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2 weeks 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

Byrne: Water infrastructure vital to Alabama’s economy

There are very few places in the United States that can boast the sort of diverse infrastructure we have here in Alabama. There are 11 interstates, over 3,000 miles of freight rail, 5 commercial airports, and more than 132,000 miles of rivers and stream channels in our state.

One of our state’s most important pieces of infrastructure is the Port of Mobile, the 10th largest port and fastest growing container terminal in the United States. With 41 berths, 5 million square feet of warehouses and yards, and covering 4,000 total acres, it has an economic impact of around 135,000 jobs in Southwest Alabama and generates more than $22 billion per year in economic value.


Recent expansions and developments at the Port will only further grow the economic impact of the Port on not only Southwest Alabama but our entire state. For example, the recent announcement about a new roll-on/roll-off vehicle processing facility at the Port will help our state’s automotive manufacturing industry continue to grow.

Even with these impressive facts, it has been clear that our infrastructure throughout the country is in need of updates, repairs, and overhauls to ensure that we are at the cutting edge of transportation and innovation in order to compete economically on the world stage.

Last week, in a major bipartisan effort, Congress sent a piece of legislation to President Trump’s desk that will help to unlock the full economic potential of our region and state.

America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 passed the Senate last week, after passing out of the House a few weeks back. This bill authorizes funding for waterway projects, port improvement projects, and other important water infrastructure projects in all 50 states. Not only will this allow for much-needed infrastructure improvements, but the bill reinstates a “Buy America” provision for federally funded projects, meaning a boost for American steel producers.

Commonsense legislation like this will create jobs, incentivize the use of American-made products, and build our nation’s capabilities to produce, package, and transport goods all around the globe. It will also make our drinking water safer, improve our wastewater systems, combat algae blooms, and restore our nation’s beaches through grant programs.

The Army Corps of Engineers can move forward on improving our dams, locks, reservoirs, and shipping channels. We have a major Army Corps project that needs attention right here in Southwest Alabama. The project to deepen and widen the Mobile Bay Ship Channel has the ability to fundamentally alter the economic potential of the Port and create more jobs in our state. Senator Richard Shelby has long been a champion for this project, and I am committed to working with him to make it a reality.

Our shipyards, airports, and rail yards will all see an impact from waterway projects like this, and I am thankful to the members of the Senate and my colleagues in the House for passing this water infrastructure legislation to help propel Alabama even further into the 21st Century.

The future of Alabama rests upon our ability to look beyond the short term and into what will set us up for success for years to come. Focusing locally on important infrastructure projects will spur economic growth through business investment and job creation, and it will open up opportunities we don’t even know exist yet.

Investing in our infrastructure today will lead to a stronger tomorrow. I applaud the work of my colleagues in both the House and the Senate in making a better economic future possible through this vital water infrastructure legislation.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

7 hours ago

Shelter dogs fly from Alabama to New Jersey after Hurricane Michael leaves pets stranded

Shelter dogs from Birmingham are getting a new start after they boarded a plane and were flown to New Jersey.

A partnership between the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, Greater Good, and Wings Of Rescue made the safe transportation of 50 dogs possible.


“It gives these animals an immediate chance at getting in a home. Animals get stressed in a shelter. And with all the storms, and all this travel, it almost makes you want to cry being out here and seeing this,” said GBHS CEO Allison Black Cornelius.

With the transportation of the dogs to New Jersey, more animals can now be taken into the Birmingham shelter from Florida and surrounding areas.

“The average length of stay for a pet transported from Wings of Rescue is about two and a half days, three and a half days,” said President of Wings Of Rescue Ric Browde.

“So, these pets have a little bit of celebrity to them, so they’re probably going to be moving out faster. They’re just going to go very quickly. ”

Donations to Hurricane Michael animal transports can be made here.

@RealKyleMorris is a Yellowhammer News contributor and also contributes weekly to The Daily Caller

8 hours ago

Jones accuses ALGOP of putting ‘party over’ state, country on Kavanaugh; ALGOP responds: ‘A grave error as it highlights his arrogance’

In an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” that aired on Friday, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) defended his vote opposing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jones, who had pledged to keep an open mind throughout the process, voted along party lines against President Donald Trump’s pick to replace the retired associate justice, Anthony Kennedy. In the end, Jones’ vote was not consequential, as Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50-48 margin.

The junior Alabama Democratic U.S. Senator was criticized for voting against Kavanaugh by the Alabama Republican Party, which accused him of putting the party over the state and the country.


“You know, I do what I think is right,” Jones said when asked by host Don Dailey about the backlash. “This is the same Republican Party who voted for a guy last year – who continued to support someone who ran against me who there were very, very serious and credible allegations. This is a Republican Party that puts party over state, party over country. So, I’m not surprised they put this in political tones. The very thing that I avoided from the beginning, from my standpoint and my standpoint was what mattered to me and my staff – we were not looking at this in political terms. We were looking at it to determine his record, what he’s said, what he’s done, what we believe he could do, look at his qualifications, as well as his temperament and other issues to determine whether or not this man should be on the United States Supreme Court. It was a completely non-partisan issue the way we looked at it. And we knew the way other people would make it partisan. But that’s fine with me. I can justify my vote to anyone.”

