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2 years ago

Birmingham’s Southern Research conducting high throughput Zika screening for NIH

Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)
Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)

In 2014, Southern Research received funding from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through a multi-center U19 grant (U19AI109680) administered by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct high throughput screening (HTS) against six disease-causing viruses: dengue, West Nile, SARS, influenza, Venezuela equine encephalitis complex, and chikungunya. With the program in place and as Southern Research has completed screening the viruses, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently issued a supplementary $650,000 award for the Birmingham organization to expand its program to include high throughput screening for Zika.

“Southern Research has a long history in antiviral research, including screening viruses in the same flavivirus genus as Zika, so we’re pleased the NIH saw fit to expand the U19 program to include screening on Zika,” said Bob Bostwick, Ph.D., director of the High-Throughput Screening Center at Southern Research. “For drug discovery purposes, we hope to identify compounds that work well across this entire genus.”

According to the supplemental grant, Southern Research will construct an assay for Zika that can be conducted in HTS, and test over 300,000 compounds against the virus, a process that will take nine months.

Developing robust screening capabilities


For Southern Research, compound screening has been a part of the organization’s efforts since the mid-1950s, when researchers began manually screening anticancer drugs under a contract with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Around this same period, the Virus Research Division began evaluating antiviral agents against a wide range of pathogenic viruses, including the herpesviruses, poxviruses, acute upper respiratory disease viruses, and mosquito-borne viruses, such as Yellow Fever virus.

By the 1960s, the early work had already shown promise. Manual screenings conducted by the viral research team had identified the compounds that led to the discovery of Ara-A, an antiviral used to treat human herpesviruses, chicken pox, shingles, human cytomegalovirus — a cause of childhood hearing loss — and a lethal encephalitis.

In the 1980s, following the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, Southern Research expanded into HIV antiviral research through a series of contracts and grants with the U.S. Army and the NIH. This effort involved screening compound collections consisting of approximately 20,000 samples, and developing a staff of scientists proficient in working with many infectious diseases. By the following decade, the organization’s anti-HIV screening program had become the largest in the country.

While earning a global reputation for producing high quality antiviral research, Southern Research’s screening capabilities were expanding far beyond antivirals to include screening of other infectious diseases and cancer. In the late 1990s, the organization invested in emerging HTS technologies to maintain a prominent role at the forefront of drug discovery. This involved assembling a large compound collection — consisting of over 1 million samples — and acquiring robotic platforms for automated screening, enabling the organization to test hundreds of thousands of compounds for each new target. Eventually, the program would become involved in the NIH Roadmap Molecular Libraries initiative, and serve as one of 12 centers in the NCI Chemical Biology Consortium.


“Southern Research’s in-house screening capabilities are unmatched by most universities and private research organizations across the globe,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “With our Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) facility, an active in-house library of over one million compounds, and a wealth of institutional knowledge, our researchers pride themselves on finding chemical structures needed to develop drugs against some of the greatest global health threats.”

High throughput screening and drug discovery

Today, HTS is an automated process that allows researchers to rapidly test a large number of compounds in order to determine their potential use as starting points for the invention of new drugs. With time and advances in technology, the process of screening compounds has evolved significantly from the early days. However, despite these advances, some things remain the same.

Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)
Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)

“Whether you are working on an antiviral or an anti-cancer medication, the drug discovery process is incredibly complex and often starts with screening,” said Bostwick. “HTS usually requires screening hundreds of thousands of compounds to find three or four good chemical starting points for medicinal chemistry.”

With the recent expansion of its U19 program to include screening of the Zika virus, Southern Research maintains a prominent global position in antiviral research. Its work has led to the fight against HIV/AIDS – supporting the U.S. government and numerous drug companies in the production of many of the FDA-approved antiviral drugs currently on the market — and screening of compounds that allowed for numerous other drug breakthroughs, including several against previously drug resistant strains of tuberculosis and malaria. Yet, despite this record of success, researchers acknowledge a cure for Zika will still take time.

“Even though we know a lot about flaviviruses, discovering and developing effective therapeutic agents may take several years,” Bostwick continued. “Just like any other project we’ve undertaken, we will use data as our guide and hope our efforts will yield results which can be helpful to the scientific community.”

2 hours ago

A second former Prattville police officer sentenced for theft

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Friday announced that former Prattville police officer John Wayne McDaniel Jr. has been sentenced for conspiracy to commit burglary, third-degree theft, second-degree theft of prescription medicine and criminal impersonation of a police officer.

McDaniel was sentenced in Autauga County Circuit Court to ten years for each count, with the sentences being split for him to serve three years in community corrections rather than prison. The sentences will run concurrently.

“It is always serious and a sad betrayal of the public’s trust when a law enforcement officer breaks the law he has sworn to uphold,” said Marshall.

He continued, “In this case, the court considered that McDaniel acknowledged his wrongdoing, cooperated in the investigation, and assisted with information for the prosecution of others in related crimes. His sentence takes this into account, yet imposes strong controls to invoke his prison sentence if he fails to abide by the strict standards of the community corrections program.”


In the community corrections program, defendants may serve their time outside of prison or jail but are held to stringent conditions and supervision, and upon any failure to comply are subject to immediately being sent to jail or prison.

