For COVID Peace of Mind – and No Swab Up Your Nose – Huntsville Hospital and Kailos Genetics Roll Out Assure Sentinel

Two issues negatively impacting COVID testing are false readings and the turnaround time it takes for results. False positive results can cause undue concern, whereas false negative readings have the potential to unwittingly add to the continued spread of COVID.

The waiting game is especially difficult; it’s the kind of time that most people don’t really have to spare. They must then play the quarantine game which, in addition to the restrictions, often means a loss of income as they wait for their results.

To overcome these hurdles, Huntsville Hospital and Kailos Genetics have teamed up to offer a COVID-19 test option  through its Assure Sentinel and Peace of Mind programs. The programs are designed for non-symptomatic individuals who want to know if they are carrying the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s the second program we’ve put into place with Huntsville Hospital,” said Troy Moore, chief science officer at Kailos, which is headquartered at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. “The first program was focused on a return to work or return to school testing, on a routine basis. Then, we learned there were quite a few people that had a son or daughter going back to school or to college, or they’ve been around family members during the holidays, or they have a parent they are taking care of.

“This is a place where they could go if they have concerns, but not necessarily a known exposure event.”

In this partnership, the hospital staff will administer the test, collect samples, and deliver the results. Kailos will process the tests utilizing its Assure Sentinel program which can detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Assure Sentinel testing is painless and affordable and can detect viral infections in individuals before they become symptomatic. By reducing the potential for exposure, Sentinel testing helps to minimize the impact in the workplace, as well as in the community.

The best news is the process is a saline swish and gargle – the company’s ViraWash – to provide a viable sample. No long swab going up your nose –  and it can be easily done in the workplace.

For more information, contact the Huntsville Hospital Clinical Lab at: 256-265-2LAB (2522).

HudsonAlpha Tracking COVID-19’s Transmission through Alabama

The state of Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Diatherix-Eurofins are teaming up to trace and identify COVID-19’s transmission throughout the state.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently announced its ongoing efforts in support of Gov. Kay Ivey’s work to respond to and mitigate COVID-19. Through Alabama’s Coronavirus Relief Fund and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, $600,000 has been allocated to HudsonAlpha to perform genomic sequencing on positive SARS-CoV-2 samples from people across the state.

“All of us at HudsonAlpha are grateful to the state of Alabama for this support to help strengthen our state’s response and planning for this pandemic,” said Dr. Rick Myers, HudsonAlpha president and science director.

Dr. Jane Grimwood: “You can track the transmission of the virus from the original source all the way through to an infection …”

Leading the project is Dr. Jane Grimwood, the co-director of HudsonAlpha’s Genome Sequencing Center.

“Through this initiative with the state, HudsonAlpha aims to provide actionable information to help the collective efforts of policymakers and frontline workers in the fight against the pandemic,” she said.

When the pandemic started, HudsonAlpha was looking for ways to help, particularly in Alabama. Working in collaboration with Diatherix-Eurofins, the genomics team secured funding to sequence the virus. With Diatherix on the HudsonAlpha campus, obtaining samples is an efficient, as well as convenient, process.

“We are getting positive Alabama samples from them,” said Grimwood. “And then, we are sequencing them, using technology we use every day for other projects.”

The goal of the project is to sequence up to 2,000 virus samples – ideally from all of the counties.  The information will be provided to the Alabama Department of Public Health and other parties having critical roles in response to the pandemic.

Along with plans to identify the different strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus from across the state, the COVID-19 initiative will generate longitudinal data to track changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the pandemic, as well as uncovering possible sources of new hot spots of infection.

“When the virus replicates, it makes errors, and these errors are what we call mutations,” said Grimwood. “Using these mutations, you can track the transmission of the virus from the original source all the way to through to an infection today, based on those errors.

“And you can potentially see how the virus is transmitting around Alabama.”

Other components of the initiative include surveying for possible emerging strains of virus which could have implications for vaccine development and vaccine efficiency, as well as adding an Alabama perspective to national and global COVID-19 initiatives through statewide genomic sequencing.

“Essentially, it’s surveillance,” Grimwood said. “To better understand the virus better and to try to be ahead of any changes. On one hand, the transmission side; on the other hand, to look at any differences or any errors or mutations that would cause the vaccine to behave differently.”

Myers said, “HudsonAlpha’s genomic research scientists are fully committed to combating this deadly virus.”

