Desai Named Chair of Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences

Tejal Desai, PhD, has been named the new chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS), a joint department within the UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy and School of Medicine. Her appointment is effective August 1.

“I am delighted Tejal will chair the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences,” said Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, who is also serving as School of Medicine Dean. “She has the vision, energy, and experience that will ensure the department continues to thrive.”

“Tejal’s willingness to serve as department chair is characteristic of her collegial approach to science and education,” added School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD. “She is an award-winning bioengineer and an accomplished teacher and administrator who has the deep respect of the faculty.  I’m very pleased Tejal has accepted the chair position.”

I am delighted Tejal will chair the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences. She has the vision, energy, and experience that will ensure the department continues to thrive.”

Chancellor & School of Medicine Dean Sam Hawgood, MBBS

Desai replaces Kathy Giacomini, PhD, who stepped down to lead the UCSF-Stanford FDA Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI), a joint venture with Stanford University. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided the funding for CERSI.

“Building upon her spectacular success with the creation of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences with past co-chair Sarah Nelson, PhD, Kathy’s contributions to CERSI will be equally distinguished in the coming years,” Guglielmo said.

Prior to her appointment, Desai was vice chair in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.

“This is a unique department, not only at UCSF, but also internationally,” Desai said. “We have talented and diverse faculty members who aren’t afraid to take risks and work at the new intersection of pharmacy, medicine, engineering, and basic science.  As chair, I hope to further strengthen the department, support and advocate for the faculty, and ensure the department’s continued success so it can be a model worldwide.”

Tejal Desai, PhD, right, collaborates with James Pinney, PhD, in her lab, which is located at the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

Collaborative Expertise

The Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences’ goal is to develop better medicines and medical devices to improve health and patient outcomes by bringing together scientists and engineers with specific expertise, from building and computing to pharmaceutical sciences and genetics. The department has already seen the benefits of this approach, from the development of novel therapeutics to new medical devices, according to Desai.  

“Given our department expertise and the future of biomedical sciences and health care, BTS is well positioned to be a leader in the development of innovative therapeutics that are patient-centered,” she said. “We can bring together pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine with advanced computation and new medical devices.  The marriage will help us better diagnose, deliver, and treat patients with greater precision.”

Tejal’s willingness to serve as department chair is characteristic of her collegial approach to science and education. She is an award-winning bioengineer, accomplished teacher and administrator who has the deep respect of the faculty. I’m very pleased Tejal has accepted the chair position.”

School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD

The Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences plays a major role in educating PhD graduate students, as well as professional students in the schools of pharmacy and medicine. One of Desai’s goals is to develop new interdisciplinary programs that enhance education and industry outreach.

“UCSF is an ideal place for a department like BTS, a department that is collaborative, creative, and at the forefront of developing solutions for human health,” Desai said. “Having been at several other institutions, I know the culture at UCSF is unique. It truly supports the faculty working across disciplines, which is essential for rapid scientific discovery and translation.”

History of Leadership

Prior to joining UCSF, Desai was an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and associate director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology at BU.  While at UCSF, she has held several leadership positions including chair of the UC Berkeley/UCSF Graduate Group in Bioengineering, chair of the Graduate Council, and founding faculty director of the UCSF/UC Berkeley Master of Translational Medicine. She also serves as principal investigator (PI) on the UCSF/UC Berkeley NIH Training Grant in Bioengineering and on the executive committees of QB3 and the GEMS program.

Tejal Desai, PhD

In addition, Desai has been active in a number of campus and UC committees, including the Discovery Fellows Faculty Board and the UCOP Portfolio Review Committee.

She received a ScB degree in biomedical engineering from Brown University in 1994 and a PhD degree in bioengineering from a joint UC Berkeley and UCSF program in 1998. From there, she became an assistant professor at University of Illinois Chicago where she helped launch their new bioengineering department in 1998.

Several professional organizations have recognized Desai’s scientific and leadership contributions. She was named Crain’s “40 under 40,” Technology Review’s "Top 100 Young Innovators,” Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10,” and National Science Foundation’s "New Century Scholar.”

Desai also received the Eurand Grand Prize and Pfizer/Capsugel Awards for innovative drug delivery technology, the Young Career Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (IEEE EMBS), and the UC Berkeley Distinguished Young Alumni Award. More recently she received the Dawson Biotechnology Award for leadership in biotechnology education and research and was elected as a fellow of American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).

Photos by Cindy Chew