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csm SLeal x850 6bbd31f089The past year has been one of the most challenging years medical professionals have ever navigated. This is especially true for pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals who answered the need for better, faster, and more prevalent testing amidst a sea of uncertainties. The Pathologist's 2021 Power List is an annual celebration of the great and inspirational minds that underpin the medical laboratory and honors select individuals in six different categories. 

UAB Pathology's Sixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Laboratory Medicine, has been recognized 'Front(line) and Center' for his exceptional efforts in breakthrough COVID-19 testing.

Dr. Leal is director of Clinical Microbiology at UAB's Fungal Reference Laboratory. Having developed one of the most sensitive PCR tests in the US, his lab identified the first COVID-19 case in Birmingham, Alabama. His lab is not primarily for molecular testing, but he put his own research interests aside to help his community and state throughout the pandemic.

“ It is an honor and privilege to have been placed at the front and center of the current pandemic and put to good use the knowledge and skills acquired throughout my training," Leal says. "I am extremely proud of the hard work and efforts of my team in the Fungal Reference Lab, UAB Hospitals, UAB Pathology, and UAB for stepping up to meet and mitigate the impact of this global health threat.”  

Leal 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. 

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Leal on this well-deserved recognition and thanking him for his invaluable fervor in the fight against COVID-19.