Dr. King K. Holmes, a world-renowned expert on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases who has influenced and trained researchers around the world, will step down after nearly seven years as the founding chairman of the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health.

Holmes, who came to the UW in 1967 as a medical resident, said he will focus on his own research and service projects as a faculty member after he leaves the position next year.

“While I love it every day, I think about succession,” said Holmes, 75. “It’s developed now. The next steps are really to sustain what we’ve built and pursue new directions — with someone a little younger.”

Under Holmes’ direction, the department has become a powerhouse, now the second-largest UW department in terms of external funding.

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A medical doctor who trained in microbiology, Holmes is known for his broad knowledge and ability to bring together researchers and others from different disciplines to tackle some of the most difficult infectious diseases in the world.

“He brought sexually transmitted diseases out of the closet,” said Dr. Judith Wasserheit, vice chairwoman of the department. “King did pivotal research on almost every aspect, every single STD, every diagnostic or treatment.”

And he didn’t just stick to biology, she said, but “bridged across the sciences to behavioral and social factors that put people at risk for STDs and HIV. It was that wonderful, incredibly broad-thinking ability that created this field.”

“There is nobody in the world like King,” said Dr. Matt Golden, director of the HIV/STD Program at Public Health — Seattle & King County. “He’s been a leading figure in the field since he was a young man. How many people are at the top of their field for 40 years?”

Holmes’ research publications, which began the same year he came to the UW with a series in JAMA entitled “Studies of venereal disease,” now include a total of 548 peer-reviewed papers, 178 book chapters, editorials and other contributions, and 29 books and journal supplements.

Founder of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic at Harborview, he also established the Center for AIDS and STDs at the UW and founded the Center for AIDS Research, training and mentoring others as he went along.

“This is a man who has fathered the field and his ‘children and grandchildren’ are now leaders in the field,” Wasserheit said. “His impact has been profound.”

Carol M. Ostrom: costrom@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2249. On Twitter @costrom