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HudsonAlpha Study Reveals Similarities Between Wild, Domesticated Cotton

Plant genomics researchers at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology announce the surprising results of a cotton sequencing study led by Dr. Jane Grimwood and Jeremy Schmutz, who co-direct the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center. The goal of the project was to identify differences among wild and domesticated cotton that could be used to bring back traits like disease or drought resistance. The results, however, surprised the researchers and led them to unexpected conclusions, as described in their paper in Nature Genetics.

Dr. Jane Grimwood

“The importance of this study is that it helps us understand more about cotton fiber development,” said Grimwood, who is a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “But perhaps more importantly, it reinforces the surprising concept that wild and domesticated cotton is remarkably similar, leading us to the conclusion that we will need to work on other approaches to generate diversity for cotton species.”

For the study, the group sequenced and pieced together the complete genomes of five different species of cotton – both wild and domesticated – for comparison. Their genomic analysis showed that two ancestral diploid cotton genomes came together to form what is basically the modern tetraploid cotton between 1 and 1.6 million years ago.

“When we compared the wild cotton plants to domesticated cotton, we expected to see that the wild traits had been lost,” said Schmutz, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “What you typically see with these crops is that all the selection has gone into improving production, potentially at the cost of losing beneficial genetic material from the wild species.”

What they found, however, surprised them.

The wild and domesticated genomes, it turns out, were incredibly similar.

Jeremy Schmutz

“There’s less diversity between what are supposed to be different species of cotton than between two humans or even within different cells in a single human body,” Schmutz said.

This lack of diversity means that researchers won’t be able to as easily reach back into the wild cotton gene pool to introduce lost traits such disease resistance back into cultivated cotton plants.

“We can’t only rely on the gene pool to make changes to cotton as a crop because those wild genes don’t exist. The only real way forward is really going to be targeted genome editing,” Schmutz said.

Even though the group was surprised to find so much similarity among the cotton genomes, they did find some useful variation. Wild cotton, for instance, has some more genetic disease resistance triggers than cultivated cotton varieties, which tend to be more vulnerable.

“This is the basis from which we can start to compare what else we can do with existing cotton diversity,” Grimwood said. “Breeders have selected for ‘improved’ strains of cotton based on how the plants perform in the field, but they don’t necessarily have a full understanding of the changes they are making on the genetic side. With this new information, they can really look at what their selections are doing on a genetic level.”

Even though the project results were unexpected, the entire team is confident that the newly assembled cotton genomes will lead to direct benefits for cotton producers and the cotton industry.

Don Jones, the director of Agricultural Research at the nonprofit Cotton Inc., said these reference grade assemblies are significant advancements for improving the sustainability of cotton production.

“The results described in this Nature Genetics publication will facilitate deeper understanding of cotton biology and lead to higher yield and improved fiber while reducing input costs. Growers, the textile industry, and consumers will derive benefit from this high impact science for years to come,” Jones said.

This work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cotton Inc.

In addition to the HudsonAlpha team, the publication included researchers from 12 other institutions: the University of Texas; Nanjing (China) Agricultural University; Texas A&M University the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, N.C., and Stoneville, Miss.; Zhejiang A&F University in Lin’an, China; Clemson University; Iowa State University; the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif.; Mississippi State University; Alcorn State University; and Cotton Inc. in Cary, N.C.

HudsonAlpha Company, Local Business Working to Address Health-Care Disparities in America

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a long-standing problem to the forefront – racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

Reports show that African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than other races. Louisiana reported African Americans account for 70 percent of coronavirus-related deaths. DC reported 58 percent and Michigan reported 42 percent, a state where African Americans only make up 14 percent of the population.

“There have been a number of articles about the need to collect racial and ethnic data for COVID-19,” said Tiffany Jordan, chief development officer at Acclinate Genetics, a minority-owned, Huntsville-based company that strives to achieve health equity and personalized health care for all by diversifying genomic data and clinical research.

“Yes, we need to utilize the data collected to create a strategy, a strategy that will allow us to overcome some of the current health inequalities. These inequalities are currently impacting the care people receive and that is not fair.”

Tiffany Jordan: “These inequalities are currently impacting the care people receive and that is not fair.”

Jordan said this is also an awareness issue.

“We must ensure that minorities are properly educated on the past medical injustices and the rapidly advancing pharmaceutical industry,” she said. “We need to encourage minorities to ask the right questions and play a role in creating a solution for generations to come.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently discussed the lack of health equity and the importance of educating the African American community about their risk.

