Mary and Bill Battle editIn 2008, Mary and Bill Battle’s youngest daughter, Kayla, had reached a crisis point. The 24-year-old was in pain and could not walk, and the family needed a diagnosis and a solution. They found both at UAB, under the care of Robert Kimberly, M.D., professor of Medicine and holder of the Howard L. Holley Research Chair in Rheumatology. Kayla learned she had rheumatoid arthritis and received a novel treatment that yielded “amazing results,” Mary Battle says. “It was her best chance to get better quickly.”

The family faced another pivotal moment six years later when UAB specialists diagnosed Bill with multiple myeloma, a blood-cell cancer. But that time, UAB did not have all the answers. UAB had no comprehensive multiple myeloma program in 2014, which meant that Bill’s specialists, who provided initial treatment, had to refer him outside Alabama, to medical centers conducting clinical trials of promising therapies.

To help others benefit from the pioneering knowledge that brought Kayla relief, and to expand expertise so that patients like Bill can receive care close to home, Mary and Bill Battle are investing in resources critical to immunology and cancer research.

Recently, the Battles established the Kayla Smeraglia Single Cell and Cytometry Core Equipment Fund in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology. Named for their daughter, now a busy working mother of two, the fund provides scientists with innovative technology to investigate functions of individual cells by quantifying the expression of tens of thousands of genes. Discoveries will help define pathways regulating immune-cell function, which could lead to revolutionary treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and diseases including COVID. Future advances could make cytometry a key to precision medicine, with cell analysis identifying effective drugs for individual patients, Mary Battle says.

“Single-cell technologies are evolving at an incredible pace,” says Troy Randall, Ph.D., the William J. Koopman Endowed Professor in Immunology and Rheumatology. The Battles’ gift will help “sustain a world-class facility, allowing us to acquire the latest instruments to provide cutting-edge services for investigators across UAB,” he explains.

A second gift accelerates the growth of the multiple myeloma program at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, home to Alabama’s only multidisciplinary myeloma clinic, where Bill now receives care. The Mary and Bill Battle Endowed Professorship for Multiple Myeloma “will support a distinguished physician-researcher in developing a program of national prominence,” says Barry Sleckman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB and the Evalina B. Spencer Chair in Oncology. “Our multiple myeloma clinic works collaboratively to find new therapies that will one day lead to a cure, and our goal is to establish our program as the best in the country. The generous support from the Battles is critical in helping us translate important laboratory discoveries to patient care.”

The endowed professor also will recruit additional scientists and physicians to UAB, energizing the expansion of research and clinical trials. “We want to move the needle,” Bill Battle says. “Every year we’ve seen new treatments become available, which is encouraging.”

The Battle family is grateful for UAB’s life-changing care. “When you have a serious health issue, UAB is here to provide world-class healthcare,” Mary Battle says. “Alabamians are incredibly fortunate to have access to this level of care so close to home.” – Charles Buchanan