The Wire

  • Trump orders establishment of ‘space force’ as 6th branch of military

    Excerpt from Fox News:

    President Trump vowed on Monday to make space great again.

    Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to immediately establish a national “space force” that would become the sixth branch of the armed forces.

    “We are going to have a space force,” Trump said in Washington D.C. “An Air Force and a Space Force. Separate, but equal.”

    This is not the first time that Trump has floated the idea of establishing a “space force.” The president mentioned the idea in May during a ceremony at the White House honoring the Army Black Knights college football team.

    Trump did not go into details about what military role the so-called “space force” would carry out or who would command it, but he framed space as a national security issue, saying he does not want “China and Russia and other countries leading us.”

  • Ivey says import tariffs could hurt Alabama industry

    Excerpt from AP:

    Alabama’s Republican governor is separating herself from President Donald Trump on the issue of trade, saying import tariffs like those supported by the administration would hurt the state.

    Gov. Kay Ivey released a statement Monday saying import tariffs could cause retaliatory tariffs that would drive up the cost of items made in Alabama and sold abroad.

    The administration already has imposed duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, plus steel and aluminum from China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

    Ivey says growth in Alabama’s auto industry could be harmed if tariffs are imposed on U.S. goods around the world. Almost 60,000 people work in automotive-related jobs in the state.

  • Police ID suspect in shooting of State Senator’s son

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    “Foley Police Department has identified 29 year old Orneal McCaskey aka “OJ” as the suspect in the shooting of Akil Michael Figures this morning at 635 East Azalea Ave in Foley. The investigation revealed that McCaskey drove to the residence to confront Figures over a female. An argument ensued at the doorway and McCaskey pulled out a handgun and shot Figures at least twice in the lower hip area. After a brief struggle in the house, McCaskey fled the area in a gold or tan colored vehicle. Figures was taken to South Baldwin by private vehicle and later flown to Sacred Heart and has since been released. Orneal McCaskey is wanted for questioning in this case. The public is asked to call Foley Police Department at 251-943-4431 if you know where McCaskey is. He is considered armed and dangerous.”

1 week ago

UAB study explains one reason hair can turn gray


Hair’s graying can be caused by activation of the innate immune system, according to a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The article, published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, highlights the negative effects of innate immune activation on hair pigmentation cells, called melanocytes, suggesting a connection between viral infection and hair’s graying.

“Our research looks primarily at how stem cells are affected by age,” said Melissa Harris, Ph.D., corresponding author and assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology. “Using current genomic tools, we are able to look at the whole genome to gain a better understanding of which genes are expressed and when, and this allows us to better address the question of why we age the way we do. Hair-graying and melanocyte stem cells make up the models we use to study this process.”


Hair pigmentation over the course of a lifetime is dependent on the presence of melanocyte stem cells that reside in the hair follicle. As old hairs fall out and new hairs grow in, melanocyte stem cells serve as a reservoir for the melanocytes that produce the pigment that give hair its visible color. The loss of these stem cells leads to the growth of nonpigmented, or gray, hairs.

“Evaluating mouse models of hair-graying using genomic tools can reveal key aspects of melanocyte stem cell biology,” Harris said. “Using this approach, we discovered a novel role for the melanogenesis-associated transcription factor, or MITF, in repressing the expression of innate immune genes within cells of the melanocyte lineage in mice.”

The importance of this repression is revealed in animals that have a predisposition for hair-graying. In these animals, artificial elevation of the innate immune response either through a genetic mechanism or via exposure to a virus mimics results in significant melanocyte and melanocyte stem cell loss and leads to the production of an increased number of gray hairs.

When a virus attacks the immune system, infected cells respond by producing interferons. Interferons signal to neighboring cells, telling them to protect themselves. In the study completed by Harris and colleagues, it is clear that, while these signals are normally good, in excess they can also lead to the loss of melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, stopping the production of hair pigmentation. It is unknown whether these observations in mice will extend to humans, but Harris speculates that this may explain why some individuals acquire gray hair early in life.

“Perhaps, in an individual who is healthy yet predisposed for gray hair, getting an everyday viral infection is just enough to cause the decline of their melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, leading to premature gray hair,” Harris said. She further explains that gray hair itself is not a definitive indication of infection, and that at least in mice, there are many ways in which gray hair can be induced. This study highlights just one mechanism that helps us better understand biological contributions to the visible signs of aging.

Harris’ research team and co-authors on the paper include Joseph Palmer, a graduate student in the UAB Department of Biology, and Autumne Lee, an undergraduate student in the UAB Department of Biology.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

UAB ranked No. 1 young university in the U.S.


The University of Alabama at Birmingham[] has been ranked the top young university in the United States and No. 10 worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2018 Young University Rankings.

Times Higher Education’s university rankings are among the world’s most comprehensive, balanced and trusted — a vital resource trusted by academics, students, their families, industry and governments globally.

“This prestigious recognition directly reflects the dedication and hard work that our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters have contributed to build tremendous, growing momentum in every pillar of our mission in less than 50 short years,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “I celebrate and share this tremendous honor with everyone in the UAB community, as well as with those who came before us and built the strong foundation from which we continue to effect positive, global change.”


The full rankings are available online [].

Times Higher Education ranked 250 institutions from 55 countries in this year’s Young University Rankings, which explores the same rigorous 13 performance indicators as the overall Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings — with young universities measured across their teaching, research, citations, international outlooks and industry incomes. However, the methodology has been carefully recalibrated, with less emphasis on reputation since younger universities are still building their reputations. Times Higher Education defines a young university as aged 50 years or under.

UAB, which spans more than 100 city blocks — roughly a quarter of downtown Birmingham — will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019. With nearly 21,000 students and more than 23,000 faculty and staff, UAB has become the largest single employer in Alabama, with an annual statewide economic impact exceeding $7.15 billion. It boasts many nationally ranked programs, including 13 graduate programs ranked in the top 25, according to U.S. News & World Report.

With annual research spending exceeding $562 million, UAB continues to create new knowledge and solve critical worldwide issues as a leader in federal research funding — ranking 23rd (top 4 percent) nationally and eighth (top 2 percent) among public institutions in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

UAB Hospital, the centerpiece of the UAB Health System, is among the 20 largest hospitals in the United States. UAB Hospital’s American College of Surgeons Verified Level 1 Adult Trauma Center is the only one of its kind in Alabama and sees more than a million patient visits a year. The U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals report listed 10 of UAB’s medical specialties in the nation’s top 50 programs of their kind, and UAB has the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Alabama and a five-state region.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Why Shelby is one of Alabama’s greatest senators ever


In my book, “Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Alabama Political Stories,” I suggest that based on seniority, tenure, power and prestige that Alabama’s greatest senators have been Lister Hill, John Sparkman, and Richard Shelby.

Folks, Richard Shelby has probably forged to the front of that triumvirate with his elevation to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee in April.

The Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee makes the ultimate decision about how every federal United States dollar is spent. Alabama has never had a U.S. Senate Appropriations Chairman in our 200-year history.


Shelby’s prowess at bringing home the bacon is legendary. You do not have to look very far to see the effects of Shelby’s power over his past 31 years as our U.S. Senator. There is an entire section of the University of Alabama where he placed buildings that are an integral part of the University’s academic success. All paid for with federal dollars.

The state of the art biomedical research facility at UAB, all paid for with federal dollars, is there along with millions more in research grants because of Richard Shelby Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal have been the benefactors of so much largesse from Shelby’s direct influence that it is not possible in the space of this column to enumerate the
buildings and federal dollars that our crown jewel city has received over the years.