“My office, long before COVID-19, has been talking about health equity and the need to help people understand when they’re at risk and to actually intervene,” said Adams. “We know that blacks are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease.

“I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID, which is why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread.”

Acclinate Genetics helps bio-pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations achieve the most representative research sample by expanding their genomic studies and clinical trials to include diverse ethnic groups.

“Having the data is one thing,” said Jordan. “Doing something with the data is something much greater.”

Creating the actionable, personalized analysis of the data is why Acclinate Genetics is partnering with RippleWorx, Inc., a Huntsville-based, SaaS (Software as a Service) company.

RippleWorx provides a holistic approach to human performance by analyzing cognitive and physiological data and using machine-learning to solve complex problems, such as when are athletes at their peak performance and when are they susceptible to injury.

Timo Sandritter: “We can’t have a ‘one shoe fits all’ philosophy under health care, or anywhere else for that matter. “

“Partnering with RippleWorx was a no-brainer,” said Jordan. “Their team of experts is already looking at this type of data to determine what affects people more – identifying factors that keep people from performing at their best – physically and mentally.”

Dr. Timo Sandritter, president and co-founder of RippleWorx, firmly believes in this mission for equity in health care.

“We can’t have a ‘one shoe fits all’ philosophy under health care, or anywhere else for that matter,” he said. “We need to ensure that we service the groups that need it and where they need it. We are quick to celebrate our differences in many ways.

“We also need to embrace a health-care system that’s tailored toward those needs.”

Together, Acclinate Genetics and RippleWorx, are ready to fight war on equality in all areas, whether it’s COVID-19, or in future health-care needs, so each race is accurately represented and data and results are comprehensive.

HudsonAlpha’s Dr. Lamb Warns: Misinformation Spreading Like the Virus

Drinking hot water; using a hair dryer to blow hot air down your throat; and gargling with bleach are just a few of the outrageous preventatives against the COVID-19 disease that can be found on the Internet these days.

Some of them may even quote an expert with the Center for Disease Control or a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Neil Lamb: “Please, please, please don’t try any of the things you read on the internet.” (Photo/HudsonAlpha)

Dr. Neil Lamb of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently answered questions from local business owners in a teleconference with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and warned against trusting the Internet for valid information.

“Please, please, please don’t try any of the things you read on the internet,” he said. “During an epidemic, the virus isn’t the only thing that spreads – so does misinformation.”

While these specific questions were not among those asked by Chamber members, Lamb answered numerous highly intelligent and often-asked questions during the call.

For instance, can people build up their immunity system for fighting the COVID-19 virus by eating healthier and using vitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, A, D, E and zinc?

“You can build up your resilience,” said Lamb. “For instance, if you smoke or vape – stop now! You want your lungs to be in the best shape possible.

“If your diabetes or hypertension is not controlled by medication – get it under control with medication.

“Get enough sleep, because your immune system is weakened when you are under stress and not getting enough sleep.

“Absolutely think about your diet. We often reach for comfort food during stressful times like a milkshake or ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” he said to laughter. “Instead, help your body control immune and inflammatory responses with healthier foods like extra fruits and vegetables.”

There is nothing that scientists and doctor know of right now that will stop the spread of the virus once a person has developed symptoms, he said.

“The best thing you can do is make it really hard for the virus to find you, and you do through social distancing, limiting contact and interaction with others, and practicing good handwashing and hygiene rituals,” Lamb said.

In regards to Vitamin C, he said the levels of vitamins doctors are using to treat people in the hospital, are many, many, times the levels of Vitamin C purchased over the counter or in a multivitamin.

“The Vitamin C hospitals are using is given intravenously too, so you cannot eat enough Vitamin C pills to reach the level they are giving,” he said. “And if you eat a bottle of Vitamin C tablets, it is going to pass right through your system in your urine, so it is not going to do you any good.

“Taking a normal routine of a multivitamin or antioxidant is beneficial all the time; eating more green vegetables is good all the time; but the real way to increase disease resilience is by taking good care of our body.”

Another question pertained to handling he return of employees back to work in the weeks ahead. If a company wants to implement taking employee’s temperature upon entering the building, would that be appropriate?

“The CDC is recommending self-monitoring and part of self-monitoring is taking your temperature,” Lamb said. “As we begin to tiptoe back towards normal, the challenge is that you can be completely asymptomatic and still be actively spreading the virus. You can be infectious with no fever.

