• For more than 30 years,
    Betty Darnell
    (MS, RD, LD, FADA,
    Bionutrition Core Director)
    has worked in bionutrition
    research, devising and
    managing specialized diets.
  • Burt Nabors, MD, directs
    the CCTS' Clinical Research
    Unit, and has used it to
    help test a novel drug to
    treat brain cancer patients.
  • Nefertiti H. Durant (MD, MPH; Pilot Project Recipient),
    is literally moving hearts and minds
    through her development of technology-based
    tools to help African American women
    find ways to increase their exercise
    levels and improve their diets.
  • Tim Beukelman (MD, Pediatric
    Rheumatology, Children’s Hospital;
    CCTS KL2 Scholar) waded through
    billions of medical records to see
    if a popular juvenile arthritis
    drug really was increasing
    children’s risk for cancer.
  • Jessica Merlin (MD, MBA, Assistant Professor,
    Division of Infectious Diseases)
    is advancing research in
    infectious diseases and palliative care.

Signature Programs

Signature Programs

The CCTS has a number of signature programs that make us unique.  Several that we would like to highlight include our unique relationship with the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance (ADDA), our participation in the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP), and our development of the Translational Investigator Exchange Services (TIES). 

Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance (ADDA)
The partnership between the CCTS Drug Discovery and Development Program and Southern Research (a not-for-profit Partner which has a very productive, internationally-recognized track record in drug discovery and development) was instrumental in solidifying the establishment of the ADDA in October 2008.  The ADDA is enhanced by relationships with the CCTS, Southern Research, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UAB School of Medicine.  The ADDA facilitates drug discovery and development, using the resources of these groups - including molecular target identification, high throughput screening, three dimensional structure of targets, iterative medicinal chemistry advanced with in silico screening, preclinical toxicology, and ADME.

The CCTS Drug Discovery and Development Program awards funds for any aspect of drug discovery and development for human disease.  Applicants may apply for $50,000 in direct costs per year for up to 2 years.  For assay development projects, these funds cover costs incurred at UAB; Southern Research funds the actual screen and potential downstream medicinal chemistry efforts.  For this reason, compound progression pathways need to be in place, along with secondary and tertiary assays.  All awardees receive assistance from a specially designed project team that meets quarterly to discuss issues regarding the science of the project, but also the intellectual property and financial status.  An agreement between the UAB Research Foundation and Southern Research is in place to facilitate easy transfer of materials and ideas.

As of 2013, there have been 27 projects funded.  Of these, 18 remain active and 7 have been terminated or paused.  Of the 27, 20 are/were related to high-throughput screening and 10 have been screened (5 are evaluating hits, 2 have advanced to medicinal chemistry, and 3 did not warrant continuation).  Projects have resulted in 5 extramural grant awards, 5 IP disclosures, 3 provisional and 1 converted patent application, and 1 patent.

An example of what has been achieved by the ADDA/CCTS partnership is a project spearheaded by Dr. Andrew B. West, who is looking for inhibitors of the enzyme LRRK2 to treat Parkinson’s disease.  The project was started in 2009 at the stage of assay development and is now in the lead optimization stage with hundreds of chemical compounds being evaluated for potency, selectivity, brain penetration and metabolic stability, among others.

Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP)
In some cases, patients wait many years for an exact diagnosis.  UAB has developed a program similar to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which combines medical and scientific expertise to advance knowledge about rare diseases and to seek answers for patients with illnesses that are difficult to diagnose.  The Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) at UAB unites clinicians and consultants and assembles resources in genomics, radiology, and pathology to provide a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation to identify the cause for severely debilitating chronic disease.  This program is a vehicle for discovery of disease mechanisms, with vision toward the development of diagnostic tools and therapeutic insights.  Building on the model established by the Intramural Program at the NIH, UAB has developed protocols to recruit participants of all ages from the CCTS Partner Network​ to develop a clinical workflow integrated with the UDP Network (UDPN) procedures.  Leveraging unique expertise to add to the capabilities of the UDPN, UAB will provide consultations for patients with obesity, metabolic disorders, diabetes, rheumatologic conditions, and inherited tumor predisposition syndromes.  In collaboration with the CCTS, UAB is also developing educational programs based on activities of the UAB UDP to enhance the training of fellows, residents, health providers, scientists, and others.

The UAB UDP is engaged in the activities of the network, including evaluation of both children and adults.  In addition, it offers a number of areas of special strength that will enhance the capabilities of the network: 1) expertise in evaluation of patients with diabetes and metabolic disorders, rheumatological conditions, and inherited tumor predisposition syndromes; 2) specialized laboratory and imaging services; 3) involvement of CCTS Network Partners, including five academic medical centers for patient recruitment and ongoing evaluation; 4) educational opportunities, including a CCTS-UDP videocast Grand Rounds; and 5) integration of clinical data "omics" data utilizing CCTS Informatics expertise.  The UDP utilizes a multi-disciplinary team led by Bruce Korf, MD, PhD, Maria Descartes, MD, and Gustavo Heudebert, MD. Visit the UDP website for information on referrals and clinic hours. 
 
Translational Investigator Exchange Service (TIES)
TIES is one of several CCTS Project Panels.  This Panel serves as a “matchmaker” to bring together complementary teams of basic and/or clinical investigators.  For example, a clinical investigator with a need for basic science expertise can be matched with a basic scientist – or a basic researcher with a finding that may be translatable to clinical application can be matched with a clinical investigator/clinician.  Similarly, this mechanism can also be used to match investigators from different disciplines.  Matching is done upon investigator request to the Research Commons and by CCTS leadership when areas that might benefit from "collisions" are identified.  All collisions, whether
investigator- or CCTS-initiated are designed to spur scientific creativity.
 
One of several collisions initiatied by the CCTS brought together HudsonAlpha President and Director Rick Myers, PhD, with Mel Wilcox, MD, Director of the UAB Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology around circulating microRNAs in those receiving colonoscopies for colon cancer screening.  The goal of this partnership was to define a non-invasive biomarker test for colon cancer.  Investigator-initiated matches have brought together G.M. Anantharamaiah, PhD, who is part of the lipid research group in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, with cardiovascular disease clinicians to discuss shared opportunities.  Elizabeth Sztul, PhD, a Professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, also utilized TIES to expand her basic research to mouse models and to discuss future implications with metabolic researchers involved in patient care.  Another collision has included investigators from Engineering, Neurosurgery and Vision Sciences to look for solutions to sports-related concussions.