2 months ago

Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is already considered a national leader in precision medicine. Now, the university has proposed a project that could transform the Birmingham metropolitan area — and the entire state — for generations to come. The only catch? A final portion of funding from the State of Alabama is needed to make the project a reality.

First, some background.

Precision medicine focuses on individual patients to understand how their lifestyles, behavior, environment and genetics interact to affect their health. More importantly, precision medicine allows a systematic approach to integrate these key factors into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease — all tailored to each and every individual patient.

Essentially, what UAB does in its world-class precision medicine practice — in partnership with top-notch Alabama entities like HudsonAlpha and Southern Research — is: (1) sequence a patient’s whole genome or a specific tumor’s genome; (2) then evaluate that sequence for a mutation(s); (3) use a massive and continually growing database to determine what effect any given mutation has on a patient; (4) cross-reference that mutation with all known compounds or drugs to (5) determine a treatment plan for the patient’s condition.

This process cures rare diseases on a regular basis. The story of UAB’s own Matt Might, considered a preeminent international leader in the field, epitomizes what precision medicine is all about.

Between May 2016 and April 2019, UAB’s precision medicine practice successfully developed research plans for 90 patients who were each previously believed to have an “undiscoverable” rare disease. Additional patients were also referred directly to an appropriate program or specialist through UAB’s precision medicine process.

Moreover, UAB (through the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative) has repurposed approximately 10 existing medications for treating new disorders through the precision medicine practice. Examples are as simple as over-the-counter medications like Prevacid that UAB has discovered can be repurposed to treat a rare disease.

Impact — ‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’

Simply put, the results have been staggering just in the first few years of UAB’s precision medicine focus.

However, this could be merely the beginning — a prelude to historic things to come.

To really establish itself as the unequivocal global leader in genomic medicine and data sciences, UAB is committed to renovating and outfitting a state-of-the-art genomics facility.

The university has already secured a generous $10 million donation from Lee Styslinger III and the Altec-Styslinger Foundation. As such, UAB plans to name the building the “Altec-Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Research Building.”

UAB has further secured $8 million in federal funding.

Yet, to get the facility done, another $50 million is needed. UAB is asking the state for this amount through an Alabama Public School and College Authority bond issue. Governor Kay Ivey chairs the authority.

The university also plans to pursue local government funding from both the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County.

The University of Alabama System, in which UAB is one of three campuses, argues that the payoff on the requested $50 million in funding for the state would be unquestionably worth it in multiple ways.

First, the most tangible way is the estimated economic benefits of the project.

With this facility in place, UAB would recruit 50 researchers and an additional 300 support staff, meaning 350 high to very high paying jobs would be created. The university would spend $75-100 million recruiting this top talent over the next seven or eight years. UAB projects those researchers, when collaborating with the intuition’s existing Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute and Alabama Genomic Health Initiative, can generate $75-85 million in new funding.

Ultimately, leaders within the UA System believe that Birmingham would be set to become the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine” with the facility operational.

Each rare disease discovered or treatment plan formed could, in itself, become a large spin-off healthcare startup company based in the Magic City. This has already happened once in the first few years of the precision medicine practice in the form of a leukemia drug screening service that identifies the best possible treatment for each individual leukemia patient.

At a meeting of the UA System’s board of trustees Friday at UAB, UA System Chancellor Finis St. John said that the UAB genomics facility could have a transformational impact on the Yellowhammer State similar to the likes of NASA and Redstone Arsenal, Mercedes-Benz and the Port of Mobile. He called the project a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

St. John said this is an opportunity “to improve the lives of our citizens in a way which may never occur again.”

Watch his powerful remarks:

St. John’s urgency was echoed by each trustee on Friday. Board members made passionate pleas for the state to support this unprecedented effort.

For the people, and the future, of Alabama

It should also be noted that it is not just officials associated with UAB or the UA System leading the charge on this project.

Every member of the Jefferson County state legislative delegation (who essentially never unanimously agree on anything) has signed a letter of support for the project, calling for the facility to be funded.

Senators wrote in their respective joint letter in 2019, stating, “The economic impact of this project cannot be overstated.”

This letter was authored by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia) and signed by Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham), State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), State Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) and State Sen. Priscilla Dunn (D-Bessemer). House members signed onto a separate letter echoing similar sentiments, and U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) backs the project and helped secure the federal funding component.