“I think we’re beginning to see what’s called a serological test coming to market, that uses swabs to look for the presence of the virus’ genetic material in your nose or throat,” he said. “These tests look to see whether you have developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies due to exposure to the virus. That is very different from molecular testing we’re seeing offered at hospitals now.

“I think we will soon begin to see these tests come to market as they begin opening drive-in clinics, specifically for finding out whether you’re actively infected.”

Face masks are creating the most conversation right now and there were many questions regarding the effectiveness of wearing them in public.

“The World Health Organization has maintained that you should only wear a face mask if you are sick or caring for someone who is sick or working in a health care setting,” said Lamb. “Other countries around the world have freely handed them out and made them mandatory. There is a lot of ground between those two and we don’t have any firm guidance yet, but I think in the next few days, we’re going to see some guidance from the CDC and the White House about wearing face masks.

“Remember, wearing face masks out in public is not to protect you from somebody else, but to protect other people from you. The face mask keeps any respiratory particles you might be spreading, contained.

“If you’re sick, you need to be wearing a face mask. If you’re caring for someone who’s sick, you need to be wearing a face mask.”

However, there is not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for the medical professionals right now so people do not need to be going to the grocery store wearing an N95 mask. Those need to be in the hands of health care workers, the people on the front lines of this pandemic who desperately need every possible protection.

“The kind of face coverings we’re going to be encouraged to wear out in public can be homemade face coverings,’ Lamb said.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle suggested face masks are a psychological reminder that people still need to practice social distancing, but that they should not give a false sense of security.

Lamb agrees.

“The thing to remember is that most of us don’t wear a face mask every day, so it’s going to feel different on your face, causing people to be constantly adjusting it,” he said. “If I am constantly touching the outside of my face mask, I’m potentially taking any contamination I have come into contact with on my fingers, and moving it all over my face. That may inevitably increase the risk!”

Are there hot spots around town we should all avoid, like going to one store and not another, or are some stores cleaner and safer than others?

“I think you should just assume everything is potentially contaminated and you need to be hypervigilant about that,” Lamb answered. “I don’t want to freak anyone out, but we should realize any surface can have virus on it.”

He went on to explain how he approaches surfaces.

“When I enter our building, I use a folded handkerchief to reach for a place on the handle I doubt a lot of other people have grasped,” he said. “Then I fold it inward and try to be conscious of not touching that part of the handkerchief again.

“Keep plastic grocery bags in your vehicle so when you get gas, you can put your hand inside the bag and grab the gas pump with it. Then put it into the trash can right by the pump.

“When you go to the grocery store, before you grab a cart, if someone isn’t there sanitizing the carts, go grab the wipes first or use your own wipes to clean the cart.

“Think about the way you touch groceries. Don’t pick up multiple cans or boxes to read the ingredients like you usually do. Pick up the can or box you want and put it in the cart. When you get home, consider having a dirty space and clean space on your countertop. Wipe off the containers and put them in a clean space.

Many people are intrigued by the bright colorful pictures they have seen of COVID-19 virus. How does the virus behave?

“The SARS-Co-V2, which causes COVID-19 disease, has a fatty membrane around it,” said Lamb. “A lot of viruses are encapsulated and protected by proteins, but this one does not have that, which means it is a relatively fragile virus. All the things that break up fat like soap, tear open the membranes of the virus. That’s why washing your hands for 20 seconds and building up the suds and foam will destroy it.”

How about the weather? Do cold temperatures help the virus maintain stability, and will warmer weather break that down?

“Certainly the influenza virus drops off during the summer, and we know from research that the flu spreads better in drier, colder air, which means the hot moisture and humidity in the South during the summer does not benefit the spread of the flu,” Lamb said. “But we don’t know if the coronavirus behaves the same way as influenza.

“We don’t have a lot of data, and I’ve seen a lot of people suggest we’re going to see a summer dip; but there is also evidence from warmer parts of the world still having rapidly spreading coronavirus that might argue against that. We can’t really be sure. We are just going to have to wait and see.”

There is a lot of information on the Internet about stopping the virus from moving from the upper respiratory to the lower respiratory system if a person starts showing mild symptoms. Is this true?

“I know it may be incredibly frustrating to watch this virus spread around the globe and not think, ‘What can I do and what can’t I do. I’m just one person trying to take care of my household and coworkers,'” Lamb said. “However, every action has consequences,” Lamb said. “The choices we make today, the decisions we make about not hanging out in large groups and about minimizing the number of trips we take outside of home, will shape the next three weeks.