 

Del Smith: Transition from Dean to Genetics Trailblazer

As the dean of College of Business & Public Affairs at Alabama A&M University, Del Smith has spent the past five years developing the business program and curriculum, along with expanding its focus to include minority-based entrepreneurship.

Dr. Del Smith

At the end of this year, Smith will be dialing back on his academic duties and diving deeper into his role at Acclinate Genetics.

Smith plans to continue his duties at A&M and his transition is unlikely to provoke a huge ripple of change. But, instead, it may produce a gentle wave of inspiration.

Young, aspiring entrepreneurs will always need role models and mentors. Smith walks the entrepreneurial talk and enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise in the interest of growing future business leaders.

Smith is co-founder and CEO of Acclinate Genetics, a minority-owned company that strives to achieve health equity and personalized health care for all by diversifying genomic data and clinical research. Acclinate is based at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Diversity representation in clinical studies is essential when it comes to finding the best treatment protocol, especially one that can be tailored to the individual and quite possibly, save their life.

Racial and ethnic minorities make up 40 percent of the U.S. population. But when it comes to medical research, minorities account for as little as 2 percent of participants in studies of new tests and treatments.

“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Smith said. “It only exacerbates the health inequalities we’re already dealing with in America and around the world. We believe that diversifying genomic research and clinical trials to include more representation and diversity increases knowledge about health issues and makes a difference in personalized health care for all.”

Through its trials and testing, Acclinate helps lower the overall cost of drug development while increasing the speed of drug approval. And, by integrating with virtual clinical trials can contribute to the discovery of new drugs.

In addition to Acclinate, Smith is also the impetus behind #NOWINCLUDED, a movement to emphasize the importance of diversity within clinical trials.

 

 

HudsonAlpha Scientists Among World’s Most Highly Cited Researchers

It’s becoming a tradition for the ground-breaking HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

The tradition being its scientists are among the world’s most highly cited researchers.

Dr. Jane Grimwood

And, for the seventh straight year, a group of HudsonAlpha scientists were named to the 2020 Highly Cited Researchers 2020 list from Clarivate.

This year, three HudsonAlpha researchers were named to the annual list: Dr. Jane Grimwood, faculty investigator, cross-field; Jeremy Schmutz, faculty investigator, plant and animal science; and Dr. Jerry Jenkins, cross-field.

The list identifies scientists and social scientists who demonstrated significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. Their names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science citation index.

HudsonAlpha has a strong record of making significant contributions to the research community. This is the seventh year in a row that at least three HudsonAlpha scientists have been named on the Highly Cited Researcher list. This speaks volumes to the expertise and respect that these scientists have in their field of study and beyond.

“HudsonAlpha’s outstanding track record of Highly Cited Researchers is a testament to the impactful foundational research that our Institute prides itself on,” said HudsonAlpha President and Science Director Dr. Rick Myers. “Collaborative research is an important pillar on which the spirit of HudsonAlpha was built, and we are proud that our scientists are able to be active contributors to the open flow of research and information in the genomics field.”

Jeremy Schmutz

HudsonAlpha faculty who had been on the list in previous years include Myers, Grimwood, Schmutz, Dr. Devin Absher and Dr. Greg Cooper.

Grimwood and Schmutz serve as the co-directors of the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center.

Together with their research teams, they have sequenced more than 150 de novo plant genomes, both for their own research projects and collaborative projects. The de novo plant genomes serve as a foundation for genomic and functional plant research, meaning that hundreds of scientists rely on and utilize the reference genomes created by Grimwood and Schmutz’s group.

Because of their expert status in the plant genomics field, Grimwood and Schmutz are no strangers to the Highly Cited Researcher List, both having been named to the list several times. In fact, Schmutz has made the list every year since its inception in 2014.

Dr. Jerry Jenkins

Although Jenkins is a newcomer to the list, he has been a critical part of the Genome Sequencing Center team for nearly a decade. He serves as the Genome Analysis Group Leader and is involved in the generation and improvement of de novo plant genomes.

“Working in the Genome Sequencing Center with Jane and Jeremy over the past decade has given me the opportunity to participate in high-quality research and collaborate with dozens of research groups to help address important questions pertaining to plant science,” he said. “It is rewarding for me personally to see that our peers recognize the impact the group is having in plant genomics, and we plan to continue to make high quality contributions to address questions in plant science.”

Grimwood, Schmutz and Jenkins are three of 6,167 researchers from more than 60 countries and regions recognized this year, 2,650 of which reside in the United States. They are also joined by 26 Nobel Laureates.

