Selwyn Vickers 4 LRHow to sum up 2020? It’s been one of the most challenging, complex, confounding years in my memory, but it’s also been a clarifying year, one of immense opportunity and hope that has affirmed my faith in medicine and our school on many levels. As an institution, we were tested in ways we’ve never been before, and I’m extremely proud of the creativity, tenacity, and resilience our faculty, staff, students, and trainees demonstrated in overcoming those challenges. With the imminent arrival at UAB of the first coronavirus vaccine doses to Alabama, we may soon turn a page in the pandemic saga of 2020, but I know I’ll never forget this year and the lessons it taught us.

Turning to the New Year, I couldn’t be more happy to share news about our genomic medicine programs that I’m certain will have a profound impact on the future of our school’s research, clinical, and training missions. Earlier this month, Governor Kay Ivey announced that the planned Altec Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building at UAB will receive $50 million in state funding from the Public School and College Authority. Jefferson County leaders had previously committed $5 million to the project, so this is substantial progress toward the projected total costs of the building.

The building will house UAB’s Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute and the Informatics Institute, along with many of their investigators. The facility will also be home to faculty in translational science and staff from the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Office of Sponsored Programs.

The project will involve renovation of the existing Lyons-Harrison Research Building. It will encompass 145,000 square feet of new computational research, research support, office, administrative and scientific collaboration and meeting spaces designed to meet the specific needs of genomics and precision medicine investigators and their programs.

This new facility will be pivotal to recruiting and retaining high-level researchers—I estimate the building will support more than 50 additional leading researchers and 300 research support staff, and an increase of $75 million-$85 million in research funding at UAB. Initial research programs will focus on cancer, neurosciences, rehabilitation medicine, pediatrics, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the new collaborations will include clinicians serving on the front lines of patient care and enhance translational health initiatives already active at UAB. Read more about this transformational project.

Given this development, I’m so pleased to share that, after a nationwide search, Dr. Anindya Dutta has been named chair of the Department of Genetics. Dr. Dutta received his Bachelor of Medicine-Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in 1981 from Christian Medical College, Vellore in India, and his Ph.D. in 1989 from Rockefeller University in New York. He completed a residency in medicine at Christian Medical College Hospital in India, a postdoctoral fellowship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory supported by the American Cancer Society, and a residency in pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Dutta joins the School of Medicine from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where he serves as the chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and was recognized with the Distinguished Scientist Award of the University of Virginia for his work on genome instability and noncoding RNAs in cancer. His strong academic background will bolster the already thriving Department of Genetics. I am confident his external experience will align with our current, outstanding faculty to broaden the horizons of genetics at UAB. Dr. Dutta will officially assume the role of chair on March 15, 2021.

This holiday season, perhaps more than any previous, is a time to hold your loved ones close to your heart, even if you can’t be together. As we look ahead to 2021 with renewed hope, I wish you all peace and good health.