Huntsville/Madison County and the entire Tennessee Valley are poised to become the envy of the nation in economic growth over the next decade. There should be three gigantic monuments erected in Huntsville and put side by side of Werner Von Braun, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.

If truth were known, one of the reasons the Mazda/Toyota plant, with over 5000 high paying jobs, chose Huntsville was because of Richard Shelby.

Along with becoming Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he also took over the reins of the Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee.

I am here to tell you that is big news for Alabama. There is no state in America that is more reliant on federal dollars for defense installations, defense research and defense related employees than the good old Heart of Dixie.

What facilities do you think will be protected and which bases will be guarded? The Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Maxwell/Gunter in Montgomery and Ft. Rucker in the Wiregrass will be first in line when it comes to federal defense spending. More importantly, those major economic engines of our state just received a gigantic umbrella protection policy from any military defense cutbacks.

Senator Shelby has chaired several extremely important U.S. Senate committees over his three decades as our senator, including Intelligence, Banking, and Rules. However, Appropriations is the crème-de la crème of committees. Why? Because it controls the gold. “Those who have the gold make the rules.”

Senator Shelby has brought home a lot of bacon to our state over the years, more than any U.S. Senator in Alabama History. However, you ain’t seen nothing yet. They have just given our senior U.S. Senator the key to the vault to the U.S. Treasury and he knows how to use it.

And, guess what? He is just in his second year of his sixth six-year term. He is in the best health of any 84-year-old I have ever seen. He has the soundness of mind and the physical stamina of a 60-year-old and he works out daily.

The governor’s race is getting down to the proverbial lick log. It looks as though Kay Ivey is in the catbird’s seat to win a full term of her own. There is no reason to fret over her perceived aging, looks can be deceiving. Besides when you have Richard Shelby as a senior U.S. Senator we really do not even need a governor.

Twinkle Cavanaugh is poised to win the Lt. Governor’s race. When the dust settles in November my prediction is that we will have a female governor and a female Lt. Governor, but more importantly we will have Richard Shelby as our senior U.S. Senator for at least four more years.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at

1 month ago

Analysis: Alabama bioscience industry’s impact tops $7.3 billion a year

(Made in Alabama)

Alabama’s multifaceted biosciences industry generates $7.3 billion in economic activity annually while supporting 780 companies and nearly 48,000 direct and indirect jobs across the state, according to a new analysis by researchers at the University of Alabama.


The comprehensive study underscores the contributions and growth potential of the statewide life sciences sector, a robust combination of research institutions, medical labs, innovative startups, international pharmaceutical manufacturers, and more.

“We have exceptional strengths in biosciences, including world-class research organizations and a roster of cutting-edge companies, so it’s a natural growth area for the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re committed to helping accelerate the development of the life sciences sector, and we want the state to become home to more of these high-paying jobs and the talented individuals to fill them,” he added.


The analysis, conducted for the BioAlabama industry trade group, shows that Alabama’s 780 life sciences companies directly employ 17,871 workers, each earning an average annual salary of $67,664. Total expenditures of those companies exceed $3.8 billion a year.

Other key findings in the University of Alabama (UA) report:

The bioscience industry’s 47,980 direct and indirect jobs in Alabama support a total yearly payroll of $2.3 billion.
The industry contributes $3.9 billion annually to Alabama’s gross domestic product (GDP), nearly 2 percent of the state’s total economic output.

The industry’s earnings impact generates $161.4 million in tax revenue annually, including $74.7 million in state income taxes and $86.7 million in state and local sales taxes.
In addition, the UA researchers examined the economic contributions of bio-industries such as agricultural feedstock and chemicals, and bioscience-related distribution.

They found that these activities magnified the impact of the core life sciences sector in Alabama, elevating overall economic output to $11 billion a year with more than 70,000 jobs and annual tax revenue topping $233 million.

“This analysis confirms the far-reaching impact of Alabama’s bioscience industries throughout the state, and demonstrates why we continue to pursue strategies that allow the sector to continue to grow and create even more high-caliber jobs across the state,” said Blair King, president-elect of BioAlabama and manager of economic development and existing industry at Alabama Power Co.


The foundations of Alabama’s bioscience research rest on the work conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Southern Research, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, and the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute.

Their specialties of these organizations include drug discovery and development, genomics, and personalized medicine. They also frequently engage in collaborations such as the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance, a partnership between UAB and Southern Research that has developed a pipeline of potential therapeutics for diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Alabama is also home to multinational companies involved in pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing. In March, Germany’s Evonik, for example, announced plans to expand production of biomaterials and launch a Global Competence Center for Medical Devices at its Birmingham facility.

“Evonik’s investments in the Birmingham site reflect its commitment to the medical device and drug delivery business as well as the city of Birmingham and its history of world-class medical research and technology,” said Kel Boisvert, Birmingham site manager for Evonik.

Other manufacturers operating in the state include Kowa Pharmaceuticals (Montgomery), Nektar Therapeutics (Huntsville), Baxter and Pharmavite (both Opelika), and Oxford Pharmaceuticals, Avanti Polar Lipids and Biohorizons (all Birmingham).

At the same time, a number of innovative startup companies have sprung up in Alabama, with many of them based at HudsonAlpha and Birmingham’s Innovation Depot, the Southeast’s largest technology business incubator.

Promising startups include Birmingham’s Blondin Bioscience, Huntsville’s GeneCapture, Mobile’s Swift Biotech and Auburn’s Vitruvias Therapeutics.

“We are fortunate to have started our business in Alabama because we have benefitted from the highly collaborative entrepreneurial spirit throughout the state, including Alabama Launchpad and the various Small Business Development Centers, and especially our connection with HudsonAlpha and the University of Alabama in Huntsville,” said BioAlabama President Peggy Sammon, CEO and co-founder of GeneCapture.

“We have been able to find highly skilled molecular biologists, chemical engineers, optical engineers and lab specialists,” she added. “Our membership in BioAlabama has connected us with other scientists and business professionals who have significantly helped us advance our business plan.”

Alabama’s research universities are key players in the bioscience ecosystem and contribute to the industry’s economic impact. The network includes Auburn University, USA, Tuskegee University, Alabama State University Alabama A&M University, and the three University of Alabama System campuses.


The analysis is the first to comprehensively examine the economic impact of the state’s bioscience sector. It was prepared by Senior Research Economist Sam Addy, Ph.D., and his team at the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business, with assistance from BioAlabama.

Addy noted in the report that investing in life sciences should remain a pillar of the state’s overall economic development strategy.

“Alabama should continue to keep biosciences as a focus in its economic development strategy since these industries provide high-wage jobs and are highly productive,” he writes.


“Since launching its cancer program in 1946, Southern Research has discovered seven FDA-approved oncology drugs and made many significant discoveries that have helped patients with cancer and other diseases,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Birmingham non-profit. “This highlights the vital importance of the groundbreaking bioscience work that continues to be done in labs in Alabama.”

“I see UAB as not only the hub for healthcare innovation in Birmingham, but definitely throughout the state and the region,” said Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., executive director of UAB’s Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “That means producing as many companies as possible. It’s harder to produce biotech companies, because it takes time to develop new drug therapies. What we’re trying to do is think about it strategically and give our faculty the resources they need to be entrepreneurial to turn their research into new life sciences ventures.”

