May 25, 2021

Leal Named 2021 Dean’s Excellence Award Winner in Service

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RS17723 Fran Lund 4 scrSixto M. Leal, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Laboratory Medicine, UAB Department of Pathology, is awarded the 2021 Dean’s Excellence Award for Service as junior faculty.

“In his relatively brief time at UAB, Dr. Sixto Leal has accomplished tremendous feats in the realms of both laboratory work and research, around COVID in particular,” said George Netto, M.D., Robert and Ruth Anderson Endowed Chair of UAB Pathology. “He and his team worked tirelessly to advance our state’s ability to conduct testing, developing algorithms that allowed for early testing and for the expansion of testing statewide. We are extremely grateful to him for the work they have done and proud of their accomplishments during the pandemic and beyond.”

Leal is director of UAB Medicine’s Clinical Microbiology Laboratory and the Fungal Reference Laboratory. He joined UAB Pathology in 2018 as an assistant professor—his first faculty position—having completed residency in clinical pathology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a fellowship in clinical microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic. He earned board certification in clinical pathology and medical microbiology before joining UAB.

Leal and his team created their own COVID-19 PCR test in early March 2020, when no commercial systems were available. This test—one of the first in the nation to obtain emergency use authorization—exhibited the highest sensitivity in a nationwide FDA comparison study. It allowed UAB hospitals and regional hospitals in Alabama to reopen for regular care, and from March 17 to August, Leal’s team was able to increase the rate of COVID-19 testing from 150 tests a day to more than 11,300 tests each day.

In late 2020, UAB’s Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship recognized Leal as a UAB Faculty Innovator of the Year for his work on the GuideSafe program to provide pooled COVID testing to allow for the safe return of thousands of college students to their campuses statewide. He also received a UAB COVID-19 Research Pilot Award in 2020 for his work on the identification of prognostic markers mediating infection outcome.

Leal is principle investigator and co-PI on numerous grants related to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections and the treatment thereof; COVID genome sequencing, vaccine development, point of care diagnostics, and collaborative infectious disease research within and outside of UAB.

He and his team’s tireless efforts to help keep UAB and Alabama on pace with COVID testing cannot be understated.