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Molecular imaging innovator Samuel Achilefu, Ph.D., to launch, lead Biomedical Engineering Department at UT Southwestern

DALLAS – Feb. 01, 2022 – Samuel Achilefu, Ph.D., nationally recognized for expertise in molecular imaging and its application in treating human diseases, has been selected inaugural Chair to launch a new Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He begins his new responsibilities Feb. 1.

Dr. Achilefu’s buildout of the Biomedical Engineering Department and subsequent recruitment of faculty will complement a recent announcement of the $120-million, five-story Texas Instruments Biomedical Engineering and Sciences Building, which broke ground in November to house joint biomedical engineering programs at UT Southwestern and UT Dallas.

“With his demonstrated success in innovative research and clinical impact, Dr. Achilefu brings the leadership and vision needed to launch our newest Department that will foster transformational research in biomedical engineering and related fields at UT Southwestern,” said W. P. Andrew Lee, M.D., Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean of UT Southwestern Medical School, who holds the Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Samuel Achilefu

Samuel Achilefu, Ph.D

An inventor with 65 U.S. patents and recently elected to the National Academy of Medicine, Dr. Achilefu developed cancer-avid materials and a wearable cancer-imaging goggle system that highlights cancer cells, providing real-time guidance to surgeons in the operating room to ensure the complete removal of cancerous tissue. In addition to image-guided cancer surgery, Dr. Achilefu’s research interests include portable imaging devices and nanotechnology. His seminal work in the use of innovative fluorescent materials for cancer imaging resulted in the clinical translation of a method to identify and treat most cancer types, especially breast tumors.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Dr. Achilefu studied chemistry and materials science at the University of Nancy in France as a French Government Scholar before completing postdoctoral training in oxygen transport in biological systems and hematological science at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. 

Dr. Achilefu, who has published more than 300 scientific papers, was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in 2020 to serve on the National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the Royal Society of Medicine, the International Society for Optics and Photonics Engineers-SPIE, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and The Optical Society of America (Optica). Dr. Achilefu’s national and international awards include the Distinguished Investigator Award from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, The Academy for Radiology & Biomedical Imaging Research, and the Britton Chance Biomedical Optics Award from the International Society for Optics and Photonics Engineers-SPIE.

Dr. Achilefu, a CPRIT Scholar, received a Recruitment of Established Investigators Awards from CPRIT, which has awarded $2.9 billion in grants to Texas research institutions and organizations through its academic research, prevention and product development research programs.

Prior to joining the 2,800-member UTSW faculty, Dr. Achilefu served more than 20 years at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Achilefu, the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology as well as a Professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, and Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at the Mallinckrodt Institute, served as Director for the Washington University Molecular Imaging Center and the Center for Multiple Myeloma Nanotherapy. He also served as Chief of the Optical Radiology Laboratory (Biophotonics Research Center), Vice Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Mallinckrodt Institute, and co-leader of the Oncologic Imaging Program of the Siteman Cancer Center.

Q&A with Dr. Achilefu

Why is this an exciting time for biomedical engineering?

The new era of technological revolution is transforming the world as we know it. From a biomedical engineering perspective, the merging of biological with medical engineering presents a unique opportunity to create innovative systems and methods to transform the current disease- care system into a genuine health care enterprise.

I am inspired daily by our ability as scientists and engineers to make dreams a reality. But I am also a realist. I am aware of the challenges of venturing into the unknown. Perhaps one way to turn dreams into reality quickly is to train a future generation of researchers to think differently and develop solutions that are not constrained by roadblocks that our current understanding imposes on them.

You are a recognized expert in applying molecular imaging to treat human diseases, with research interests in image-guided cancer surgery, portable imaging devices, and nanotechnology. With such varied interests, what is your vision moving forward?

I am excited about continuing some of my research projects at UT Southwestern, but my immediate priority as the inaugural BME Chair is to empower faculty members in the Department to transform ideas into technology-driven biomedical and clinical solutions. We need to provide valuable tools to clinicians and scientists to treat diseases effectively and understand the molecular and structural underpinnings of biological processes.

Development of portable, low-cost, and efficient devices will enable us to reduce health disparity and prevent the onset of diseases. While traditional engineering solutions will form a significant part of our research, I will encourage our faculty members to envision a world where our devices can help understand the healthy person so that deviations from the norm can be found early.

UTSW Biomedical Engineering

“I am thrilled by the strong commitment of UT Southwestern leadership to the new Department of Biomedical Engineering,” said Dr. Achilefu, who holds the Lyda Hill Distinguished University Chair in Biomedical Engineering. “The inaugural BME Chair position at UT Southwestern presents an exciting opportunity to harness my diverse research experiences at the interface of medicine and engineering. This position fulfills my passion for building new functional teams and inspiring them to find innovative solutions to complex challenges in science, engineering, and medicine. A unique strength of the new Department is its direct affiliation with the Medical Center, which provides distinct advantages compared to similar departments elsewhere.”

The 150,000-square-foot Texas Instruments Biomedical Engineering and Sciences Building, slated to open in 2023, will serve as home for the new Department as well as the BME Ph.D. track, part of UT Southwestern’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Designed specifically to facilitate collaborations, the facility will support the work of dozens of faculty and their teams with both wet and dry laboratory space, along with a Biodesign Center featuring a large assembly/design studio, a metal fabrication shop, and rooms for 3D printing.

By integrating biomedical engineering with advances in related fields such as artificial intelligence, molecular imaging, robotics, and genetic engineering, the UT Southwestern-UT Dallas biomedical engineering partnership, as well as the collaboration with UT Arlington BME, will further solidify North Texas as a hub for biomedical innovation.

UTSW’s Biomedical Engineering Graduate School program, led by W. Matthew Petroll, Ph.D., has joint degree programs with UT Dallas and UT Arlington featuring five research and teaching tracks, including:

Students interested in joining the Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Program can obtain more information through the school. 

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,800 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 117,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 3 million outpatient visits a year.