Here is a snippet from the state senators’ letter:

Waggoner attended the board of trustees meeting on Friday to emphasize his staunch support for the project.

“The State can provide this support (the requested funding), and the State should provide this support because nothing that the State could do [with the funding] would be more important to the future of this state,” St. John said. “This is not a project to benefit UAB. It’s not a project to even benefit the University of Alabama System. It is a project for the future of the citizens of Alabama.”

Because, while the economic impact of the project could be unparalleled, there is a bigger factor in play, the greatest of them all: people’s lives.

Ivey has said that “every life is a sacred gift from God.”

UAB’s genomics facility would undoubtedly save countless lives — and improve the quality of others. That return on investment is quite simply priceless.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 mins ago

Census Day 2020: Alabamians urged to get counted

April 1 is officially Census Day across the United States of America, and leaders of every type are urging citizens to take the 10 minutes necessary to fill out their census documents.

April 1 is designated as Census Day because when an individual fills out their census form, they are supposed to list where they were living on April 1.

The United States Census is an official count of every person living in the country. It is required by the Constitution to be conducted every 10 years.

The results decide how many representatives in Congress, tax dollars and Electoral College votes each state gets.

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Because the estimated growth of Alabama’s population has lagged behind several other states for the last 10 years, many observers believe the Yellowhammer State is one of the most at risk of losing a seat in Congress and billions of federal funding along with it.

“The COVID-19 pandemic shows the importance of state representation on a national level. If we lose a representative due to a low Census count, that would mean one less voice advocating for Alabama’s needs during critical times in the future,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey commented in a statement on Wednesday.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) tweeted Wednesday, “I know we’re all stuck at home so I encourage you to fill out the 2020 Census — it only takes a few minutes.”

 

(Census Bureau/Screenshot)

So far, Shelby County has the highest response rate with 47.7% of residents responding. Madison County is close behind in second place with 47.2% responding. North Alabama as a region has been better about filling out their census forms.

All people living in the United States are required to be counted by the census, so efforts are being made to contact people who immigrated to the country illegally in addition to recognized American citizens.

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon has previously indicated the State is taking special measures to count the undocumented population within its borders.

Though the Census Bureau has been forced to temporarily suspend their in-person response organization, the employees will begin conducting the surveys with households that have not responded later this year.

According to the Associated Press, the final counts are due to be reported to the federal government by December 31.

Alabamians can fill out their census forms here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

30 mins ago

Preventing death by allowing ‘essential’ murder

We live in wild times.

I’ve watched people all across the political spectrum in recent days deliver impassioned speeches about the need to take extraordinary measures to preserve human life. They say they believe the elderly and vulnerable are just as deserving of a chance to live as any other.

They are right.

Human life is sacred and should be treated as such from the womb to the tomb.

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But since we live in an age of cognitive dissonance and crumbling reason, the same people who will gladly burn the economy to the ground to save grandpa will sue you for the right to keep killing unborn children, even amid this crisis.

In Alabama, it looks like this: on March 27, Governor Kay Ivey issued an order suspending nonessential medical and dental care as part of a comprehensive effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Temporarily eliminating procedures that are not medically necessary reserves scarce PPEs for use where critically needed and reduces the number of people gathering in clinics and potentially spreading the virus.

State Health Officer Scott Harris stipulated that abortion clinics were providing an essential service and could continue to operate.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that he believed that the original order applied to all elective medical and dental procedures. And as elective abortion is not emergency care and treats no disease process, they should not be exempt from the order.

Enter the ACLU, which filed a petition on behalf of abortion providers with the federal courts, asking for an emergency order to prevent state authorities from closing them down; they want abortion classified as an “essential” service.

They don’t believe that abortion clinics should have to live up to the same deal that thousands of other medical providers and citizens are currently living up to, for the greater good. United States District Judge Myron Thompson issued just such an injunction late on March 30, keeping abortion clinics open and temporarily exempting them from the standards of the governors’ mandate. The court will hear arguments on the matter in full on April 13.

Where do I even begin?

Under the law, women currently have a right to abortion services. Likewise, I have the right to seek all manner of medical and dental procedures, many of which are essential preventative care: pap smears, mammograms, dermatological cancer screenings, x-rays, etc. Under normal circumstances, I even have the right to seek all sorts of nonessential medical procedures that improve the quality of my life: therapies or cosmetic procedures for a variety of conditions and complaints.

