9 months ago

Alabama’s burgeoning bioscience industry buoyed by research universities like UAH

With the help of in-state research universities like the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), Alabama’s bioscience industry is rapidly becoming an economic driver, according to a recent report from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

In a press release on Wednesday, UAH discussed how the industry’s boom is a “rising tide” that “lifts all boats.”

The Yellowhammer State’s research universities account for $631 million in bioscience-related research and development (R&D) expenditures annually, which is equivalent to a whopping 69 percent of all academic R&D in Alabama. This is also well above the national average. In what is perhaps explained by Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) influence on federal government appropriations, the state’s research universities receive nearly $298 million in funding every year from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Public sector leads the way

UAH, especially, has seen success with NIH funding and this is no accident. In 2012, the university codified as a priority its intention to become a recognized leader in the area of biotechnology education and research in “Expanding Horizons–A Strategic Plan: 2013-2020.” Pursuant to that priority was the need to increase expenditures and funding from sources like the NIH, which would support the collaborative efforts of UAH’s academic and institutional research units.

Today, the Huntsville university is well on its way to achieving that lofty objective. Since the strategic plan’s formulation, UAH has received more than $2 million in NIH funding, while making available several new biotechnologies for the marketplace through its Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC).

These concrete successes include the development of anti-fungal technologies, a method of extracting lipids from algae without dewatering, a microfabricated oligonucleotide synthesis tool, a chemically assisted rapid algae harvesting technique, a technique to produce recombinant proteins for crystallization using polymerase chain reaction-based gene synthesis, over the counter rapid detection of chlamydia, a novel T-cell immunotherapy that uses nanoparticles and a new way to deliver nucleic acids using a polyethylene imine-cytokine conjugate.

Private sector shares in the successes

The public university’s bioscience boom has also paved the way for several startups to spin off. Gene Capture, which has successfully demonstrated a completely new process for rapidly determining the genetic signature of a pathogen, is the brainchild of Dr. Krishnan Chittur, a professor emeritus in UAH’s Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, UAH biology professor Dr. Joseph Ng, UAH adjunct professor Dr. Mark Pusey, and UAH alumnus Jeff Dowell.

Gene Capture’s disposable test cartridge is about the size of a smartphone and can analyze a human or animal sample to detect the presence of a broad range of specific bacteria, viruses or fungi in less than an hour.

Dr. Ng is also the founder of iXpress Genes, which specializes in protein services and instrumentation, and protein and genetic engineering research, and enjoys exclusive access to a suite of hyperthermophilic genomes from the deep-sea vents of the Atlantic Ridge. Both companies are located on the campus of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a not-for-profit biotechnology organization co-founded by UAH alumnus Jim Hudson and located in Cummings Research Park.

Kannan Grant, the OTC’s director, said, “North Alabama has a very robust and thriving defense and aerospace industry, but with the same mindset and expertise, we can diversify our economy by continuing to develop an equally robust biotechnology industry. We have done exceptionally well and need to continue on that trajectory – and our efforts should not just stop with biotechnology. We need to look at other industries as well, such as automotive, software, cybersecurity, and alternative energy technologies.”

Huntsville and UAH are mutually beneficial

For Dr. Jerome Baudry, endowed Pei-Ling Chan Eminent Scholar and professor in UAH’s Department of Biological Sciences, the opportunities afforded by both the university and its location in the thriving city of Huntsville have been integral to his ability to use high performance computing to push drug target-and-hit discovery into prediction of pre-clinical and clinical outcomes.

“I moved my research laboratory to UAH to leverage an academic and industrial R&D environment that is unique in the nation, thanks to UAH, the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology, and the many biotech companies in Cummings Research Park and beyond. By integrating my own academic R&D laboratory with industrial partners, I have seen the differences it makes to do my research here at UAH and in the Huntsville community,” Baudry outlined.

Baudry is far from the only doctor with this type of story. Dr. Surangi Jayawardena, an assistant professor of chemistry, has been able to successfully harness the resources of both UAH and the surrounding community to further her research designing point-of-care rapid diagnostic kits for pathogenic bacteria and exploring anti-infective nanotherapeutics to treat nosocomial infections.

“I synthesize my own nanomaterials and make the surface modifications to do biological conjugation to target microorganisms,” she explained.

In return, her rarefied skill set, like Dr. Baudry’s, not only enhances the university’s reputation but also that of the entire North Alabama region.

“I’m really glad to be here at UAH, because I bring a different angle to research, one that is geared toward medical applications,” Jayawardena added.

Strengthened by its research prowess, UAH’s academics are now fueling Alabama’s workforce

Complementing its impressive research efforts are the university’s academic programs, which serve as a much-needed pipeline for the region’s workforce. Today’s students – and tomorrow’s bioscience pioneers – have seven to choose from: Bachelor of Science degrees in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry, in biology with concentrations in microbiology and biochemistry, and in chemical engineering with a concentration in biotechnology; Master of Science degrees in biology and in chemistry; and doctoral degrees in biotechnology science and engineering and in nursing science with a concentration in omics.

