The post-genomic era began today at UAB with the dedication of its new $37 million Hugh Kaul Human Genetics Building.

Posted on May 21, 2001 at 1:00 p.m.

BIRMINGHAM, AL — The post-genomic era began today at UAB with the dedication of its new $37 million Hugh Kaul Human Genetics Building. The Hugh Kaul Human Genetics Building will serve as the centerpiece for research and treatment of patients with genetic diseases at UAB. The eight-story building boasts 155,183 square feet of clinical facilities for diagnosis and therapeutic intervention, research laboratories and administrative space.

“With the completion of the sequencing phase of the Human Genome Project, UAB is now in a position to take a new approach toward human diseases,” Deal says. “This new building places UAB in a position to make new advances as we go into this post-genomic era. It will also strengthen the interaction between our clinical genetics programs and the basic research component — resulting in the rapid translation of bench research to patient care.”

UAB anticipates more than 12,000 patients annually receiving some form of clinical care at the center, including diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of genetic disease.

Clinical space will be used for prenatal genetic testing, risk assessment of birth defects or inherited disorders, DNA analysis and prevention of gene-based diseases. Research space will be dedicated to scientists looking for the genetic links for a variety of diseases, including sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and AIDS. “In addition to our current research, we will begin to address the genetic bases of more complex diseases such as schizophrenia, heart disease and diabetes,” Deal says.

The new space allows UAB leverage to compete for world-class researchers and clinicians, Deal says. UAB is currently recruiting a chairman for its department of human genetics and plans to add up to eight researchers over the next five years.

The building is named for Hugh Kaul, a Birmingham civic leader and founder of the Alabama Forestry Council. The Hugh Kaul Foundation donated $6.5 million for the construction of the facility.

“We are immensely grateful to the Hugh Kaul Foundation, and pleased that this building bears the name of one who cared deeply about our city’s future.” Reynolds says. “The Hugh Kaul Foundation has made a permanent mark on the quality of education and health care in Alabama. We are also most grateful to the C. Barney Ireland family, the Hillcrest Foundation, the Robert M. Meyer Foundation and to Compass Bank for their generous gifts, as well as Sen. Richard Shelby, who was instrumental in securing critical funding for this building.”

The Kaul Building will be home to the Howell and Elizabeth Ann Heflin Center for Human Genetics, honoring Sen. Heflin’s long-time commitment to the advancement of science, research and healthcare. It will also house the Finley-Compass Bank Conference Center, named in honor of Drs. Wayne and Sara Finley, co-founders of the UAB Laboratory for Human Genetics. The third floor of the Kaul Building is named for the C. Barney Ireland family, long-time supporters of UAB.

Selected Genetic Research at UAB

  • Researchers at UAB used genetic engineering to create the first animal model for sickle cell disease. Tim Townes, Ph.D., and colleagues removed normal hemoglobin genes from mice and replaced them with human sickle hemoglobin genes. Now, these transgenic mice only make human sickle hemoglobin, giving researchers a model to test treatments for sickle cell disease.

  • The Cystic Fibrosis Research Center transferred a corrected cystic fibrosis gene into the lungs of a human using a lipid molecule transfer system. This is the first transfer of the CF gene in the United States using lipid molecules. If ultimately successful, this approach could eventually allow people with CF to live symptom-free.

  • Neurosurgeon Dr. James Markert is exploring a gene-based therapy for brain tumors. Genetically altered herpes simplex virus is engineered to invade and replicate within malignant brain cells, while not harming healthy cells. As the virus replicates over and over in the malignant cell, it eventually breaks the cell open, prompting its destruction.

  • Safer and more effective gene therapy is the goal of the UAB Gene Therapy Center. Clinical trials are likely to start in the next few months using an “advanced generation” adenoviral vector, or delivery system, in treatment of ovarian cancer. It is the first clinical trial approved for this purpose by the NIH’s recombinant engineering activities committee.

  • The UAB Gene Therapy Center is the first NIH-funded training program that gives scientists a place to learn this emerging discipline. The center also has played a large role in helping countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Israel set up their own gene therapy programs.

  • Vector development is a priority of the UAB Gene Therapy Center. Several of its vector scientists came to the U.S. after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They transferred their expertise from the giant Soviet germ warfare laboratories, essentially giving up their swords to work toward peaceful ends in curing disease. Through a U.S. government program, UAB is working with Russian scientists partly to keep them from being recruited by rogue states.

  • Dr. Robert P. Kimberly’s research focuses on genetic factors in the normal function of the immune system and in the development of immunological diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic vasculitis. In a recent study, Kimberly and colleagues found that people with lupus have significantly higher levels of a particular protein called B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) that stimulates the immune system to produce damage-causing antibodies. The finding could have significant implications for the development of new, more effective therapies to treat lupus.

  • A team of researchers led by Dr. Ron Acton has a five-year, $3.1 million grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to study hemochromatosis. That disorder, characterized by the accumulation of iron in the body’s organs and tissues, is one of the most common genetic disorders in the United States. UAB is one of five centers participating in the study to determine the most effective method of screening for the disorder.

  • Recent findings by Drs. Jianming Tang and Richard Kaslow explain why some people infected with HIV develop AIDS more quickly than others. Theirs is the first study to identify a genetic factor relative to the progression of HIV/AIDS. It found that people with the same forms of certain genes develop HIV-related illnesses faster than those with different forms of the genes. Findings may assist doctors in determining which patients are less equipped to handle the infection. Results also may have important implications for AIDS vaccine research.