But these are not normal times, and pregnancy is not an illness.

And our government – for better or for worse – has the power to temporarily restrain ordinary civil liberties to respond to a crisis, as the Governor has in this case.

Pregnancy may be unplanned or undesired. But it is not a disease.

The vast majority of Americans understand that our resources must, for the near future, be prioritized for the treatment of actual disease processes and emergency healthcare that won’t wait.

But if you say something – no matter how divorced from facts – enough times, you start to believe it. And in this case, the abortion industry mantra that “abortion is healthcare” has been repeated so often that a significant number of activists and their acolytes believe it.

Those of us who think that children in utero are just as sacred as the elderly and the frail would point out that abortion is a kind of “healthcare” that always leaves one of its two patients dead.

The feminist in me is sickened of the degrading presumption that lives inside of the abortion-as-healthcare mentality: that women lack the agency and the intelligence to prevent pregnancy in the first place. That pregnancy is something that just spontaneously happens to us without our consent or participation because the basics of biology are just too hard for little ole us.

Victims of rape or abuse are obvious exceptions to this rule, and only a tiny percentage of elective abortions, so save yourself the pithy email.

It’s a pitifully low view of women. It’s a tragically low view of life.

And now, the abortion industry wants to be held out as exceptional and granted exclusive rights. They want their elective procedure deemed more important than all the other elective procedures and more important than the fight to save their neighbors’ lives.

It is not.

Because of this pandemic, there are people from all walks of life on hold for medical care that is far more consequential to their ongoing physical health than the potential abortion of a healthy pregnancy.

Why must heart patients, diabetics, and cancer patients put skin in the game of achieving our collective good while abortion seekers break the social contract and go right on with their desires?

Whether you think abortion should generally be legal or not, it’s certainly no more essential than a million other types of medical care that Alabamians are doing without in this moment of crisis.
Providers of elective abortion are not deserving of special consideration.

No one can honestly argue we are protecting at-risk people from death by allowing the murder of babies as an “essential” service.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

1 hour ago

Merrill: Alabama’s ‘greatest champion and favorite son’ Richard Shelby delivers once again

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill on Wednesday released a statement praising U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby’s role (R-AL) in the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

Merrill also touted the overall leadership being provided to the nation by Trump, as well as the work Governor Kay Ivey is doing for the Yellowhammer State.

Shelby is Alabama’s longest serving senator, and his accomplishments for his home state are well recognized by political observers. Merrill outlined that the COVID-19 stimulus package is merely the latest example of Shelby delivering for his fellow Alabamians.

“Our state is incredibly lucky to have leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for Alabama, which is precisely what Senator Shelby has done,” Merrill stated.

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“The historic coronavirus relief package recently appropriated to the states would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of Senator Shelby,” he continued. “How do I know this? I know this to be true because those words came straight from Senator Mitch McConnell and his team. When liberal extremists pushed their agenda, Senator Shelby drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no farther!’”

There were reports that Democrats were trying to insert provisions related to the Green New Deal into the package, as well as voting measures championed by the left that Merrill and others believed could have jeopardized election security and increased voter fraud.

“I am most grateful for the $400 million provided by Congress to protect the 2020 elections. I am also thankful for the provisions that allow each state to do what is best for that state,” Merrill commented.

He said, “Senator Shelby and his team have been receptive and engaged in finding proactive solutions to ensure the safety and security of our elections are not compromised.”

“After countless calls from me and other election officials from across the country, Senator Shelby made it a priority to see that states were granted the flexibility to best accommodate their respective communities under the bill’s stipulations,” the secretary of state added. “Unlike others who have attempted to implement nationwide election changes – many that would increase the likelihood for voter fraud and voter intimidation to be committed – Senator Shelby has proven yet again that federal interference into the elections process in unwarranted and unnecessary.”

Merrill concluded by lauding the stalwart service of Shelby, as well as casting an optimistic and unifying message as the nation continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we work to get through these trying times, we must remember there is much to be grateful for, such as the collaboration of federal, state and local officials across the country who are working together to provide assistance to those who are most in need,” he advised.

“At the forefront of this fight, finding a solution to the problems we face is Alabama’s Senior Senator, our greatest champion and favorite son, United States Senator Richard C. Shelby!” Merrill concluded.