“In the race for knowledge, it is human capital that is fundamental and this list identifies and celebrates exceptional individual researchers who are having a great impact on the research community as measured by the rate at which their work is being cited by others,” said David Pendlebury, Senior Citation Analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate.

Transomic Technologies Joins the Scientist.com’s VIP Team

Transomic Technologies recently announced that it has become a member of Scientist.com’s VIP Program, which is quite the distinction.

Only laboratories achieving high customer satisfaction ratings and commit to maintaining superior customer service are invited to join.

Transomic Technologies is a  genomics laboratory on the campus of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. It offers life science researchers lentiviral-based functional genomics tools. These tools use next generation technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 to advance discovery research.

“Scientist.com puts our portfolio of cutting-edge functional genomic services in front of thousands of pre-qualified research customers,” said Blake Simmons, CEO of Transomic Technologies. “The platform helps us get the word out about our latest tools and technologies and helps improve our digital reputation through positive reviews for our products, services, and customer support.”

Transomic works directly with researchers to better understand their goals and they assist in providing the best solutions to accomplish those goals.

“Transomic Technologies is a rapidly-growing genomics tools company that has built a reputation for offering innovative technologies,” said Dr. Kevin Lustig, Scientist.com’s founder and CEO. “We are thrilled they have joined with other exceptional laboratories in our VIP Program to offer high-quality, competitively-priced services and a commitment to outstanding customer service.”

For more information, visit transomic.com.

Kailos Genetics Launches COVID-19 Testing Program for Safe Workplaces

Kailos Genetics announces the launch of Assure Sentinel, a first-of-its-kind workplace viral suppression program that tests organizations for COVID-19 on a frequent and recurring basis.

The Assure Sentinel program reduces the challenges of COVID-19 testing in the workplace, according to a statement from Huntsville-based Kailos Genetics.

Samples are acquired using a painless saliva collection system, eliminating the need for nasopharyngeal swabs. Additionally, testing is performed with ViralPatch, the company’s proprietary viral capture and sample pooling methodology, and next generation DNA sequencing to decrease costs and increase testing sensitivity.

“Pooling dozens of samples together has been standard in blood banking for decades,” said Kailos Genetics CEO Brian Pollock. “The Assure Sentinel program is helping to suppress COVID-19 and returning people to the workplace.”

Regular COVID-19 testing can mean a reduction in employee anxiety and a rise in confidence and productivity.

“Safety is, and has always been, our number one priority during the pandemic, and the Assure Sentinel program is helping us continue to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees,” said Julia Michaux-Watkins, Director of Human Resources at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Kailos is offering the workplace testing program to companies, nonprofit organizations and schools directly and via partnerships with healthcare organizations. The first partnerships include Huntingdon College in Montgomery and HudsonAlpha.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Huntingdon College identified access to testing as a key element to our ability to responsibly reopen our campus to our students, faculty and staff for the fall,” said Jay Dorman, Treasurer and Senior Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Administration at Huntingdon College. “We have been fortunate to find an Alabama-based partner to provide a reasonably priced, efficient testing option, which has been critical in successfully mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on our campus.”

Founded in 2010 and located at HudsonAlpha, Kailos Genetics is a genetic sequencing company that provides genetic and COVID-19 testing through partnerships with physicians, health systems and employers around the world.

HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Bioscience Companies Headline BIO Alabama Conference

With the biotechnology industry leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BIO Alabama will host industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics at the organization’s first conference in five years.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and a number of resident associate companies will be “center-stage” during the four-day virtual conference, Oct. 5-9.

BIO Alabama – Alabama’s affiliate of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the pre-eminent national association for biotechnology companies – has assembled a lineup from Alabama and across the country to address the industry’s most challenging issues and how the state can play pivotal roles in solutions and advancements.

Among the topics are: Operation Warp Speed; COVID-19 related legislation; the strategic roadmap for the state’s biotechnology ecosystem; collaborative efforts to strengthen the state’s agricultural economy; diversity, equity and inclusion in the bioscience industry; and discoveries by researchers at Alabama’s leading academic centers.

“HudsonAlpha has been a longtime partner and leader for BIO Alabama and the biotechnology ecosystem in North Alabama continues to bloom with innovative companies,” said BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson. “Our virtual conference is a great opportunity to connect with life science thought-leaders from around our state who are strengthening our industry for the future.”

