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After a career spanning nearly 40 years at UAB in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Dale Feldman, Ph.D., associate professor, officially retired on May 31, 2023. This is not, however, the conclusion of his long and productive career. Feldman emphasizes that he will continue to assist the department with accreditation for undergraduate education, and to teach two of the three required courses for the Translation of Biomedical Innovations to Clinical Practice certificate program.

Feldman started his career as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University, which was right down the road from where he grew up in Chicago.

“I knew I wanted to go into engineering and was also interested in the medical field,” he recalls. “They had an open house and I went and talked to some BME students and was impressed with how both of these interests could be combined. I also saw the Northwestern University Marching Band at a Chicago Bears game.”

He graduated with a concentration in biomaterials, which he pursued further with a master’s degree in Materials Engineering at the University of Dayton, before moving on to a doctorate program at Clemson University. In his final year there, Feldman was able to teach an undergraduate biomedical engineering class—his first real teaching experience. Upon graduating, he secured a faculty position as an assistant professor at Texas A&M University. It was there that he was exposed to a teaching excellence program that he tried to emulate throughout his career.

“One of the big concepts was active teaching and getting a sense of what students know and don’t know on a daily basis,” he says.

After five years in Texas, in 1986 he accepted an associate professorship position at UAB’s Department of Biomedical Engineering—one of the best biomaterials programs at the time.

“They also had a medical center on campus, which made it very attractive, and was close to my wife’s family.”

The program was clearly a good fit—Feldman stayed at UAB for the remainder of his career. When he speaks about his impact at the institution, he refers mostly to his students and what they have been able to accomplish.

“Although I have taught many courses in biomaterials and biomechanics, lately I have been emphasizing the engineering design process, and why that is so important,” he says. Feldman makes the case that often students, and research scientists, don’t understand that the scientific method, “doesn’t help you solve the problem. You have to be able to identify the actual problem is as well as determine what a successful solution must do—two things you do not have to do for the scientific method.” Too often researchers conduct a clinical study and prove the hypothesis that their treatment is better than what we do now, but realize it doesn’t actually solve the problem and wonder why, he says.

 “That’s the big difference between an engineer and the other scientific fields,” he says, “a better understanding of how to solve a problem not just do something better. If you don’t design it to solve the problem you can’t expect it to solve the problem. In the Sears tool model of ‘Good,’ ‘better,’ best’, better and best are meaningless if it doesn’t do what you want it to do—the ‘good’ tool.”

Feldman mentions that he is pleased that his expertise has been sought out to serve as a reviewer for a number of agencies—the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense among them as well as many journals.

“I often find that my contribution is making sure that if they are trying to claim something is better than what we do currently, they define the actual problem and show that their solution has the potential to solve it.”

He has conducted extensive research throughout his career, mostly in the field of biomaterial enhanced regeneration, with degradable materials and tissue scaffolds for both bone and skin applications. He has been able to secure funding to not only develop treatments, but also do clinical studies for pressure ulcer and burn patients. Some of the clinical studies were for a company that came out of the former student’s masters thesis to develop an electrical stimulation patch for skin wound healing.

Part of doing clinical studies on skin wound healing required developing assessment techniques for measuring as well as predicting healing.

“Clinicians don’t always understand it’s not just time to heal, it’s the healing rate that matters,” he says. “You also have to look at both regenerative healing versus scarring rate. Too often researchers claim an increase in healing rate, but it is just an increase in scarring.”

Feldman feels strongly enough about this that he has published review articles on how to control and assess regenerative healing, as well as why we lost this regenerative ability, plus an editorial on it, “Regeneration vs. Scarring: Did Evolution Get it Right?,” in the journal Current Trends in Biomedical Engineering & Biosciences (DOI: 10.19080/CTBEB.2018.12.555842) in 2018.

He also published review articles on the importance of the engineering design process, including an editorial on the topic, “An Engineering Approach to the Scientific Method,” as a review on his philosophy. In it, Feldman reiterates the message taught throughout his time at UAB BME to medical students and professionals that, “you don’t have to be an engineer to think like an engineer,” he says. “The engineering part gives the mathematical models to justify your design, but it is the engineering design process, which all clinicians should know to, ‘think like an engineer.’”

Feldman speculates that as one of the few BME departments with a joint alliance between the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine, the Department of BME will be increasingly involved with teaching medical students, which is a big reason for the new certificate program.

“Most of the medical advances over the last few decades have been in engineering,” he says. “For example, surgical implants really revolutionized the surgical disciplines; in plastic surgery it’s mostly my areas of research in skin wound healing, drug delivery, and assessment techniques. All of them require you to go through the engineering design process to determine how to use them.”

Feldman says we not only have to provide these advances but, “teach clinicians and research scientists how to make choices and make them objectively. Pros and cons are ok, but it should be, ‘what does success look like and does this treatment actually solve the problem.’”

He does not plan to retire completely and will stay involved with teaching classes and the ABET accreditation for the undergraduate program in BME.  

Outside of work, Feldman is an accomplished trombone player and a second-degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do—he even keeps his “license to kill” certificate next to an urn which says “ashes of problem students” in his office.

“Someone asked me what the best gift I ever got was. I said it was the trombone my mom got out of a Sears catalog, although I didn’t know it at the time. I started playing in high school and was in three college marching bands.”. Feldman met his wife through the marching band while at grad school in Clemson, and says music, “probably had a bigger impact on my life than anything.” The father of four, with nine grandchildren, says all of his children play instruments and several studied music in college, with two making a career out of it.