earned both his doctorate in bioengineering and his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego, in 1996 and 1998 respectively. His first faculty position was at Columbia University, where he helped found and build a new biomedical engineering department. Holmes joined the UVA faculty in 2007, and made advances in treating heart disease by engineering new technology.
In 2017, Holmes also established the UVA Center for Engineering in Medicine because he realized that, as one of only eight universities in the country with top schools of engineering and medicine separated by less than a mile, UVA had unique capabilities to innovate. The center’s mission is to create the nation’s best ecosystem for generating, developing and translating innovative ideas at the engineering-medicine interface to improve prevention, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of disease. The center provides $1 million in seed grants a year for promising new partnerships and collaborations at the intersection of engineering and medicine; embeds engineering students and researchers in clinical settings to spark ideas for solving real-world medical challenges; and facilitates mentoring for new engineering-in-medicine collaborators.
UVA researchers funded by the center’s seed grants have made technological advancements that help a broad range of patients and address major health care issues. Some projects, in the short timeframes of their grants, have produced technology that has translated to the clinical setting where patient outcomes improved.
Under Holmes’ direction, the center has successfully supported 32 projects spanning 26 UVA departments or divisions, involving more than 100 faculty from engineering, nursing and medicine. New projects the center has launched have earned $6 million in new external grant funding.
One engineering-medicine project that is changing lives uses the elements of big data analytics to improve drug dosing for kidney dialysis patients. Physicians from the nephrology department at the UVA School of Medicine worked with UVA Engineering systems engineers and data scientists to develop predictive techniques to improve medication dosing protocols. Not only did kidney patients get better treatment, with customized care and improved quality of life because of the complex algorithm developed by the team, but hospital medicine funds were saved due to the more targeted approach.
Cancer patients and caregivers are benefiting from another center project that uses wireless health devices to manage pain and stress. A UVA nursing professor and cancer researcher teamed up with a UVA electrical engineer and a palliative care physician to develop technology that includes a wrist-worn device and room sensors that record physiological information and conditions and activities in the home. The collective data gives researchers a better understanding of the factors and patterns that can affect pain intensity and frequency and identify effective and customized pain-management strategies by the caregiver.
Holmes’ pioneering approach to multidisciplinary collaboration and contributions to society will continue in his new role as dean.
“The UAB School of Engineering offers tremendous opportunities due to UAB’s collaborative nature, commitment to community engagement and educational mission,” Holmes said. “The presence of a world-class academic medical center and a vibrant local economy provide opportunities for research and educational partnerships that make an important real-world impact. At the same time, programs such as the Birmingham Promise and UAB’s tradition of educating first-generation and under-represented college students offer an important opportunity to recruit and train an exciting and diverse population of future engineers.”