The speakers are leaders in academic research, education and business. HudsonAlpha and Huntsville contribute greatly to the state’s work in the biosciences and are well-represented in the BIO Alabama agenda.

HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz will lead a panel discussion that includes Dr. Josh Clevinger, also of HudsonAlpha; Brian Hardin with Alabama Farmers Federation; Kyle Bridgeforth of Bridgeforth Farms; and Dr. Kira Bowen from Auburn University.

The group will discuss its efforts in developing next generation crops for diversifying and strengthening Alabama’s agricultural economy. The panel will provide an early view into the way people from across the state and across industries are leveraging HudsonAlpha’s expertise in genomics research to improve crops for Alabama farmers and ultimately benefit businesses and consumers in the state.

Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha’s Vice President for Economic Development and past Chairman of BIO Alabama, will lead a “fireside chat” with Andrew Burnett, health legislative assistant for Sen. Richard Shelby. Burnett is Shelby’s aide for federal appropriations and policy on a variety of health-related topics, including coronavirus relief, clinical trials, diagnostic testing and the development of new medications and therapies. Burnett also works with biotech entrepreneurs and veterans of bioscience businesses.

HudsonAlpha Director of Recruitment Amy Sturdivant, BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King will deliver the BIO Alabama’s strategic plan. The address concludes a multi-year listening tour and focus-group exercises to develop a strategic roadmap for the industry. Sturdivant will join BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King in delivering the report to BIO Alabama constituents.

“Growing and supporting entrepreneurial efforts in the biotech industry have translated to success stories and expanding jobs in the sector,” said Sturdivant, who also serves as BIO Alabama vice chairwoman. “Organizations across the state are contributing and collaborating; providing resources for capital, mentoring, workforce training, and more.

“The BIO Alabama strategic plan lays out lessons learned and opportunities we will seek together.”

Alex Cate, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist for HudsonAlpha, will join panelists from the state’s top incubators and accelerators to discuss business growth and technology commercialization.

Additionally, several North Alabama-based and HudsonAlpha resident companies will be featured at the conference.

To register, visit https://www.bioalabama.com/event-3976946

 

HudsonAlpha On Team Awarded 5-year, $68M Biofuels Grant

Several research groups at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology are passionate about producing crops that can be used as fuel to create clean and sustainable energy for our planet.

And now, with the help of a newly awarded Department of Energy grant, they can move one step closer to this goal.

The grant is part of a DOE project that will provide $68 million in funding over five years for basic research aimed at making more productive and resilient crops that can be used to produce fuel, called biofuel. Material from these crops, referred to as biomass, can be harvested and converted into liquid biofuels for use in transportation, or as energy for heat and electricity. Biofuel represents an important alternative to fossil fuels because it is a renewable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral source.

Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz of HudsonAlpha is on a team of researchers from across the United States working for more than a decade to genetically characterize and improve the biomass production of switchgrass. The collaborative research team is led by Dr. Thomas Juenger of the University of Texas. Dr. Kankshita Swaminathan of HudsonAlpha brings her team’s expertise in plant gene editing to the project.

One of the most exciting aspects of our project is the diverse research perspectives on the team – a group that includes ecologists, evolutionary biologists, genomic and data scientists, microbial ecologists, physiologists and plant breeders,” Juenger said. “The broad perspectives provided by the team have been critical for developing creative solutions to improving switchgrass.”

Switchgrass grows in much of North America and is commonly used for livestock feed and erosion control. Switchgrass is a promising biofuel candidate because its deep roots that allow it to access nutrients easily from a variety of soils, and it has a higher tolerance for extreme water conditions, such as drought or prolonged periods of rain.

There are several varieties of switchgrass based upon the climate and their environment. For example, the southern lowland switchgrasses are tall and thick-stemmed, while the northern upland switchgrasses are short and thin-stemmed.

For biofuel production, tall and hearty switchgrass is desirable to produce the most biomass per plant. The research groups aim to produce a variety of switchgrass that is high-producing like the southern plants but has cold tolerance like the northern plants.

By breeding switchgrass that can thrive across different climates, the research group hopes to create a biofuel crop that is not only sustainable and clean but can also be grown on lands that are not traditionally useful for growing food. The ability of a biofuel crop to grow on otherwise uninhabitable land is important in the quest to increase biofuel crop production without jeopardizing commercial farming.

Planting switchgrass in common gardens at 10 sites across the United States allows the research group to study how genetics and the environment interact. This helps the researchers determine the genes or genetic changes responsible for desirable switchgrass traits. Such traits include high biomass production, cold tolerance, sustainability, and a high success rate of plant establishment from seeds.

