Alex Mihailidis to become U of T's new associate vice-president of international partnerships

Photo of Alex Mihailidis
“Partnerships really strengthen the research that we’re doing here at U of T," said Alex Mihailidis. “There’s great expertise out there and partners that we can tap into to benefit our students, researchers and academic staff” (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Alex Mihailidis, a leading researcher in intelligent health systems and the use of technology to help older adults, has been appointed associate vice-president, international partnerships at the University of Toronto.

In his new role, Mihailidis will be tasked with nurturing alliances with academic and industry partners across the globe, as well as securing sponsored reserach, support for entrepreneurs and philanthropic support for the university’s academic and translation mandates from international sources. He will also promote Toronto's thriving innovation ecosystem.

Mihailidis will work to identify and develop funding opportunities for international graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to bring their talents to U of T.

“Partnerships really strengthen the research that we’re doing here at U of T,” said Mihailidis, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine's department of occupational science and occupational therapy and the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering who is also cross-appointed to the department of computer science.

“There’s great expertise out there and partners that we can tap into to benefit our students, researchers and academic staff.”

Mihailidis takes over from Christopher Yip, who is set for a new role as dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and will report to Vice-President, International Ted Sargent and Vice-President, Research and Innovation Vivek Goel.

“Over the past 15 years, Alex has established himself as a leader in the field of intelligent systems in health, to the extent that some of his publications are cited as foundational works in the spheres of rehabilitation, robotics and technologies to support older adults,” said Goel.

“He has been instrumental to numerous transdisciplinary initiatives that engage a broad range of scholars from diverse fields and institutions and has consistently displayed a talent for promoting collaboration in research and innovation.

“Alex’s own research, at the intersections of engineering, computer science, clinical practice and social science, and his aptitude for strategic collaboration epitomize the direction we’re heading in as an institution, as we look to continually seek out a diverse array of partnerships to expand our resource pool and our global impact.”

Mihailidis is an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of technology and aging, and has collaborated with researchers in the U.S., U.K. and Europe. He has served on the program committees of numerous international conferences and symposiums and has been invited to lead global think-tanks to educate international leaders on the use of technology to support the elderly.

 “Collaboration across borders has been one of the hallmarks of Alex’s career, and some of his most impactful research has been carried out through partnerships with academic, industry and public sector partners globally,” said Sargent. ”His experience, enthusiasm and exceptional track record of impact make him perfectly equipped to strengthen U of T’s ties with partners near and far.”

Mihailidis says academic partnerships have been critical to his research and to his ongoing work as scientific director and CEO of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, a research and innovation network devoted to the development of technologies and services for older adults and their caregivers.

He's also keen to highlight the opportunities offered by industry partnerships, both for researchers looking to turn their ideas and innovations into real-world applications and for students hungry for practical experience.

“There are wonderful internship opportunities to be had with companies that will provide experiences for our students that they wouldn’t get from just being in a traditional grad student role at the university,” he said.

International opportunities add another layer of value to industry exposure, Mihailidis said, in that students “get to experience other sectors, countries and landscapes where their research can make a significant difference and have a great impact.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Mihailidis earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in engineering at U of T and a PhD from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. He has been a faculty member at U of T for 15 years as well as a senior scientist at KITE Toronto Rehab-UHN.

He says his work has been shaped by a desire to leverage engineering to help people in need.

It was a conversation with another engineer – who was caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease – that Mihailidis says set him on the path towards researching the use of technology to help the elderly.

Mihailidis says the man lamented the difficulties and embarrassment caused by his wife’s need for reminders to do personal tasks such as getting dressed or using the toilet – and wondered out loud why a computer couldn’t be used to assist her.

“That idea stuck with me,” said Mihailidis. “So for my master’s project and then my PhD, I developed a computer-based system that could monitor older adults with dementia and give them prompts for tasks such as washing their hands, getting dressed and making meals.”

The scope of Mihailidis’s research has since been expanded to include related domains such as robotics and smart home systems.

He says he’s looking forward to building on the partnerships fostered by his predecessor Yip, and hailed the impact of the incoming dean of engineering.

“I’ve been working closely with Chris [Yip] for a couple of years – particularly on international partnerships – and we’ve already had discussions about how new partnerships can be developed, not only through my position but through his position as the dean,” said Mihailidis.

“They’ll be big shoes to fill.”