RELATED: ‘From Alabama to the Moon’ — Richard Shelby is the driving force making America’s space dreams a reality

Merrill’s full statement as follows:

As we navigate these unchartered waters, we must remember that Alabama has a lot to be grateful for.

The leadership exemplified by state and national leaders like President Donald J. Trump, United States Senator Richard Shelby and Governor Kay Ivey should not go unnoticed.

Our state is incredibly lucky to have leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for Alabama, which is precisely what Senator Shelby has done.

The historic coronavirus relief package recently appropriated to the states would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of Senator Shelby.

How do I know this? I know this to be true because those words came straight from Senator Mitch McConnell and his team. When liberal extremists pushed their agenda, Senator Shelby drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no farther!’

I am most grateful for the $400 million provided by Congress to protect the 2020 elections. I am also thankful for the provisions that allow each state to do what is best for that state.

Senator Shelby and his team have been receptive and engaged in finding proactive solutions to ensure the safety and security of our elections are not compromised.

After countless calls from me and other election officials from across the country, Senator Shelby made it a priority to see that states were granted the flexibility to best accommodate their respective communities under the bill’s stipulations.

Unlike others who have attempted to implement nationwide election changes – many that would increase the likelihood for voter fraud and voter intimidation to be committed – Senator Shelby has proven yet again that federal interference into the elections process in unwarranted and unnecessary.

While we work to get through these trying times, we must remember there is much to be grateful for, such as the collaboration of federal, state and local officials across the country who are working together to provide assistance to those who are most in need.

At the forefront of this fight, finding a solution to the problems we face is Alabama’s Senior Senator, our greatest champion and favorite son, United States Senator Richard C. Shelby!

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

6 suggestions to protect yourself from stimulus check scams

Congress moved quickly to help the American public with a $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Unfortunately, fraud experts believe scammers will move just as quickly to try to take your share away. The key is to arm yourself with information.

“No doubt, there will be fake messages that will make countless claims,” said Don White, head of Corporate Security at Regions Bank. “Scammers may text, email or call you, asking for your banking information or claiming they can process your stimulus payment for you. Don’t take the bait. Do not, under any circumstance, give away your personal information via text, email or phone to someone you do not know who is soliciting you.”

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The bipartisan legislation to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic includes economic relief for American taxpayers in the form of stimulus checks. Each eligible adult will receive up to $1,200, based on gross income.

According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the checks could go out in the next two weeks, although there are still questions as to how the money will be distributed. For example, someone who received a refund on 2019 taxes via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) could receive a direct deposit.

Meanwhile, scammers are ready to take advantage by reaching out and saying your account information is needed, or that you can have their relief check for a small fee.

To avoid fraud, consider these suggestions:

1. Hang up. Don’t reply. The IRS, Treasury Department or other government agencies will not call, email or text message people to collect account information, Social Security numbers or credit card information. Anyone who does is likely a scammer, White said.

2. Do not pay anyone offering to get your stimulus funds early or sell you additional stimulus checks. This is a promise that they will not be able to fulfill.

3. Enroll in your bank’s or credit card company’s online and mobile applications to monitor your account activity frequently, looking for suspicious activity.

4. Avoid clicking on unknown links, which may expose you to viruses or malware.

5. While online, verify the legitimacy of websites you visit.

– Turn on browser tools, which can help identify fraudulent websites.

– Ensure the websites are secure and encrypted with HTTPS.

– Look for links that are broken or take you away from the original website.

– Shop through websites you know and trust.

6. As always, slow down, verify, and verify again the legitimacy of financial transactions before approving. Look for changes to account numbers, phone numbers, email addresses or other identifying information.

“We are seeing a spike in fraud activity during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jon Kucharski, Fraud Strategy Manager at Regions. “No matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. Just keep in mind, these unusual times require patience and a little extra vigilance to keep your finances safe.”

(Courtesy of Regions)

2 hours ago

‘Don’t let the corona get on ya!’ — Alabama retirees sing during COVID-19 crisis

An Alabama retirement community shared a helpful message on social media this week amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a video posted on Facebook, residents of Wesley Gardens Retirement Community in Montgomery joined with facility driver Lee McBryde (while practicing social distancing by staying six steps away) to dance and sing some important lyrics during the COVID-19 crisis such as properly washing hands and covering up when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread.

“Don’t let the corona get on ya!” McBryde sang as residents danced around him while holding containers of disinfectant wipes.

Watch:

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