“What you do today, every day, over the next three weeks is a gift to yourself and our city three weeks from now.”

And finally, once this virus passes, how long will it be before life gets completely back to normal?

“I’m going to say this up front and I know no one wants to hear it, but it is likely this is not the last time we’re going to be talking about social distancing,” Lamb said. “The goal of social distancing is to make it harder for the virus to spread so we don’t overwhelm the health care system, but the flip side of that is that many of us will still not have been exposed to the virus so we will not have immunity.

“So it’s likely when we come back together and lax social distancing in different regions of the country, we will see spikes in some regions and we will have to undergo social distancing again. How many of those bumps will we see on the tail end of that curve?

“It shouldn’t be as widespread and require a total shutdown like we are seeing now, but I don’t think it’s going to be a nice, smooth curve at the end when we all go back to everyday life.”

HudsonAlpha Researchers Work to Improve Cotton Through Genetics

Is there anything more Huntsville than the combination of cotton and technology?

To that end, researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology have set out to make a better cotton through a series of research collaborations, grants and projects. These grants include sequencing “elite” cotton strains, sending cotton to space and conversations between students and astronauts.

Genetics could transform the ways cotton and its uses are considered.

Scientists are studying colored cotton straight from the plant, which would reduce the environmental footprint of dye use. Fire retardant cotton would come with major implications for consumer safety.

Cotton might even be bred with natural antimicrobial compounds, which could revolutionize the medical industry by providing hospitals with linens and bandages that have antibacterial properties.

With such visions, it’s easy to see why researchers have focused in on cotton for genetically guided improvement. A series of grants will allow HudsonAlpha researchers at the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center (HGSC) to develop the cotton of tomorrow.

One project HudsonAlpha scientists with the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center will work on has them sending cotton to space. The idea is that cultivating cotton in zero gravity may alter the genetics or epigenetics of transformation, giving scientists a comparison to cotton cultivated on earth.

The HGSC provides high-quality whole genome sequencing and analysis in agriculture, having created more than half of all the high-quality reference genomes in circulation.

The project team, led by Jeremy Schmutz, will sequence the earth-grown samples and the samples that return from space, searching for differences on the genetic level. The effort is part of a collaboration with Dr. Christopher A. Saski of Clemson University, funded by Target and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

However, it’s not the only cotton-based project on the radar for the HGSC.

HudsonAlpha researchers are setting out to make a better cotton through a series of research collaborations, grants and projects.

Schmutz is also heading a project funded by Cotton Inc. that will compare elite cotton lines with a historical one. Breeders develop “elite lines” that they use as the basis for their crops, often because they are well adapted to the climate they’re grown in, particularly disease resistant or have some desirable traits.

By comparing elite lines to a historical cotton reference genome, researchers hope to unveil the parts of the cotton genome that make the elite lines so desirable, making them easier to replicate and improve.

As far as education is concerned, Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president of Educational Outreach, will lead a student experience for a diverse group of students from local high schools. The Educational Outreach team will cover the basics of epigenetics, information about cotton and the specific details of the research project.

Students will have an opportunity to ask questions of researchers from HudsonAlpha and Clemson.

Lamb is also working with NASA to explore the possibility of linking students to the astronauts on the International Space Station for a conversation about how the experiments are carried out in space.

 

 

HudsonAlpha Launches Biotech Mentoring Program for Entrepreneurs

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has launched a mentoring program to help strengthen biotech and life sciences entrepreneurs as business leaders in North Alabama, capitalizing on the wealth of business talent in the region.

The program, called Navigate, was established last fall and is modeled after MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service program which has been mentoring entrepreneurs for more than 20 years.

Through careful, thoughtful and deliberate selection, Navigate matches growing entrepreneurs with teams of c-suite executives, experienced entrepreneurs and subject matter experts from North Alabama to provide them a group of confidential and conflict-free advisors.

“HudsonAlpha founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian were both serial entrepreneurs and mentors to countless entrepreneurs, including some of the Navigate mentors,” said Carter Wells, vice president for economic development at HudsonAlpha and director of Navigate. “Navigate is a way for us to bring the entrepreneurial and mentor spirit that created HudsonAlpha to entrepreneurs looking to grow in the life sciences community.”