“HudsonAlpha has gone from just a handful of startups and faculty to more than 35 life sciences companies and 15 faculty investigators in just 10 years,” said Carter Wells, vice president for economic development at HudsonAlpha. “It goes to show that Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian’s model works, and we’re proud to be a part of the biotech hub in North Alabama.”

(Courtesy Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Birmingham commits $90 million for stadium, Legacy Arena

(Alabama News Center)

An Alabama city has committed $90 million to renovate a downtown stadium and arena over the next 30 years.

The Birmingham City Council will contribute $3 million annually toward the expansion of Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which includes the 19,000-seat Legacy Arena, reported . The council approved the funding and project cooperation agreements between the city and complex Tuesday.

The council unanimously approved a resolution that will create a neighborhood revitalization fund.


Mayor Randall Woodfin said the revenues generated from the expansion will go toward neighborhood revitalization in all 99 neighborhoods.

“This is the right thing to do because it has a full benefit for our entire city,” Woodfin said. He said this project is necessary for neighborhood revitalization, tourism and progress.

He added: “We can support neighborhood revitalization and economic development.”

Birmingham will start paying at the beginning this year on the debt service of city-supported bonds for 30 years. The principal amount of the city-supported bonds is an estimated $46.1 million.

The agreement will terminate if the bonds haven’t been issued before the end of the year, according to the agreements.

The BJCC’s 20-year, $300 million master plan includes construction of a $174 million open-air stadium, a Legacy Arena makeover and an outside piazza renovation. The stadium would have up to 55,000 seats and additional meeting and exhibition space.

Improvements to Legacy Arena include new luxury suites, a club lounge, upgraded concession stands, expansion of the concourse and exterior updates.

Robert Walker, vice president of the Wahouma Neighborhood Association, said the project is wrong for the city.

“It doesn’t benefit us anything to build this stadium here,” he said. “I ask you to do something different. The people don’t want it.”

The BJCC Authority is committing $10.7 million to the annual debt service on the project. Jefferson County has committed $1 million a year for 30 years. UAB and corporate partners have committed to a combined $4 million a year for 10 years through a lease agreement, sponsorship and naming rights.

In the agreement with BJCC, UAB football agrees to a 20-year lease at the new stadium.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

7 months ago

YHRadio: Church of the Highlands Mark Pettus Calls In


Mark Pettus of Church of the Highlands calls in to talk about the exciting things the church has in store. He mentions how blessed he is for his time there and what Motion means to him and even talks about his football days at UAB.

Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

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7 months ago

UAB’s genetic counseling team helps families cope with unexpected news

UAB geneticists examine a patient's record. (Adam Pope/UAB)
UAB geneticists examine a patient’s record. (Adam Pope/UAB)


Many doctors treat patients under the belief “You are your genes,” meaning that every person is a product of his or her own unique heredity.

The statement is true to some degree, said Dr. Anna Hurst, a medical geneticist and pediatrician in the Department of Genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). That is because hereditary factors predispose every person to myriad characteristics including hair, eye and skin color, as well as height, physical conditions and diseases.

Recently, there has been a huge increase in awareness about genetic predisposition following actress Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she carries a faulty copy of the BRCA1 gene, indicating that she has a strong hereditary tendency toward breast and/or ovarian cancers. Jolie elected to undergo preventative surgery to ensure she would not develop the cancer that killed her mother.

Most cases are not so clear cut, said Dr. Anna Hurst, a medical geneticist and pediatrician at UAB Hospital. In her role, Hurst trains pediatrics and genetics residents at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. She and a genetic counselor often see patients together, screening family history forms and meeting as a team to discuss their findings with the patients and medical providers.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the subject of genetics and how it affects people’s lives. It’s a complicated science topic, with implications for an entire family,” said Hurst, who trained in pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and studied medical genetics at UAB. She earned a master’s degree in genetic counseling at the University of South Carolina and an M.D. at the Medical University of South Carolina.

A tough discussion

Hurst works in UAB’s Genetics Clinic, which assists with gathering patient information. She performs patients’ physical exams and prepares parents for the possible results.

“Up to 15 to 20 percent of the time, there can be an inconclusive result,” Hurst said. “There can also be unexpected familial news, and you must prepare the patient and family for the psychosocial results. It is definitely difficult to discuss potential genetic conditions. But, by offering these results, we empower people about how they can use the results to better their health care.

“We treat the patient first, not their genotype, or genetic information,” Hurst said. “With patients who are in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or in prenatal, it’s really difficult to discuss. The defect can be part of a larger picture. We try to be supportive throughout that time.”

Working with families, Hurst said that it’s the counseling team’s role to determine whether there is a genetic reason behind the occurrence of a health condition, or whether the difference occurred spontaneously. Many conditions happen unexpectedly.

“Many conditions are sporadic and aren’t preventable,” she said.

On the cutting edge

The counseling team – comprising a consulting physician, a genetic counselor and other staff – directs families and patients to support groups as needed. UAB sees patients from throughout the Southeast. Hurst noted that insurance companies cover most genetic counseling and some lab testing.

The UAB Genetics Clinic accepts referrals and sees patients at the UAB Kirklin Clinic and Children’s of Alabama. Prenatal genetic counseling appointments can be scheduled through the Women & Infants, and Children’s Center. The department also participates in ongoing research opportunities such as the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative. The AGHI allows Alabama residents to take part in a biobank – a type of biorepository that stores human biological samples – for use in research. UAB performs initial genotyping, checking 59 actionable genes.

Hurst works on the Pediatric Genomic Sequencing Project funded by HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and Children’s of Alabama, seeking to identify genetic diagnoses for children with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays. The goal is to see whether earlier diagnoses help in treating individuals.

“UAB really is on the cutting edge for genetic testing,” Hurst said. “Genomic medicine has real, practical implications for individuals and patients. UAB has an Undiagnosed Diseases Program for individuals with severe chronic medical conditions who are undiagnosed. We try to find opportunities for people to get genetic testing. We are very fortunate to have programs for neonatal and pediatric patients and adults.”

(By Donna Cope, Courtesy of the Alabama News Center)

8 months ago

YHRadio: UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark joins The Ford Faction

Coach Clark and the guys discuss UAB resurrection, the current success the team has experience, and a some leadership qualities that set Coach Clark apart.

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YHRadio: UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark joins The Ford Faction

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YHRadio: UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark joins The Ford Faction

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8 months ago

UAB Researchers Make Major Progress in Treating Seizure Disorders

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have made a new discovery in seizure and epilepsy diseases in the brain.

The researchers found that a dietary supplement, glucosamine, is able to alter proteins in the brain and significantly dampen the effects of seizures in rat and mouse subjects. According to the Birmingham Business Journal, the protein, named O-GlcNAcylation, was discovered to have a regulating effect in treating pathological hyperexcitablility (overreaction to stimuli) in the brain.

The results provide researchers with a target for potential therapeutic treatment of seizure disorders. Proteins are essential to the functions of the brain, and any change can have drastic consequences in both improvement and reduction of conditions. Therefore, researchers acknowledge that it is imperative to better understand the interworking of proteins within neural circuit changes before developing any concrete form of treatment.

“Our findings support the conclusion that protein O-GlcNAcylation is a regulator of neuronal excitability, and it represents a promising target for further research on seizure disorder therapeutics,” the UAB researchers wrote in their research significance statement. They acknowledge that the process is likely to be very complex. However, the discovery is a promising step toward treatment of epilepsy and other seizure disorders in children and adults.

9 months ago

DeKalb County Man Will Serve 25 Years After Killing His Mother With Baseball Bat

Photo by

As reported by WHNT News, Tyler Blansit, 24, has pleaded guilty to beating his mother to death with a baseball bat back in 2015. As part of his plea deal, he was sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence, with the possibility of parole in 15 years.

Records indicate that the trial was set to start next week, and Blansit was facing life in prison if convicted. However, because the plea deal that was reached with prosecutors, the time he will serve behind bars has been drastically reduced.

Blansit was arrested in 2015, while he was a student at UAB. And he now admits to killing his mother because of an argument he was having with her over his grades.

Speaking to the media about the murder, DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris called it “one of the most brutal deaths I’ve ever seen.”

Unless he commits other crimes in prison, Blansit will be eligible for parole at the age of 39.

10 months ago

Return of UAB Football Is An Instant Hit in Birmingham

Courtesy of Alabama News Center
Courtesy of Alabama News Center

Saturday marked a day that many have been anticipating for years now – the return of UAB football. A record attendance of 45,212 packed into Legion Field to see the Blazers return to the South’s most beloved sport. The boys on coach Bill Clark’s team put on a show for the anxious fans, defeating Alabama A&M 38-7.

UAB football died back in 2014 after board members and trustees decided that the cost of upgrading athletic facilities and covering operating expenses would far outweigh the revenue that the team actually brings in. However, football on the southside campus returned in full force on Saturday, truly rising out of the ashes. According to Alabama News Center, this was not the UAB football experience that some may remember from the past.

A few years ago, the tailgating scene at Legion Field would have been lackluster at best. Perhaps a few tents would be strewn across the parking lot. However, Saturday’s 2:30 game brought dozens of tailgaters, sprawled across the stadium parking lot around to the west side.

In addition to tailgaters, a new and improved children’s play area was located on the practice field of McClendon Park. According to Alabama News Center, “It was part of Blazer Village, which also had expo booths, student tailgating and corporate hospitality tents.”

“It’s lots better,” said Guntersville’s Jane Hill. “The kids are really, really enjoying it.”

Players and coaches received a roaring welcome as the UAB band, cheerleaders, and fans formed an extended Blazer Walk as they made their way into the stadium. Craft O’Neal, chairman of O’Neal Industries and member of the Gang of Seven that contributed the necessary funds to bring back UAB football, reflected on seeing the Birmingham community’s overwhelming support for the Blazers.

“I think Birmingham decided it was time to step up and meet its potential as a city and UAB is the driver of our community. It was a great investment and as you look around you’re seeing the return on that investment.”

Saturday’s pre-game festivities highlighted some of the more heart-tugging contributions to UAB football. When Bennet Williams was just five years old, he learned that UAB’s football program would be cancelled. He decided to give the only dollar he owned to help revive the program. Now eight, Bennett was invited to take part in the coin toss on Saturday.

However, another UAB supporter stole the show Saturday. Timothy Alexander, a paraplegic who has become the face of UAB football, rose from his wheelchair and walked 28 steps to hand the game ball to the referee. “I just threw it out there with faith and met it up with action and we walked out today,” he said. “It was good just to show people what you can do if you believe. We passed the legacy over to this team.

Saturday proved that the university, players, coaches, fans, and city of Birmingham are all behind UAB football. The Blazers have returned in full force, and fans are excited for the future of their beloved program.

RELATED: UAB Blazes Past Ticket Sales Goal

10 months ago

Calhoun County Man Contracts West Nile

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal from her human host. (Photo: James Gathany)
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal from her human host. (Photo: James Gathany)

As reported by ABC 33/40, an 80-year-old man is being treated at UAB for West Nile Virus.

According to the family, the man became ill last week. At first, he had double vision, soon becoming unable to walk. He was rushed to the ER, where doctors, unable to determine his illness, treated him for numerous conditions.

His health continued to deteriorate, so he was transferred to UAB in Birmingham. Once there, the doctors quickly realized what he was suffering West Nile Virus.

Reliving the events that unfolded over the past week, his daughter, Karen Gallahar said,

“He had the classic neck pain, headache, fever, loss of movement in arms and legs,” she said. “So we suspected Meningitis, but not West Nile virus.” “We want the community to be aware, it can happen anywhere,” Gallahar said. “There’s children in this area and my dad is really worried about them, he said: ‘make sure they know.’”

The family suspects that the man likely contracted the disease while working in his garden. According to them, that is where he spends much of his time, so it seems likely that he encountered the infected mosquito there.

10 months ago

UAB Blazes Past Ticket Sales Goal

Photo Courtesy of Alabama News Center

The entire city of Birmingham is gearing up for the return of UAB football. Government leaders, community members, restaurants, and hotels are partnering to ensure that thousands of UAB fans have the best game day experience possible. With all of the excitement surrounding the return of the program, the school made a big announcement yesterday – the program has surpassed its goal of 10,000 season ticket sales.

Mark Ingram, athletics director at UAB, told the Alabama News Center that the program has sold 10,134 season ticket packages as of Wednesday morning. “We’re going to have more people at our games than we’ve ever had before,” he said. “That’s been the hard work of a lot of people coming together and we don’t intend to stop. We encourage the city of Birmingham to continue getting behind this team and supporting us.”

In order to continue to draw those fans in throughout the season, UAB has hired the Bruno Event Team to manage its home game events. Gene Hallman, CEO of the Bruno Event Team, expressed the importance of coming out of the gate strong on the first game day.

“We’ve got to be dead-solid perfect – and I mean perfect – on that first day because we have so many first-timers coming out to Legion Field to experience UAB football. We want them to return for games two through six and subsequent seasons. We have got to get it right collectively on the first day.”

In order to ensure that the city is prepared to host Blazer fans from all over, the Bruno Event Team is working with the city of Birmingham, the Birmingham Police Department, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. Together, these departments will monitor traffic issues and push re-routing information through dedicated social media channels.

In addition to the parking spaces around Legion Field, UAB will also shuttle fans to the stadium from parking lots on UAB’s campus. The University has also announced other game-day enhancements including, improved concessions with brand new vendors, a bigger Blazer Village and kids’ zone, student greeters, and a new student tailgating area. Hallman added that fans can expect “a whole litany of other things, including a couple of big announcements that we’re finalizing the details on relative to the game-day experience.”

With the return of UAB football being publicized on a national level, Birmingham Mayor William Bell sees an exciting opportunity for the city. He estimates that the return of the program will have a $50 million economic impact on the city.

“When people come out for the football experience, they want the total package and we’re working with Bruno Event Team to give them the total package. All of the restaurants and businesses, they’re geared up. They’re going to be green and gold and dragon country.”

The future is already looking bright for UAB football. There have already been talks of replacing the aging Legion Field – often called the “Old Gray Lady on Graymont” – with a new stadium located near the BJCC. A change of location could be superb addition to UAB’s already fresh start. Mayor William Bell confirmed the speculation surrounding a new stadium, adding the the future of the program continues to look bright.

“We’re only going to have a couple of more seasons for the Old Gray Lady and then we’re going to put her out to pasture. We’re working to make sure that this is just the beginning of great excitement for the next decade and decades to come for UAB Blazer football. We know we’ve got to put the resources in place, we’ve got to put the facilities in place and we’re working on that as we speak. Just hold on. It’s only going to get better from here.”

UAB will play its first game at home against Alabama A&M on September 2.

10 months ago

UAB Studies Effects of Cannabidiol Oil on Other Medications

In a new study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers have discovered potential interactions between Cannabidiol oil (CBD oil) and common anti-epilepsy drugs. According to the Birmingham Business Journal, researchers set out to determine the viability of using CBD oil, a derivative of the cannabis plant, as a treatment for epilepsy. Researchers also sought to determine any potential interactions between CBD oil and patients’ currently prescribed anti-epilepsy medicine.

The study consisted of examining the blood levels of 81 patients enrolled in the CBD trials, 39 adults and 42 children. Researchers found that when taking CBD, there was typically an increase in the level of the anti-seizure medication found in the patient’s blood. This increase was found to be outside of the normal therapeutic range for the drug. A small number of patients also saw an increase in liver enzymes, which researchers say is a precursor for potential liver damage. While the extent of these negative side affects was relatively small, further research is still needed.

Cannabis oil has been at the forefront of state politics across the country as advocates for its medicinal uses have strongly supported its decriminalization. The Alabama state legislature passed “Leni’s Law” last April, making it legal to use CBD oil to treat seizure disorders and other severe medical conditions. Since then, researchers have sought to determine the impact that CBD oil could have on a patient’s drug regimen. With very little data to go on, it is imperative that the oil be researched and treated like any other drug placed on the market.

Tyler Gaston, assistant professor in the neurology department in UAB’s School of Medicine, pointed out that it is essential that physicians are aware of any potential side effects resulting from CBD oil.

“If CBD oil gets FDA approval, physicians will need to know about any potential interactions before they prescribe. Right now, health care providers don’t know what to check for. Our study found a few interactions, which now need to be confirmed and disseminated to providers so they can monitor their patients appropriately.”

While UAB’s study was able to determine a few interactions between CBD oil and other drugs, researchers stressed that additional, in-depth studies are needed. The next step for researchers is to compare patients using CBD oil with a placebo to those using CBD oil with other drugs. This would allow researchers to confirm this study’s findings under controlled conditions.

10 months ago

The Magic City Gets Professional Soccer Team


The United Soccer League announced yesterday that Birmingham will  be the home of a new professional soccer team.

The USL is a soccer league comprised of 30 teams throughout the U.S. and Canada. And according to President Jack Edwards, there are more than 2 million USL fans throughout the country.

In a press release by the USL, CEO Alec Papadakis said,

“The USL continues to lead the growth of professional soccer across the country and we are thrilled to announce Birmingham as our newest market. With the increasing popularity and demand for professional soccer across the country, more and more fans recognize the high level of competition and excitement of the USL. We continue toward our goal of becoming one of the top Division II leagues in the world, on par with the English Championship, Liga Adelante and 2. Bundesliga. We will achieve that goal by continuing to deliver a first-class soccer experience for fans, players and communities like Birmingham by providing unparalleled league support to all our clubs, and building one of the best ownership groups in professional soccer.”

As the first to take the stage at the event, Edwards said, “Because of the business and sports culture here, we’ve had our eye on Birmingham for a longtime.”

The team will be jointly owned by Jeff Logan, co-owner of the Birmingham Barons; James Outland, founding and managing partner of New Capital Partners; and Lee Styslinger III, chairman and chief executive offer of Altec, Inc.

Speaking to how the dream of professional soccer in Birmingham became a reality, Morgan Copes, Vice-President of USL Birmingham said that the idea all started over a beer with friends.

A name and logo for the team have yet to be decided, and the first game is not expected to be played until 2019.

When addressing where the games would be held, Mayor of Birmingham, William Bell said, “A site has not been finalized yet, but some of the first games could be played at UAB’s stadium until a more permanent location is found.”

This is another huge step for the Magic City. Since the creation of Regions Field, Birmingham has seen staggering economic growth as people and businesses start to move back into the city.

The USL has a dedicated fan base and averages around 6,000 attendees each game. And judging by the excitement at the event yesterday, it’s evident the new Birmingham club will have no problem filling seats.

11 months ago

UAB Unveils $50 Million Proton Cancer Therapy Center

Courtesy of University of Alabama at Birmingham
Courtesy of University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has unveiled that it will partner with Proton International to bring a proton therapy center to Alabama, the first in the state. The $50 million project will be constructed at the current parking lot 55 at the corner of 20th Street and 5th Avenue South.

Proton therapy is one of the most technically advanced forms of cancerous radiation treatment. It delivers a precise dose of radiation to a tumor, without seriously affecting surrounding areas. According to the UAB School of Medicine, these protons must accelerate to around 114,000 miles per second in order to be focused on one specific tumor. When the protons reach the tumor, their positive charge destroys the cells’ DNA and causes them to die.

The new Proton Therapy Center will house a 90-ton machine called a cyclotron, which is the machine used to accelerate the protons. Inside this massive machine is a superconducting magnet cooled by liquid helium that causes the protons to spiral until they reach 60% the speed of light. They are then funneled into a beam that is used to treat the cancer patient’s specific tumor.

The center at UAB will be one of only 25 other Proton Therapy Centers in the nation. It will be able to treat patients with many forms of solid cancer tumors such as those found in the brain, lungs, prostate, and spine. Chris Chandler, CEO of Proton International, told UAB:

“Proton therapy is already having a tremendous impact on the health of people around the world. Experts conservatively estimate that about 250,000 cancer patients in the United States alone could benefit from proton therapy. We are excited to partner with UAB and put this outstanding tool into the hands of the best oncologists in Alabama.”

Proton International will build and own the facility. However, the medical staff will be exclusively from UAB. Construction on the three-story building will begin this summer and will take two years to complete. Once operational, it is estimated that the center will be able to treat around 40 patients per day.

12 months ago

Auburn, UAB Working to Schedule a Non-Conference Football Game

AUBURN, Ala. — With UAB’s football program returning this season, the athletic department has a big-time future opponent on its mind: the Auburn Tigers. According to reports, both UAB and Auburn have a shared interest in playing a non-conference game in the future. However, the parties have yet to find a date that works for both teams.

The Tigers and Blazers last faced off in a 29-0 Auburn rout back in 1996. Jay Jacobs, Atheltic Director for Auburn University, told that he would like to see another matchup between the in-state schools. “We’ve had conversations with them,” Jacobs said. “We’d love to play them again if we can work it out on the schedule, but finding a common date is often difficult to do sometimes.”

Auburn has some prominent non-conference opponents in the upcoming years, including PAC-12 powerhouses Washington and Oregon. Add in the contracts the school has with Southern Miss, Kent State, Tulane, and Liberty and it is not tough to see why scheduling UAB any earlier than 2020 is a difficult task.

Even without Auburn, the Blazers have plenty of top-notch SEC competition coming down the pike. Over the next three seasons, UAB will travel to play the Florida Gators, Texas A&M Aggies, and the Tennessee Volunteers.

The UAB Football Team was controversially eliminated back in December of 2014 as one of the several programs cut within the Athletic Department. Officials from the University announced in 2015 that the program would return for the 2017 season following community outrage and increased financial support for the team.

1 year ago

Here’s how far every Alabama division one school has made it in March Madness

This past weekend, the NCAA Tournament field narrowed down to the prestigious Final Four, with only North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, and South Carolina remaining. Two of the four schools (Gonzaga and USC) will make their first-ever Final Four appearance on Saturday, and another (Oregon) will make its first appearance since it won the tournament in 1939.

Besides the Tarheels of UNC, the tournament field is now devoid of the typical power programs that have come to dominate the sport. But the absence of the Dukes and UCLAs of the world have given other programs the opportunity to reach unprecedented heights.

In Alabama, however, no program has ever experienced the euphoria of a Final Four Appearance. Among the nine division one basketball programs in the state, the highest a team from the Heart of Dixie has ever advanced is the Elite Eight.

But several programs, including Alabama and Auburn, appear to be on the upswing. Recruiting for the state’s two major programs is on the rise, and two smaller schools (Jacksonville State and Troy) both earned bids this year with victories in their conference tournaments.

Every D1 school in the Yellowhammer State has made the tournament at least one time. Each school’s best March Madness performance to-date is listed below.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Elite Eight (2004)
UA’s 2004 tournament run was helmed by Mark Gottfried, who briefly had the Tide ranked number one in the country in 2003. After beating one-seed Stanford, Bama lost to the Huskies of UConn, who went on to claim the national championship.

Auburn Tigers: Elite Eight (1986)
AU’s 1986 tournament campaign was highlighted by a thrashing of one-seed St. Johns in the Round of 32. Like the their arch-rival did in 2004, the Tigers lost to the eventual national champion that year, Louisville.

UAB Blazers: Elite Eight (1982)
Led by school legend Gene Bartow, the Blazers knocked off several blue bloods in the ’82 tourney, including Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers.

South Alabama Jaguars : Round of 32 (1989)
The Jaguar’s deepest run in the tournament was made possible by an upset of the Alabama Crimson Tide. In a close first round game, the Jags upset Bama 86-84 and went on to lose to Michigan in the next round.

Alabama State Hornets: Round of 64 (2001, 2004, 2009)

Troy Trojans: Round of 64 (2003, 2017)

Samford Bulldogs: Round of 64 (1999,2000)

Jacksonville State Gamecocks: Round of 64 (2017)

Alabama A&M Bulldogs: Round of 64 (2005)

1 year ago

MADNESS: Troy qualifies men’s and women’s teams for NCAA basketball tourney

TROY, Ala. — Winning your conference’s end of the season tournament? Pretty tough. Winning both the men’s and women’s tournament for your conference? Almost impossible.

In winning both the men’s and Women’s Sun Belt Conference Tournaments, Troy University is one only seven schools to accomplish this incredible feat. In doing so, the school will be participating in both iterations of “March Madness.”

The men’s squad will face off against the hot Duke Blue Devils in their first game. The Trojans won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and earned the 15 seed in the East region. Duke, a two seed, is fresh of off its latest ACC Title and hopes to win its sixth national championship. Their game will be broadcast on TBS at 6:20 p.m. on Friday.

The Trojan’s 59-53 Sun Belt Title Game victory over Texas State earned the program its first NCAA bid since 2003. They finished the season with a 22-14 record.

As for the women’s team, they clinched their bid with a 78-64 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. They will appear in the tournament for the second year in a row after not making the field since 1997.

The Lady Trojans do not yet know their opponent, as the NCAA Women’s Selection Show will take place tonight at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN.

Only Florida Gulf Coast, Princeton, Bucknell, Texas Southern, Gonzaga, and New Mexico State won both their men’s and women’s conference tournaments. No school in the so-called “Power Five” accomplished the feat.

Elsewhere in Alabama, the state’s other schools are prepping to make some postseason runs as well. JSU’s men’s basketball team was the first to clinch a bid to the NCAA Tournament. In winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, the Gamecocks qualified for March Madness for the first time ever. Also a 15 seed, JSU will face of against the Louisville Cardinals in the Midwest region.

JSU was the fourth seed in the OVC Tournament and upset two seed UT Martin in the championship game. In winning the final, JSU completed a remarkable comeback season at 20-14, after going 8-23 last year.

The Alabama Crimson Tide men’s team did not earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament, but they will be participating in the NIT. As a three seed, Alabama will face eight seed Richmond in Tuscaloosa. UA finished the season 19-14 in Coach Avery Johnson’s second season.

Both the Auburn Tigers and the UAB Blazers men’s teams failed to qualify for either major post-season tournament.

1 year ago

UAB, football legend Tony Dorsett partner in creating sports helmets that prevent concussion

NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett (left) discussed helmet safety and preventing concussions with Mason Ellenberger, general manager of IMG College Sports/Blazer IMG Network, on Jan. 24. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)
NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett (left) discussed helmet safety and preventing concussions with Mason Ellenberger, general manager of IMG College Sports/Blazer IMG Network, on Jan. 24. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

Former NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Years later, he’s paying the price for his determination to excel on the football field with memory loss and other physical ailments.

Dorsett talks openly about sustaining numerous concussions and the resulting brain injury he suffered as a result of the sport. Dorsett’s new life’s mission is to protect today’s football players from the serious injuries he sustained.

“I’ve been involved in quite a few concussions, mostly from the NFL,” Dorsett said. “I’ve taken a lot of hits. But look at the helmets I was wearing.”

“I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I go through every day,” he said. ”I have good days, I have bad days. Thank God for GPS. If not for GPS, I’d have a tough time. I think new helmets from VICIS will keep athletes from experiencing what I experienced.”

That’s why Dorsett visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus on Jan. 24. He and Dave Marver, CEO of the helmet manufacturer VICIS, met to announce the creation of a football helmet that will revolutionize the sport in terms of safety.

Several neurosurgeons, along with Dorsett, Roger Staubach and other sportsmen, partnered with VICIS to develop ZERO1, a state-of-the-art helmet that promises to make head injuries a thing of the past.

Dorsett (second, right) was thrilled to share his message about the need to prevent concussions in children and adults. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

VICIS has reduced the impact of forces on the helmet. The VICIS design aligns with the technology coming out of a UAB Engineering lab. UAB’s Dean Sicking, Ph.D., and his team of researchers designed technology based on physics principles that inspired much of the work he has accomplished during 30 years as a world leader in impact reduction in sports.

President Ray Watts said he is extremely proud of UAB researchers who are working to improve helmet safety, based on science and engineering, to help prevent injury and concussion.

“We’ve identified the markers of concussion,” Watts said. “The core of this project is to keep the athlete safe. We have formed the ideal partner in VICIS.”

The ZERO1 features “omnidirectional layers” that absorb the impacts of hits from any direction, Marver said. “It’s a multilayered, highly engineered solution, and it will make a difference. We are so pleased to have forged a relationship with UAB.

“Four million kids play football,” Marver said. “That’s one reason we’re doing this with UAB, to make a difference in children’s lives.”

Marver said that VICIS plans to launch the helmets to the NFL, the Canadian Football League and major college football leagues in April.

“It’s a damn good padded helmet,” Dorsett said. “It looks like it’s got all the protection you’d need. I think we’ll see a lot less head injuries because of this. I’m impressed with this helmet.”

As one of football’s best-known players, Dorsett’s mission was to gain yards as a running back. He was the first college running back to gain 1,000 yards all four years in college, and the first to total 6,000 yards.

It was an unlikely achievement for someone who remembers himself as a “very introverted, very shy kid” while growing up in Pittsburgh. The fifth of five brothers, Dorsett played pee-wee football.

“I had four older brothers I wanted to be like,” he said. “My brothers were my role models, they were outstanding athletes and they also pushed me hard in the classroom. My dad always said, ‘Get yourself a quality education’ because he knew education was the way out of the steel mills.

The new UAB Blazer helmet from VICIS features state-of-the-art technology to prevent skull fractures and concussions. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

“I put rocks in my pockets to make the weight requirement so I could play football,” Dorsett said.

When Dorsett went to play football at the University of Pittsburgh, then-Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian motivated Dorsett to take down the Fighting Irish.

“They put out a story that Dorsett was a skinny little kid who’d never make it in college football,” Dorsett said, cracking a smile. “The grass was 6 to 7 inches deep. They were trying to slow down the rushing game of the Pittsburgh Panthers and Tony Dorsett.”

Dorsett’s football career is the stuff of legends. He led the Panthers to the national title as a senior in 1976 and won the Heisman Trophy. He was the first-round draft choice of the Cowboys in 1977, the second overall selection. Dorsett was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and played for the team for 11 seasons, through 1987. He played for Denver the following year, then retired because of injuries. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Football helmets get a major safety design upgrade from VICIS, thanks in part to UAB research from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Dorsett is proud of his “glory days” and wants others to have their own glory, without suffering the traumatic brain injuries resulting from concussions.

“I’ve played a small part in the development of this helmet by VICIS,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s probably going to be considered one of the best helmets on the market. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be a very safe helmet. It’s going to reduce concussions, something that I experienced a lot as a ball player.

“I am sure that, over the years, it’s probably going to get better and better,” Dorsett said. “It’s probably going to be, “quote, unquote” the best helmet of football.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.

1 year ago

Revolutionary blood processing lab opens at UAB

One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time at UAB's new lab: That is when blood tubes arrive from UAB Hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. (UAB)
One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time at UAB’s new lab: That is when blood tubes arrive from UAB Hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. (UAB)

Until now, a team of late-shift clinical technologists in the University of Alabama at Birmingham analyzed between 4,000 and 5,000 tubes of blood every night, providing information to help guide patient care, while keeping watch for abnormal test results that require immediate notification to clinicians.

Now a new $6.8 million, automated lab in the UAB Department of Hospital Labs, Division of Laboratory Medicine does the work. With clicks, whirrs and blinking lights, a moving track carries tubes to workstation machines that can centrifuge the tubes, remove caps, process samples to place in aliquoted tubes for chemistry and reference testing, count cells and create smears on microscope slides, replace caps, and place finished tubes in refrigerated or room-temperature storage towers. At each stop, the tubes are twirled in front of a laser light as a sensor reads their bar codes. The work goes on, untouched by human hands. Yet, the lab employees monitor and keep the analyzers maintained with reagents, so there is a human element.

Lab supervisors are thrilled about the capabilities of UAB’s new, automated system. (UAB)

“Every tube represents a patient,” said Mary Alice “Mac” Crum, retired administrative manager for UAB Laboratory Medicine and consultant for the new lab during its installation and months of validation studies and fine-tuning.

While the automated line was being installed and calibrated, the hands-on analysis by laboratory technologists had to continue in other lab spaces. “It’s like redesigning a plane while you are flying it — the technologists and lab techs have been phenomenal employees working in such complex conditions during the renovation this past year,” said Sherry Polhill, MBA, the administrative director of UAB Hospital Labs and Respiratory Care. Polhill says the technologists and lab techs are able to make a move to newly established laboratory industry lines within Hospital Laboratories as the automated equipment is coming online. Donna Scott, the lab medicine administrative manager, monitored data on the effectiveness, efficiencies and productivity of the workload to advise the best timing to move personnel.

A moving track carries tubes to workstation machines. (UAB)

Thousands of tubes processed

Each day brings a flood tide of work to the new lab in University Hospital’s Spain Tower.

One–by-one, a robot arm lifts tubes to another rack. (UAB)

One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time. Blood tubes arrive from the hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. Lab techs load the tubes into racks, and place the racks at the start of the long, moving track that winds around three sides of the lab. Then the analyzers take over.

Tubes with gold caps, after automated centrifugation, hold serum for immunological, reference or chemistry tests such as sodium, potassium, glucose and bilirubin levels. Tubes with blue caps, after centrifugation, hold plasma for coagulation studies. Tubes with lavender caps, which are not centrifuged, are used for hematology testing, where white blood cell counts, red blood cell counts, platelet counts and other blood analysis take place.

These robot arms dip down and up, and twist left and right, as they add reagents for tests. (UAB)

At the end of the line, small, grasping mechanical arms pick up the tubes and place them into refrigerators that can hold 10,000 tubes or into room-temperature storage for 5,000 tubes, in case further testing is needed.

Staff watch for yellow warning lights on the top of each workstation that signal low levels of reagents or a problem reading a bar code. Medical technologists retrieve tubes that show abnormal test values and verify the information for immediate reporting, as necessary.

Routine findings are automatically updated into each patient’s electronic health record.

During the hospital lab renovation, the work area was sealed and kept under negative air pressure to prevent any dust from escaping. The project also required construction above and below the lab — an emergency power generator in the basement and new air-handling equipment on the third floor, to deal with heat produced by the line.

As is common in high-tech fields like genome sequencing or super computers, the laboratory workstations have been given names to make it easy for staff to talk about which station needs attention.

“The techs voted to pick names from the television show “The Big Bang Theory,”’ Crum said. “There are Sheldon, Leonard, Bernadette, Raj, Penny and Howard.”

The automated line was purchased from Beckman Coulter. After delivery of the equipment in two tractor-trailers in January, teams of Beckman installers, application personnel and service engineers worked for three months to get the first of the line going, as further installation and validation continued. Three UAB laboratory staff went to Beckman for training as key operators.

UAB has invested $6.8 million in the automated lab, which supplies state-of-the-art testing services. (UAB)

“This is an investment by the University Hospital that will shorten turnaround time and allow testing to become standardized for quality purposes,” Polhill said.

“This $6.8 million project will have significant impact in our patient care in Birmingham and the state of Alabama,” said X. Long Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine. Zheng holds the Dr. Robert B. Adams Endowed Professorship in Pathology.

Polhill and Juan de Onis, director of Program Planning for UAB Facilities Planning, were co-chairs for the laboratory renovation project. De Onis, Jared Sparks, Robert Sharpe, George Griswold Jr. and Faith Blocker were partners from Facilities Planning for the project, and Susan Markem served as the UAB Health System Information Services project manager.

UAB’s new, $6.8 million lab is an investment by the University Hospital that will shorten turnaround time and allow testing to become standardized for quality purposes. (Jeff Hansen)

1 year ago

WATCH: UAB men’s basketball receives ESPN’s praise for its Block Cancer Initiative


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In the past few years, ESPN’s flagship program has instituted “Stars of the Night” where the anchors select an athlete or athletes from around the world to praise for an impressive performance. On Wednesday, anchor Kevin Connors highlighted the UAB Blazers men’s basketball team, but not because of their performance on the court.

This season, first-year Blazers coach Rob Ehsan started the Block Cancer Initiative, wherein he has pledged a $10 donation to the Gene Bartow Memorial Fund for Cancer Research for every blocked shot this season. Additionally, players have pledged to donate for each blocked shot in Conference USA play with money from their own pockets.

UAB currently leads Conference USA with 87 blocks, which puts them in the top 25 for all of Division I basketball. Since the implementation of the program, Ehsan has been dubbed “The Mayor of Blockingham.”

Bartow, the namesake of the cancer research fund, coached the Blazers from 1978-1996, accumulating 647 wins. A member of both the Alabama Sports and College Basketball Halls of Fame, Bartow took over the UCLA Bruins from legendary coach John Wooden and led them to the Final Four.