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Alabama Republican Party chairwoman Terry Lathan fired back and said Jones’ “no” vote” highlighted his “arrogance.”

“Looking at this from ‘his’ standpoint and his ‘staff’ standpoint and not the will of the majority of Alabamians is a grave error as it highlights his arrogance,” Lathan said. “It clearly shows us it’s about him and his liberal views, not what most of our people think. Doug Jones said the majority of Alabamians wishes were not the ‘be all to end all’ on this vote. That ‘I know better than you all’ point of view will be revisited by voters in 2020. We will remind them what he thinks of the majority.”

Later in his “Capitol Journal” appearance, Jones indicated he had no regrets regarding that vote despite what the polling in Alabama showed regarding Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“You can’t worry,” he replied. “When you’re in a position like I am, you can’t worry about that. You know Don, if I tried to make every decision based on polling or what my political opponents say is the will of the people, then I wouldn’t be a very effective U.S. Senator. That’s not leadership. Leadership is studying the issues. And I had a heck of a lot more information than all of these politicians who came out of the chute wanting me to vote for or against. I had just as many people wanting me to vote against him as for him that had not done the research. We did our homework, and I’m comfortable where I am, and that’s the way we continue to operate in my office.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

9 hours ago

Are Alabama Republicans softening on Medicaid expansion?

The race for Governor in Alabama has been boiled down to three issues:

  1. Governor Kay Ivey’s claim she steadied the ship of state
  2. Democrat challenger Walt Maddox whining about not being able to secure a debate
  3. Maddox wanting to expand Medicaid without a serious plan for doing so

Republicans in Alabama have been steadfastly against the Medicaid expansion proposal because it will require an additional outlay of up to $200 million dollars. The infusion of federal dollars that would come after an expansion has been sighted numerous times, by numerous Democrats running for statewide office. The flawed argument is that the program will pay for itself.

It won’t.


The facts are simple, the Alabama legislature, which will probably retain their super-majority status, will have to budget for any expansion. This is a wildly unpopular idea amongst Republican legislators, but now lame-duck State Senator Gerald Dial is stepping out and advocating for it.

He writes:

For years, we have used state dollars to recruit industries to locate in Alabama, and we have been very successful. We now have an opportunity to support existing health care jobs and make sure every Alabamian has access to care when they need it, and where they need it. Investing in Medicaid expansion will keep our rural hospitals open, save hundreds of local jobs, and provide basic insurance coverage to almost 300,000 Alabamians. These are our friends and neighbors, hardworking Alabamians who don’t earn enough to afford health insurance. They work in our local restaurants, in our local retail shops and build our houses. Medicaid expansion would enable them to continue working while keeping their family healthy.

Now there is nothing earth-shattering about this suggestion or the argument being made here. The expansion would bring in buckets of federal tax dollars, and that money would be spent in the state of Alabama. It will also boost the bottom lines of hospitals and provide money that will matriculate its way around the Alabama economy.

The argument could easily be made that the fight against ObamaCare is lost politically. “Pre-existing conditions coverage” has led to higher costs, but that aspect remains popular. Republicans failed to repeal and replace it in 2017, and they don’t seem to keen on revisiting that fight right now.

Even with those battles fought and lost, Republican voters still dislike ObamaCare.

But lawmakers’ desire to acquire new spending in Alabama may be leading us toward a push to expand Medicaid after this round of elections.

There is a history for taking on politically unpopular issues in Alabama shortly after elections take place. In 2007, legislators gave themselves a pay raise. In 2015, Governor Robert Bentley (and the real Governor Rebekah Caldwell Mason) found himself advocating for additional revenue after running a campaign saying that very thing would not be necessary.

Senator Dial seems to be on an island by himself on this issue right now, and he may be a lone voice in the Alabama Republican Party making this call.

But don’t be surprised if this changes after November 5th.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

10 hours ago

Watch: Dog goes crazy after Alabama owner returns from deployment overseas

Seeing military service members reunited with loved ones after lengthy periods of time overseas is always emotional, but this time it is man’s best friend stealing the show.

Alabama’s Captain Josh Williams just returned from a ten-month deployment on the Korea peninsula with his brigade, which is part of the 3rd Infantry Division. In a video recorded by his wife Anna, Williams is greeted by one very happy canine companion.



The dog’s name is Milo, and, as you can tell, he is excited to have Captain Williams back home.

Williams is a Cavalry Troop Commander and earned his commission as an Army Officer through Auburn University’s ROTC program. He is a fourth-generation Army officer, and his grandfather did a tour in Korea 55 years ago this year. When Williams first arrived on the Korean peninsula in January of this year the tensions were at their highest level since his grandfather was there, but diplomatic tensions have eased to the calmest levels in recent years during his deployment.

“Praise God,” Williams’ father, state Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), told Yellowhammer News, referencing the deescalation of tensions with North Korea and his son’s safe return.

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