“We hope to be able to solve long standing issues with switchgrass crop improvement by applying our large-scale genomic efforts,” Schmutz said. “Improved switchgrass varieties will bring greater cold tolerance and increased yield for biofuel feedstocks for this highly sustainable perennial crop.”

The group will identify genes that confer these key traits in switchgrass and use Swaminathan’s expertise in targeted editing and plant breeding to make varieties of switchgrass that will produce the most biomass yet will survive in colder climates.

“Over the last decade, this team has used the latest technology in genomics to explore the effect of genetics and environment in switchgrass and have identified genes that likely influence many desirable traits,” said Swaminathan. “It is a really exciting time to test these hypotheses using recent advances in plant biotechnology and genome editing.

“This will allow us to explore the precise function of genes of interest and help inform directed breeding for more resilient, high yielding plants.”

 

 

HudsonAlpha and Crestwood Medical Center Join to Help Treat ALS

In a collaborative effort with Crestwood Medical Center, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently launched the Impacting ALS project.

Last month, the ALS Association awarded HudsonAlpha a $20,000 grant, which will be used toward increasing the number of patients to participate in the Crestwood ALS Care Clinic, as part of Impacting ALS.

Directed by Drs. David White and Aruna Arora, the Crestwood ALS Care Clinic is the only National ALS Association Treatment Center of Excellence in Alabama. The clinic is also a Northeast ALS Consortium site with its mission to translate scientific advances into clinical research and new treatments for people with ALS.

“Crestwood is proud to have strong relationships with the ALS Chapter and our patients who are battling ALS,” said Dr. Pam Hudson, Crestwood Medical Center Chief Executive Officer. “We are excited to collaborate with HudsonAlpha on this project to better understand and treat this disease which will allow us to help improve the quality of life for ALS patients.”

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the loss of voluntary muscle control. Commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it is estimated that as many as 20,000 Americans live with ALS; 15 new cases are diagnosed daily.

The life expectancy of a person with ALS is roughly two to five years from the time of diagnosis, although more than half of those with ALS live more than three years after diagnosis.

The goal of researchers is to untangle ALS and to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes. To that end, scientists are employing leading-edge technology, such as genomic sequencing to analyze genetic variants.

“Hopefully, in understanding some of the biology behind ALS, we’ll be able to understand different avenues of how this disease happens, what causes it, and eventually, be able to find targets that can be useful for therapeutics and different treatments,” said Dr. Richard M. Myers, HudsonAlpha President and Science Director. “We are grateful to work with Crestwood and ALS patients right here in Huntsville for this project.”

Visit, hudsonalpha.org/foundation/als-project/

HudsonAlpha Receives $1.5M Gift to Name First Endowed Faculty Chair

A $1.5 million gift to the HudsonAlpha Foundation by Miguel “Mike” Loya, a Texas businessman and HudsonAlpha supporter, has established the first endowed faculty chair at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Dr. Richard M. Myers, Institute president and science director, has been appointed as the M.A. Loya Endowed Faculty Chair in Genomics.

“Over the years, I have seen HudsonAlpha take enormous strides in Alzheimer disease research, and I want to continue the momentum by supporting the Institute’s neurological research projects,” Loya said. “My family has a personal connection to these devastating diseases and I want to make sure HudsonAlpha can continue their work to find answers.”

As the eldest of seven siblings, Loya came from modest means in El Paso, Texas. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso. He received his MBA from Harvard and started his career in the oil industry.

Recently retired, he served as the president of Vitol, one of the world’s largest oil trading companies for nearly two decades. Loya’s mother and grandmother had Alzheimer disease, which led to his interest in neurological disease research.

“Mike has once again demonstrated his commitment to HudsonAlpha and neurological disease research by providing this generous gift to the Institute,” said Myers. “His positive impact will continue for generations to come, and we are grateful for his generosity.”

Loya previously supported the HudsonAlpha Foundation Memory and Mobility Program to study neurological diseases with a $1M gift. As recognition of that gift, the Institute’s cafe was named the Anita Loya Cafe in his mother’s honor.

“This is the first endowed faculty chair position for HudsonAlpha,” said Elizabeth Herrin, HudsonAlpha Foundation Director of External Relations. “Endowed faculty chairs provide the necessary funding to advance research and discovery and are critical for retaining and attracting top talent. We are very grateful to Mike for this gift.”