Additionally, starting in the summer of 2019, a joint program with the Capstone College of Nursing at the University of Alabama – the Nursing Science Ph.D. – is poised to be the first online program of its kind as well as the first joint Nursing Science Ph.D. program in the state.

“An omics revolution is occurring in healthcare, and nurses are in a key position to be part of interdisciplinary teams who make scientific discoveries in biology at the molecular level that impact human health and the environment,” Dr. Pam O’Neal, an associate professor in UAH’s College of Nursing, advised. “Breakthroughs in disease treatment and health promotion with personalized medicine approaches will change the future of healthcare. With this program, we are on the frontier of exploring methods to improve and manage health by investigating genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics, pharmacogenomics, microbiomics, and exposomics.”

Impact on Alabama’s aerospace industry

Also, laser-focused on the frontier of healthcare, and in niche Huntsville fashion, is the College’s Nursing and Aerospace Committee. Since 1970, it has been involved in space programs and research activities, partnering with not just UAH’s Colleges of Science and Engineering, but also with commercial and federal entities like the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

“The College has played a significant role in the history of aerospace nursing with its ties to the formation of the Space Nursing Society and given the current conditions of nursing and the aerospace industry. And it will continue to play a significant role in shaping this specialty by conducting research, collaborating with other institutes, and increasing humanity’s knowledge about advances in aerospace nursing,” Dr. Azita Amiri, an assistant professor of nursing and the committee’s chair, said.

The bottom line

While there are seemingly endless examples to share about the ways UAH has endeavored to fulfill its commitment to be a recognized leader in biotechnology, what binds them all together is vision – the university’s mission to be a preeminent, comprehensive, technological research-intensive institution known for “inspiring and instilling the spirit of discovery, the ability to solve complex problems, and a passion for improving the human condition.”

This, in turn, is combined with a much larger vision, one that sees the region and the entire state of Alabama at the forefront of the bioscience industry and growing through the support of trade organizations like BIO Alabama (which represents the state’s bio-related industries), research scientists, and clinicians. With entities like these working hand-in-hand, Alabamians hope that the strikingly upward trend of the last decade will continue well into the future, to the benefit of current and future generations.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 mins ago

Byrne: Percentage of illegal border crossers ‘might be part of a terrorist effort’ — ‘We have to be very vigilant’

In the very early stages of the 2020 U.S. Senate campaign, immigration has become one of the primary focuses, especially given the statements of one of the contest’s apparent front-runners, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

One of the concerns is that among the mass influxes of illegal border crossers could be individuals that look to inflict harm on the country, particularly those from Middle Eastern nations coming in through the porous U.S.-Mexico border.

In an appearance on Huntsville’s WVNN, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) said it is not out of the realm of possibilities such bad actors could be coming into the United States through Mexico.

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“What we know is is that unlike ten years ago, 80% of the people coming across the border are from three countries: They’re from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras,” Byrne explained on Tuesday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show.” “They are families and unaccompanied minors, and they’re just overwhelming the system that we’re having so many of them, and they’re incredibly needy. But in addition to that 80% of the people that fall into that category, there are some onesies and twosies of people that might be – we can’t necessarily prove it, might be part of a terrorist effort. So, we have to be very vigilant about that.”

“Now the truth of the matter is in that other 20%, you’ve got people coming from all over the world,” he continued. “They found the body of a young Indian girl, a Hindu Indian girl, the other day out in the desert. So, we know they’re getting them from everywhere. And some of these people are coming across because they want to be part of America. And some of them are coming across for really bad reasons. Some of them are drug traffickers. Some of them are human traffickers. And we are concerned, though we can’t give you hard evidence of this – that some of them may be part of a terrorist effort in this country.”

The Baldwin County Republican U.S. congressman explained the difficulties in identifying those coming into the country seeking asylum as who they claim to be, which is problematic in determining potential threats.

“I mean, just because you’re from a Middle Eastern country doesn’t necessarily mean you’re part of a terrorist network,” Byrne said. “So there is a lot more that goes into it, and I’ve got to be careful what I say because of the classified briefings I’ve had, but there is a lot more that goes into this to try to make a determination who is this person. And part of the problem, Jeff, is the unknown. Because how can we know who these people are? They say, ‘My name is so-and-so, and I’m from this country, and I’m here because I’ve been persecuted in my country.’”

“Well, how do we know that?” he continued. “And how do we – in some of these countries like Syria, we have no way to go back and check that out because their communities are gone? The people we would go to, to try to verify who they are – are in some refugee camp somewhere. It’s just the impossibility to have full information on these people that is such a problem. And so you just can’t let whoever you want to come across the border. You have to have a very rigorous system to determine who are these people and whether they should be here or not.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

13 hours ago

Auburn’s Bruce Pearl slams AOC for ‘concentration camps’ tweets: ‘Attempt to rewrite the Holocaust’

Auburn University head basketball coach Bruce Pearl is not tolerating what he views as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) “attempt to rewrite the holocaust” after she compared current immigration facilities in the U.S. to “concentration camps.”

Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday tweeted, “This administration (the Trump administration) has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying.”

“This is not hyperbole,” she claimed. “It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

In a follow-up tweet the same day, she doubled down and blamed others for taking offense to her original tweet.

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“And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps,” Ocasio-Cortez asserted.

“Concentration camps are considered by experts as ‘the mass detention of civilians without trial,'” she concluded. “And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.”

In a direct response to Ocasio-Cortez, Pearl tweeted, “Tell that to the people who died and survived those concentration camps that they don’t know the difference.”

“Never again is reserved for the 9 million people murdered including 6 million Jews,” he added. “The comparison is attempt to rewrite the holocaust! Stop!”

Pearl this spring became the fourth Jewish head coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four. He was the first president of the Jewish Coaches Association.

This came as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski made similar “concentration camps” comparisons on Tuesday, with the two liberal media personalities drawing rebukes from the Auschwitz Memorial’s official Twitter account.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

At Paris Air Show, Deloitte gives major gift to advance Alabama Cyber School

PARIS — Deloitte presented a $100,000 gift to the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering Foundation Tuesday in a ceremony at the 2019 Paris Air Show.

The donation is a combination of a financial contribution as well as in-kind support. This donation is intended to promote and advance the state magnet school, which opens in Huntsville in August 2020.

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Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle accepted the check on behalf of Deloitte from Ray Winn, a partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP and a cyber leader.

“One of the primary conversations we are having here at the Paris Air Show is the need to secure aviation and missile platforms,” Mayor Battle said. “To do so requires a workforce that understands how cyber systems interact with hardware.

“This school sets the foundation blocks for creating those platforms.”

Carey Miller, a managing director at Deloitte & Touche LLP, said the firm has been committed to the success of the Huntsville community since opening its office there six years ago.

“The Huntsville community recognizes that cyber is everywhere and that by investing in education, it can be the nation’s cyber leader,” Miller said.

The independent residential magnet school will provide academically motivated 7th through 12th grade students from across the state with educational opportunities and experiences in the rapidly growing fields of cyber technology and engineering.

The school will also assist a broad range of teachers, administrators, and superintendents across the State of Alabama in replicating cyber technology and engineering studies in their own schools.

Deloitte is one of the largest professional service organizations in the world.

(Courtesy Made in Alabama)

A ‘Story Worth Sharing’: Yellowhammer News and Serquest partner to award monthly grants to Alabama nonprofits

Christmas is the season of giving, helping others and finding magic moments among seemingly ordinary (and occasionally dreary) days. What better way to welcome this season than to share what Alabamians are doing to help others?

Yellowhammer News and Serquest are partnering to bring you, “A Story Worth Sharing,” a monthly award given to an Alabama based nonprofit actively making an impact through their mission. Each month, the winning organization will receive a $1,000 grant from Serquest and promotion across the Yellowhammer Multimedia platforms.

Yellowhammer and Serquest are looking for nonprofits that go above and beyond to change lives and make a difference in their communities.

Already have a nonprofit in mind to nominate? Great!

Get started here with contest guidelines and a link to submit your nomination:

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Nominations are now open and applicants only need to be nominated once. All non-winning nominations will automatically be eligible for selection in subsequent months. Monthly winners will be announced via a feature story that will be shared and promoted on Yellowhammer’s website, email and social media platforms.

Submit your nomination here.

Our organizations look forward to sharing these heartwarming and positive stories with you over the next few months as we highlight the good works of nonprofits throughout our state.

Serquest is an Alabama based software company founded by Hammond Cobb, IV of Montgomery. The organization sees itself as, “Digital road and bridge builders in the nonprofit sector to help people get where they want to go faster, life’s purpose can’t wait.”

Learn more about Serquest here.

16 hours ago

Shelby backs Trump, says Moore Senate bid could help Doug Jones

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Wednesday echoed sentiments previously expressed by President Donald Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., with Alabama’s senior senator saying a Roy Moore senate bid in 2020 could once again hand the seat back to Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

Before a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Shelby was speaking to members of the media and was asked about a potential Moore bid, considering the former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice is set to make a formal announcement on his Senate intentions on Thursday.

Per pool reports, Shelby said he would not support Moore if he does indeed announce his candidacy, which is widely expected in the Yellowhammer State’s political circles.

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“For a lot of reasons known to you and everybody else…I think Alabama could do better,” Shelby emphasized, saying it would be difficult for Republicans to win back the seat with Moore as the nominee.

Shelby reportedly added that he has spoken with former Senator and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Shelby believes would be “formidable” and would “probably clear the field.”

“I’ve not encouraged him to run, but he’s a friend,” Shelby noted.

Sources have told Yellowhammer News that Sessions is not currently actively considering mounting a campaign to reclaim his old seat.

Besides Sessions, Shelby hinted at other good options being available for Jones to be unseated.

“I think we’ve got a lot of talent in Alabama that maybe could come to the front,” he said.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) are the credible candidates who have formally announced Republican candidacies to unseat Jones thus far.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is expected to make an announcement on his potential Senate bid next week after filing his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn