Selwyn Vickers 4 LRThis month I have news to share with exciting implications for our research enterprise. The School of Medicine recently announced the establishment of the UAB Immunology Institute (II), a cutting-edge and interdisciplinary hub for faculty, researchers, clinicians, health policy experts, and educators who seek to advance the study of immunology and improve human health through immune-based therapies, including vaccines.

The II will serve as a central coordinating hub for immunologic research, which incorporates multiple disciplines, including microbiology, cell biology, transplantation, pediatric and adult medicine, oncology, pathology, and others. The II will become a point of contact for those interested in immunology education and outreach, both on the UAB campus and within our community and state.

Frances Lund, Ph.D., Charles H. McCauley Professor and Chair for the Department of Microbiology, will serve as the II’s founding director. Troy Randall, Ph.D., The Meyer Foundation William J. Koopman Endowed Chair in Immunology in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, and Paul Goepfert, M.D., The Edward W. Hook III Endowed Professor in Infectious Diseases in the Division of Infectious Diseases, will serve as associate directors for the institute.

As Dr. Lund explains, “II will bring clinical and basic science researchers together in discovery science programs to identify immunologic pathways that may be targeted in particular diseases in specific individuals. II associated cores will be a key component of clinical trials across a spectrum of diseases.” The II also will provide access to bioinformatics expertise in molecular and cellular immune profiling.

One key goal of the II is to establish and support a repository of healthy donor immune cell samples and eventually open this sample bank to all researchers at UAB. While patients with disease have provided donor samples for decades at UAB, healthy donor samples will serve as controls for samples from pathologic conditions, like cancer or infectious diseases, and will expand opportunities to create personalized therapeutics, increase our competitiveness in faculty recruitment, and open new avenues for grant funding.

Another key initial priority for the II includes teaming up with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB to develop protocols to measure tumor immune response in cancer patients undergoing various immune-modulating treatments. The II also will work with stakeholders across campus to rapidly operationalize the healthy donor program and will partner with departments to recruit faculty with expertise in the broad areas of immunology, infectious disease, and inflammation. Learn more about this exciting new initiative.

Highlighting faculty excellence is the impetus behind the Dean’s Excellence Awards. This honor recognizes outstanding contributions made by faculty across the School of Medicine—both at the junior (instructor or assistant professor) and senior (associate professor or full professor) levels—in the areas of service, teaching, research, mentorship, and diversity enhancement. Awardees are nominated by their faculty peers and then selected in a peer-review process.

Here you’ll find links to bios and video remarks from each of this year’s winners. This group of faculty truly exemplifies the best of what our school has to offer, an impact that reverberates not only within our institution but throughout the greater community. I’m proud to count them among my colleagues and to share their achievements with you.

June is Pride Month at the School of Medicine, and we are showcasing the exceptional people, programs, patient care, and research at our school committed to improving the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community in a series of articles. To begin, Stephanie Perry, M.A., practice manager in the Department of Pediatrics, shares her story and discusses diversity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ individuals at UAB. Perry also is the latest guest on my podcast, The Checkup, where she discusses LGBTQ+ health care, listening to marginalized voices, what it means to approach LGBTQ+ discussions with cultural humility, and being a continuous learner.

Earlier this month, we announced that UAB Medicine received the LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader designation from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for the fourth time since 2016. The honor recognizes UAB Medicine's efforts to meet nondiscrimination and training criteria that demonstrate a commitment to equitable, inclusive care for LGBTQ+ patients and their families. Our LGBTQ+ initiatives and programs continue to gain momentum, and I am committed to ensuring that our school serves as a beacon of hope for LGBTQ+ communities across the region.

As physicians, many of us have and will encounter patients who experienced COVID-19 and suffered from symptoms long afterward—so-called “long-haulers.” UAB Medicine has launched a weekly, virtual Post-COVID Lunch-and-Learn Series to help this community of patients better understand and manage post-COVID symptoms. It features experts from a variety of areas—cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology, infectious diseases, neurology, otolaryngology, and others—addressing symptoms many people continue to experience four weeks or more after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. People can learn more about the series, find links to past sessions, and register for upcoming sessions here.

Lastly, I encourage you to mark your calendars for the 49th Annual Medical Alumni Weekend, taking place February 25-26, 2022, at the Hilton Birmingham at UAB. Alumni will once again gather in-person for class reunions for graduation years ending in 2 and 7, sample the latest School of Medicine curriculum and teaching techniques, tour labs and learning spaces, earn CME credit, and more. Check the Medical Alumni Association website for updates and registration information.