Dr. Ruanne Barnabas, professor of global health and of medicine, will be leaving the University of Washington at the end of this year to become chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In her new role, Ruanne will apply her talent and expertise to predicting and planning for the future of infectious diseases, including advancing evidence-based medicine, translating basic science into public health practice, and eliminating disparities in patient outcomes. She will also support early stage investigators, ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Ruanne to continue her high impact HIV, HPV and COVID research; expand her clinical activities; and play a major leadership role in a new academic environment,” said Department of Global Health chair Judith Wasserheit. “I, personally, will miss Ruanne’s insights, enthusiasm, grace and humanity, and all of us who have had the privilege of working with her will miss the spirit of collaboration that she brings to each encounter.”

Ruanne came to UW eleven years ago as an infectious disease fellow in the School of Medicine, where she focused on designing and evaluating public health interventions for HIV. She joined the faculty of the Department of Global Health (DGH) in 2010, and held the King K. Holmes Endowed Professorship in STD and AIDS from 2017-2020. A strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Ruanne served as co-chair for the DGH DEI Committee for three years. She is currently an associate director of the International Clinical Research Center and a co-director of the UW/Fred Hutch Center for AIDS Research.

Delivering client-centered services to improve health outcomes is at the heart of Ruanne’s work. Originally from South Africa, she was a new doctor at the start of the HIV epidemic. Witnessing young people continue to die from HIV even after effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) was available informed her passion for identifying and addressing barriers to coverage and access.                              

“The focus of my work has been thinking about simplifying how we deliver health to clients and meet their needs,” said Ruanne. “Ideally public health would be in the background and people will be able to focus on other aspects of their lives, and we would fit in better to their availability and their preferences.”

At UW, Ruanne led a number of game-changing studies aimed at developing and evaluating effective and efficient treatment and public health prevention strategies for infectious diseases. These innovative studies include the “DO ART Study,” which demonstrated the superiority of community-based interventions in achieving and sustaining HIV viral suppression, as well as eliminated disparities in outcomes by gender. The study is now being adopted and expanded on by the Department of Health in South Africa.

Following that study, Ruanne partnered with Amazon.com to evaluate the efficacy of home delivery of HIV medicines in South Africa. The study, which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, found that home delivery and monitoring of ART is convenient, overcomes logistic barriers, and could increase ART adherence and viral suppression particularly among men.

Outside of her work on HIV, Ruanne was lead researcher on a fully remote clinical trial that determined that the antiviral medication hydroxychloroquine offered no benefit in preventing people from developing COVID-19. She was also the principal investigator of the “KEN-SHE” trial, which determined that a single dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is highly effective. The results of this trial could greatly hasten the pace of HPV vaccinations and bring renewed energy to the push to make cervical cancer the first cancer to be wiped out globally.

In addition to her remarkable accomplishments as a physician-scientist, Ruanne is also a dedicated teacher and mentor. During her time at UW, she mentored dozens of graduate students and fellows, and served on (or chaired) committees for 24 PhD students. For these efforts, she was awarded the UW Committee on Minority Faculty Advancement (CMFA) Minority Faculty Mentoring Award in 2021.

Given her commitment to teaching and mentoring, perhaps it’s not surprising that what Ruanne remembers most fondly about her time at UW are the people and the culture of collaboration. As she looks ahead to her next opportunity, she says team science, something she learned from her experience at UW, will be a big emphasis of her work. Beyond fostering collaborations within her new institution, she sees her move as a way to strengthen relationships between the East and West Coasts and intends to stay part of the extended UW community.

“The deep expertise and experience, supportive colleagues, exciting work, outstanding trainees and the opportunity to do innovative research that focused on individual and public health outcomes – that’s what kept me around all these years,” said Ruanne. “It's definitely hard to leave valued colleagues and friends, an incredible institution, and this beautiful place. I look forward to staying in touch with these inspirational people and the University of Washington.”

By Amy Frances Goldstein