Tim Townes, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, was awarded the HudsonAlpha Prize for his work on sickle-cell disease and related blood disorders. The $20,000 monetary award acknowledges exceptional talent, dedication and discovery by Alabama’s best and brightest researchers.
The prize was announced at the HudsonAlpha Spring Benefit held April 26, 2012. “In research you never speak lightly of curing a disease, but if anyone is going to cure sickle cell, it will be Tim,” said Rick Myers, Ph.D., director and president of the HudsonAlpha Institute.
Townes has dedicated his career to studying the molecular genetics of gene expression in red blood cells and exploring approaches to treat disorders such as sickle cell anemia.
Using mice, Townes and research colleagues have been able to reprogram cells that mimic sickle cell anemia as induced pluripotent stem cells. Such cells have the potential of becoming any type of tissue. The researchers have corrected the DNA mutation in the gene associated with sickle cell disease, placed the cells with the corrected DNA in the donor mice and produced healthy red blood cells.
Townes has repeated similar steps in humans, except for having the corrected cells placed back into the donor.
The HudsonAlpha Prize is made possible by the Alpha Foundation. The prize rewards research in the life sciences that seeks to improve human or environmental health, or agricultural yields, while elevating research careers and endeavors for current and future students in biotechnology. Historically, the pool of nominees, comprised of leading scientists at Alabama’s public research universities, includes individuals or teams who are sharpening the cutting edge of critical knowledge.