McDaniel’s cooperation was an integral factor in the successful prosecution of another former Prattville police officer, Leon Todd Townson, who was sentenced on Monday to serve ten years in prison for first-degree insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit first-degree burglary and and three years for third-degree burglary. Townson’s sentences run concurrently.

McDaniel and Townson were both originally charged with breaking into a home in 2015, and Townson was also charged in 2017 with defrauding an insurance agency by filing a claim worth $190,000 using false information.

Marshall commended Assistant Attorney General John Kachelman of the office’s Criminal Trials Division for his exemplary work in bringing these cases to a successful conclusion. The Attorney General also applauded Special Agents of his Investigations Division and thanked the Prattville Police Department for their crucial role in the investigation and prosecution of the two cases.

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

3 hours ago

77-year-old identical twin sisters ‘serving up smiles’ at Alabama McDonald’s

A pair of 77-year-old identical twin sisters working at a Shelby County McDonald’s restaurant has customers saying, “I’m lovin’ it.”

Maryann Byrne and Alice Moore, the twins, are so popular that a customer called WBRC urging them to do a story about the sisters, who work at the location on Valleydale Road and the corner of Caldwell Mill Road.

Byrne and Moore do every task – from taking customers’ orders, to preparing food and pouring piping-hot cups of coffee – with genuine smiles that are contagious to co-workers and customers alike.

“Those two ladies are a breath of fresh air for all the people who come in here,” customer Rod Peeks told WBRC. “They’re just amazing.”

The sisters say it all comes down to them loving to serve others and caring about the people they interact with.

“The customers are gorgeous, they really are,” said Byrne. “They’re like your family members.”

“We like to make people happy. We like to please people. God made them and we need to please them,” added Moore.


The story gets even better. The sisters get to work with another family member, as Moore’s daughter is the general manager of the restaurant.

“They’re my superstars and I love them to pieces. Please come in and see them,” Barbara Gibbs said about her mom and aunt.

Byrne calls her sister “the twin queen,” because Moore has a set of twins and her daughter Maria, the manager, gave birth to twin boys.

Watch the entire story below:

WBRC FOX6 News – Birmingham, AL

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

3 hours ago

Jefferson State Community College gets grant to improve biomedical training program

Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded Jefferson State Community College $220,817 to upgrade a program that trains students for jobs in the medical industry.

The grant, provided to the state by the Appalachian Regional Commission, will be used to purchase equipment, furniture and supplies to upgrade classroom and laboratory space for the college’s biomedical training program. The program trains students as biomedical equipment technicians in both manufacturing and healthcare.

“My administration has championed job growth in Alabama, and programs like this ensure that our workforce is trained and ready for those jobs,” Ivey said in a press release. “I am pleased that this ARC funding is helping to provide better opportunities for Alabama workers.”

Thirty-seven Alabama counties are members of the Appalachian Regional Commission and eligible for grant funds.

4 hours ago

Congratulations to all of Alabama’s Congressional delegation on their re-elections

[WRITER’S NOTE: Before I get started, let me just short-circuit 90 percent of the response to what I am about to say is going to get: No, was not totally wrong about the presidential election. They said Hillary Clinton was going to win the popular vote, and she did.

If you are an elected Congressman from Alabama, you are good to go in November, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The least likely winner is Congresswoman Martha Roby, who is still expected to brutalize her opponent.

This should surprise absolutely no one. Alabama is still a red state. The only blue district in the state is a gerrymandered mess that includes Birmingham and Montgomery, so Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) didn’t even draw an opponent.

The bigger story from is that their analysis shows two things:

1. Republicans are projected to lose, but it’s not impossible (this is better than the chance they gave Trump)

2. There are far more Solid D (188) seats than Solid R (146) seats, that means more seats for Republicans to defend, and that means less money for each one.

This could be a tough year for Republicans, but all is not lost yet.

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

5 hours ago

See where Alabama schools rank in Princeton Review’s list of best colleges

The Princeton Review has released their trademark list of the “Best 384 Colleges” for 2019 and three Alabama schools made the cut.

To compile their latest edition, which is the 27th annual, the Princeton Review interviewed 138,000 students and examined the relevant data on the nation’s colleges.

See which Alabama institutions are on the list, and why, below:


(Note that the following sub-rankings are only done for top 20 schools in each category)

Auburn University

Best Athletic Facilities – #2
Future Rotarians and DAR – #14
Happiest Students – #19
Students Pack the Stadiums – #5
Their Students Love These Colleges – #18
Town-Gown Relations are Great – #7

Academics, on a scale of 1-99: 75

Read more about Auburn’s inclusion here.

The University of Alabama

Best Athletic Facilities – #1
Best College Dorms – #13
Best-Run Colleges – #11
Lots of Greek Life – #5
Most Active Student Governments – #8

Academics, on a scale of 1-99: 77

Read more about UA’s inclusion here.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham

UAB’s post-graduate programs really push it over the top as a premier high-education institution.

The Princeton Review highlighted UAB by saying, “At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, professors and administrators ‘care about you.'” They also boast a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio.

Academics, on a scale of 1-99: 67

Read more about UAB’s inclusion here.

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