During his time at UAB, he led the Blazers to numerous NCAA Tournament appearances, including a 1982 trip to the Elite Eight. He also served as the athletic director of the school until 2000, and has been known as “the Father of UAB Athletics.” He passed away from stomach cancer in 2012.

2 years ago

Smart pitching: UAB engineer investigates rise of the teen Tommy John surgery

The strain of throwing a Major League fastball, especially one as fast as Aroldis Chapman's, puts the arm and shoulder under constant pressure. (Contributed)
The strain of throwing a Major League fastball, especially one as fast as Aroldis Chapman's, puts the arm and shoulder under constant pressure. (Contributed)
The strain of throwing a Major League fastball, especially one as fast as Aroldis Chapman’s, puts the arm and shoulder under constant pressure. (Contributed)

Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., an alumnus and adjunct faculty member of the School of Engineering, has done pioneering research that is making baseball safer for Major Leaguers, and Little Leaguers.

As the epic 2016 World Series between the Cubs and the Indians wore on, there was one question on everyone’s mind: When will Aroldis Chapman’s arm wear out? (The answer: Game 7, 8th inning.)

When sports biomechanics expert Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., an adjunct professor in the UAB School of Engineering and graduate of the school’s doctoral program in biomedical engineering, looks at fire-throwing pitchers like the Cubs closer, he sees a more fundamental problem: How can any human throw 100 miles per hour without his arm falling off?

Fleisig, the director of research at Birmingham’s American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), answered that question during a standing-room-only lecture at UAB’s Heritage Hall as part of the weekly lecture series hosted by the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Fleisig also encouraged the crowd of undergraduates to investigate the growing field of sports biomechanics research.

Ligaments strike out

“Baseball is in general a safe sport,” said Fleisig. Except, that is, for pitchers. As Fleisig pointed out, more than one-quarter of current Major League pitchers have already had a major elbow surgery known as “Tommy John surgery.” For decades, Fleisig has studied pitchers at all levels of the game, from Little League to the Major Leagues, compiling detailed biomechanical analysis on thousands of players in the ASMI database. He is a member of the Major League Baseball Elbow Task Force, a research collaboration established to find out what’s behind the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries among professional and amateur players. (See chart below.)

Tommy John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in 1974 and was the recipient of an experimental UCL reconstruction surgery by Dodgers team doctor Frank Jobe, M.D. (Fleisig noted that Jobe had been pondering the problem of UCL reconstruction since a torn ligament ended the career of Dodger legend Sandy Koufax a few years earlier.)

The surgery, and John’s successful post-surgery career, made the procedure standard practice. Still, “there were only about 5–10 Tommy John surgeries per year among professional (Major League and minor league) pitchers for 20 years,” Fleisig said. “And then it started going up and up. Then a year or two ago it went way up, to 100 per year or so.” As Fleisig pointed out, more big leaguers had the surgery in 2014 than in the all of the 1990s combined. This increase was obviously troubling to Major League teams. Despite the historic success of the surgery, and post-Tommy John careers for most pitchers, some 20 percent of players don’t return to their old level after the operation. And the increase in UCL reconstruction surgeries among youth and high school athletes was perhaps even more concerning.

Image courtesy of ASMI
Image courtesy of ASMI

Arms race

Fleisig and James Andrews, M.D., the noted sports surgeon who is a founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute, have led several studies looking into the problem. That includes long-term research following hundreds of youth and professional players, along with cadaver studies investigating the biomechanics of the joints and tissues involved. “We have data from testing of more than 2,000 pitchers at ASMI, including an elite database of more than 100 professional pitchers who throw greater than 87 miles per hour during testing,” Fleisig said.

Using a high-speed, three-dimensional, automated motion analysis system, the researchers computed kinematics (motions) and kinetics (joint forces and torques) to gauge the stress on the crucial elbow and shoulder joints during a pitch. During a critical instant when the arm is cocked back, the stress on a major leaguer’s elbow is 100 Newton-meters. He illustrated the concept with an analogy and a visual image: “That’s the equivalent of having five 12-pound bowling balls pulling down on your arm,” he said. “It makes sense that this ligament is near its maximum on every pitch.”

Beginning in spring 1999, Fleisig and Andrews followed 476 youth pitchers, tracking their innings pitched and injuries over a full season. “Then we called these same kids every year for 10 years,” Fleisig said. In a 2011 paper, they published the results, showing that athletes who pitched more than 100 innings per year had more than triple the risk of arm injury compared with those who pitched less than that threshold.



Fleisig summarized the results of all that research in a single slide. There are two main risk factors for baseball arm injuries, he said:

    • Too much pitching

    • Poor mechanics.

“This isn’t just a Major League problem, or a Little League problem, but a baseball problem,” Fleisig said. “So the solution has to be at all levels, too.” The ASMI research has had a significant impact, with numerous leagues adopting pitch limits for players. The Elbow Task Force also developed a website with Major League Baseball, called Pitch Smart, that summarizes its findings for coaches and players of all levels. The site includes detailed pitch counts and rest recommendations for players at various age levels. It also includes a step-by-step guide to proper mechanics.

That type of translational research, which is helping thousands of young athletes avoid injury and surgery, and improve the game he loves, is thrilling, Fleisig said. “Biomechanics is big and exciting and fun.”

He also welcomed any interested students to apply for internships at ASMI, noting its location just down University Boulevard from UAB. “You can tie in motion studies and cadaver studies and more to solve problems that are important to real people.”

2 years ago

UAB, Jefferson County offer free eye exams, glasses to low-income patients

UAB will offer free eye exams in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. (UAB)
UAB will offer free eye exams in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. (UAB)
UAB will offer free eye exams in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. (UAB)

University of Alabama at Birmingham Eye Care and Jefferson County Department of Health are partnering again this year to provide comprehensive eye exams and glasses for low-income or underinsured patients through the outreach program Community Eye Care, Nov. 30-Dec. 3.

Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)
Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)

Established in 2013, the Gift of Sight program provides patients with complimentary eye care at the Western Health Clinic in Midfield and the UAB School of Optometry. Eyeglasses are provided to patients who need them, thanks to the generous support of the program’s partners, VSP, Remote Area Medical, Lions of Alabama and Allergan.

“Though the Gift of Sight is a relatively new event for our school, it has very quickly become something that our students, faculty and staff truly anticipate,” said Dr. Kelly Nichols, O.D., Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Optometry. “We spend countless hours in the classrooms and teaching clinics preparing our students for what they will encounter as practicing optometrists; but during these few days each year, we all have the opportunity to learn, invest and provide care in ways that can’t be taught in a classroom.”

Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)
Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)

Applications to qualify for the eye exams are available through the Jefferson County Department of Health and the UAB School of Optometry. Early this fall, UAB School of Dentistry provided teeth cleanings, fillings and extractions at no cost to those in need throughout the Greater Birmingham area. The Dentistry Cares Community Day provided another platform for UAB’s Gift of Sight program to provide applications to those in need.

UAB Community Eye Care provides eye exams at little to no cost to thousands of patients each year at the Western Health Center in Midfield, The Foundry in Bessemer, Lovelady Center in East Lake, M-Power Ministries in Avondale and the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham Adult Day Program at LincPoint in Homewood. UAB Community Eye Care also partners with various campus entities to provide care to underserved residents throughout the Birmingham metro area, as well as the Black Belt communities throughout Alabama.

To inquire about making a donation to the Gift of Sight, call UAB Eye Care at 205-975-2020.