Navigate’s first class of mentors includes a who’s-who of business executives, serial entrepreneurs and civic leaders. The current mentors are:

  • Paul Gierow, Founder, GATR Technologies
  • Matthew Parker, PhD, Associate, Maynard Cooper
  • Kevin Gold, Operating Partner, Integrated Openings Solutions
  • Steve Hettinger, Former engineer, manager and public servant
  • Irma Tuder, Founder and CEO, Analytical Services, Inc.
  • Pat Shields, Senior Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley
  • Gary Bolton, Vice President Global Marketing, Adtran
  • Barry Derrick, Product Manager, Adtran
  • Danny Windham, COO, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
  • Peggy Sammon, CEO, GeneCapture
  • Rex Vaughn, President, Madison County Farmers Federation
  • Michelle Stark, Marketing Director, Red Sage Communications
  • Brian Pollock, CEO and Founder, Kailos Genetics
  • Tom Young, CEO Kord Technologies
  • Richard Marsden, Shareholder, Maynard Cooper

“I’ve been involved with HudsonAlpha for a number of years as a board member and ambassador, and I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my experience as an entrepreneur and business leader to the innovative companies at the Institute,” said Irma Tuder, founder of Analytical Services Inc.

After completing its pilot phase, the program will be available to companies across North Alabama. Companies must be involved in biotech or life sciences for consideration. For information, email mentor@hudsonalpha.org.

Birmingham-based Keysys opens office at HudsonAlpha

Keysys, a Birmingham-based custom software development company, announced today its expansion into the Huntsville market.

The company will open an office at the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology in Cummings Research Park. Greg Engle, former CEO of API Digital, will be the general manager of the Huntsville office.

Founded in 2007, Keysys has seen steady growth in the Birmingham area through its focus on helping business leaders “get the important stuff done.”

“At Keysys, we’re all excited to be an active participant in Huntsville’s community and hire talent in the area,” said CEO Jim Bob McAllister. “We plan to take our proven model of building software collaboratively under one roof and replicate that in Huntsville, partnering with area businesses to keep revenue and talent in Huntsville.”

Keysys has received the Birmingham Business Journal’s Small Business Award as well as being named one of “Birmingham’s Best Places to Work”.

Visit www.keysys.io.

HudsonAlpha, CFD Research Partnership Aims to Find New Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer

At the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, casual gatherings can lead to incredible research opportunities. Most recently at the Institute, a fortuitous encounter at a HudsonAlpha mixer led to a partnership that will search for new ways to treat pancreatic cancer.
HudsonAlpha Institute President Dr. Rick Myers and fellow faculty investigator Dr. Sara Cooper will work with CFD Research Principal Investigator AJ Singhal on a Small Business Innovative Research grant from the National Institutes of Health. The group will work to find a more effective target for pancreatic cancer drugs, illustrating the power of HudsonAlpha’s unique approach to public-private collaboration.

An Idea over Drinks 

For this project, the collaboration between the Institute’s Cooper Lab and CFD Research started at Science on Tap, a monthly campus event sponsored by HudsonAlpha where people get together to talk research over pizza and beer. Singhal spoke at the event, and he told the crowd about strides he and his team were making in modeling and targeting proteins.

They just needed some ideas for new proteins to target.

After his talk, Singhal found Myers, who noted there might be an opportunity for Singhal’s group to work with researchers at HudsonAlpha.

“It was an incredible moment,” Singhal said. “You could just feel it all coming together. This collaboration will define our research into pancreatic cancer drugs, and one day, it might even lead to a new treatment. A better treatment.”

Myers put Singhal in contact with Cooper, and the partnership began in earnest.

Cooper’s Lab had a number of novel target proteins identified through its work. CFD Research had the tools to model those proteins and predict drugs that might target them.

A Search for Treatment

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the world. According to Johns Hopkins, more than 44,000 Americans will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis this year; more than 38,000 Americans will die from the disease.

While pancreatic cancer is more treatable when found early, most cases are not found until far too late, leaving patients without curative treatment options.

“I study many kinds of cancer,” Cooper said. “Pancreatic cancer is particularly dangerous and cruel.”

The Cooper Lab previously discovered a number of genes were linked directly with patient survival in pancreatic cancer. One example from that study identified a gene that, if it becomes overactive, makes cells more resistant to drugs by limiting normal stress response that would trigger cell death. Other genes studied by the Cooper Lab control different aspects of the body, like how closely packed cells are or how cells metabolize drugs.

