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Programs News Kevin Storr December 09, 2021

Ritu AnejaRitu Aneja, Associate Dean, Research & InnovationRitu Aneja, Ph.D., has been named associate dean for Research and Innovation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions.

In her new role, Aneja will establish strategic partnerships, alliances and collaborations with UAB’s existing world-class research programs and facilities, aiming to create new interdisciplinary projects and programs that address complex societal challenges such as wellness and rehabilitation, cancer health disparities, biotechnology and healthcare outcomes. She will also be responsible for shaping the school’s research enterprise, setting a cohesive research agenda, and positioning SHP as a leader in research and in developing scientific solutions to real-world health problems.

She comes to UAB from Georgia State University where she is a Distinguished University Professor of Cancer Biology and Director of the Molecular Basis of Disease Program. Aneja, who owns multiple patents, is also an active investigator with five current grants totaling more than $6 million. She has served on NIH, U.S. Department of Defense and other federal, state and private foundation grant review committees; published more than 150 research/review articles; and given invited talks in regional, national, as well as international settings including meetings, symposia and conferences.

Aneja earned her bachelors and doctoral degrees in Chemistry from the University of Delhi, India. She then trained at Yale and subsequently at Emory in areas including internal medicine, cell and molecular biology and drug development. “My postdoctoral training in various disciplines served me well in developing a transdisciplinary perspective and helping researchers communicate in a common language,” she said.

“This position feels like it was custom designed for me,” said Aneja. “It demands all the particular skills that I have developed over the years—my scientific expertise, my transdisciplinary experiences and my ability to bring people together in national and international collaborations—in service of the greater good.”

“In addition to strong scientific ideas and a palpable energy for discovery, Ritu brings with her a depth of experience in high-impact research with a history of securing external funding, which is critical to our strategic growth plan,” said Dean Andrew J. Butler, Ph.D. “She is a proven leader who is committed to bringing out the best in all around her and being an exceptional role model to the dynamic research community here in the School of Health Professions. We are thrilled to have her join our family.”

Aneja’s research laboratory focuses on understanding why breast cancer outcomes (both survival rates and treatment outcomes) differ between white and black women in the United States.

“Our focus is on a particular subtype, called triple negative breast cancer, which is very aggressive, and disproportionately affects black women” said Aneja, who is the founder of the International Consortium for Advancing Research on Triple Negative Breast Cancer (ICART). “I created this global collaborative platform, to consolidate complementary expertise and sample resources from across the globe; and ICART today includes a network of about 15 teaching hospitals across Nigeria and 30 hospitals and institutions from 10 countries across 4 continents.”

“I consider myself a convergence science researcher,” she added. “I connect clinicians and researchers from computational, life science, and social science disciplines to collaboratively address complex medical challenges that are deeply entwined with social structures and existing health inequalities.”

Aneja thoroughly understands how research, people and academia unite and therefore succeed. She believes nothing can be accomplished without making sure people’s attitudes, mindsets and behaviors are in alignment with the school’s vision, mission and goals.

“For the school to succeed, its individual researchers, faculty, and staff must succeed; and my success at growing the school’s research program will depend on supporting and mentoring current and future talent,” said Aneja. “Success requires inspired, empowered people who are ready to step up and work together for the greater good. Therefore, ‘investing in people’ will be a major part of my work."

Aneja sees her move to Birmingham and UAB as an opportunity to connect the dots between UAB’s existing flourishing research ecosystem and SHP. Her aim is to create transdisciplinary connections between them and to not only grow SHP’s research profile but also to move the team science model forward.

“The future belongs to team science because we cannot tackle massive multi-dimensional challenges at the level of individual labs or disciplines,” said Aneja. “We need the convergence of ideas, expertise, approaches, and technologies from all disciplines. And we will not only continue to do that consistently, but we will also continue to evolve the state of team science here at the UAB School of Health Professions.”

Aneja’s first day at UAB is April 1, 2022.

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