Through its nonprofit research work, the Cooper Lab generated a trove of data on genes and proteins related to patient survival for people with pancreatic cancer. The lab’s partnership with CFD Research allows them to use this knowledge for testing potential treatment options.

A Way Forward

Not only has the Cooper Lab developed a list of potential targets for pancreatic cancer treatment, they’ve also developed the means to test outcomes for those targets. In this case, Cooper and Singhal have honed in on a particular protein—the one that affects cellular stress response.

Using the three-dimensional structure of the protein determined by the team, they can predict which existing chemical compounds might be able to attach to it and render it non-functional. If the protein can be turned off, it could increase the effect of traditional cancer therapies.

“Partnering with outside experts is an important way to advance our non-profit research,” Cooper said. “We’re lucky at HudsonAlpha that we have highly specialized experts right here on campus with us.”

The first stage of the NIH grant will focus on finding potential drug molecules. For the collaboration, CFD Research will test a variety of molecules that could potentially inactivate the protein in question; the Cooper Lab will test those molecules to see if they work on pancreatic cancer cells.

“If everything goes the way we plan,” Cooper added, “We could walk away from this with a new drug.”

Acclinate Seeks to Educate Minorities on Importance of Clinical Trials

Imagine, two people walking down the street toward each other. They both have asthma and their doctors have just prescribed them a new inhaler that’s just hit the market.

As fate would have it, as they approach one another, they both are hit with an asthma attack. Both patients use their inhalers. One person gets immediate relief, the other one doesn’t and dies before the ambulance can get there.

How could something like this happen? More easily than many people realize.

                         Dr. Del Smith

“Sometimes it’s about ‘did this medicine work as good as it should’ and sometimes it’s a matter of life and death,” said Dr. Delmonize “Del” Smith, founder and president of Acclinate Genetics.

As modern medicine advances, it’s become more clear that genetic makeup plays a larger role in the efficacy the drugs they are prescribed than originally believed, according to Smith.

“Before we knew what we know about genomics, an aspirin was an aspirin was an aspirin, for everyone,” he said. “But, then we would scratch our heads and say ‘why was this particular drug not having an impact on certain groups and certain populations?’

“We just didn’t have enough data and knowledge to understand why.”

Fortunately, this scenario hasn’t happened, at least not exactly like what’s presented above, and Smith and his colleagues at Acclinate are working to make sure it never happens.

According to Acclinate, it’s estimated that, by 2060, non-Caucasians in America will outnumber Caucasians and, right now, ethnic minorities make up about 40 percent of the U.S. population, but only 2-16 percent of the participants in clinical studies.

“As our country becomes more diverse, the time is now to address the underrepresentation of minorities and people of color in genomic research and clinical trials,” Smith said.

The Food and Drug Administration is taking notice of the disparity, too.

Smith said the agency recently said if a drug company is going to bring a new drug to the market, then that drug had to be adequality tested on the makeup of the target market. Specifically, if a drug is made to target an illness that’s more prevalent in African-Americans, then it needs to be tested using more African-American subjects than ones from other groups, which doesn’t always happen.

Finding enough people to participate in those studies is where Acclinate comes in.

Acclinate, located on the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology campus, was founded with the goal of assisting other clinical research organizations with the diversification of their research samples by expanding their genomic research and clinical trials to include diverse ethnic groups.

“This is something that most people don’t think about when they think about health disparity and health inequality,” Smith said. “Mostly they think about access to health care and doctors, but we believe that this is a significant part of that equation, and this is the part that we want to try to address.”

Basically, Acclinate focuses on building databases of willing participants focusing on minority subjects that they can provide to various companies when they are putting together various drug trials.

The biggest challenge in finding participants is overcoming the misconceptions and lack of knowledge on the subject and finding the right subjects.

For example, right now, Acclinate is looking for a number of African-American men who are HIV positive to take part in a trial for drug aimed at treating the disease. That’s a highly specific group of people.

“How do we do what we do? Part of it is educational awareness, because there is a significant barrier when it comes to people’s willingness to participate in clinical trials, particularly if these individuals are minorities,” Smith said. “Unless these individuals are going through an illness, for example, a late stage of cancer where they are not having any success with their current treatment. What we find is they are much more willing to take part in these clinical trials.

“But, if you go to an individual who is fairly healthy, who hasn’t really thought about this, and you start talking to him about clinical trials, particularly within certain groups, and in their mind they are thinking I don’t want to be a science experiment. I don’t want the government injecting me with things.

“So, we have to spend a tremendous amount of time educating people on why it’s important.”