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University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Fungal Reference Laboratory and assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, has been selected for the Pathologist's 2021 Power List for his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.Sixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology at the
The Power List is an annual celebration of great and inspirational minds in the medical laboratory, celebrating individuals in six different categories. Leal was featured in the “Front(line) and Center” category for his exceptional efforts in breakthrough COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic. Although Leal’s lab was not originally used for molecular testing, Leal and his team used their lab to help the community as COVID-19 ripped through Alabama. Leal’s lab was among the first to establish PCR testing at the onset of the pandemic and the first to establish viral genome sequencing enabling the identification of all major viral variants of concern in the state of Alabama.
“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 said. "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 and his team created their own COVID-19 PCR test in early March 2020 when no commercial systems were available. This test was one of the first in the nation to obtain emergency use authorization and exhibited the highest sensitivity in a nationwide FDA comparison study. It allowed UAB Hospital and regional hospitals in Alabama to reopen for regular care, and 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.
Leal joined UAB Pathology in 2018 as an assistant professor. In 2020, Leal was named the UAB Faculty Innovator of the Year by UAB's Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship 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 one of five speakers presenting at the Pathologist's "A Celebration of the Lab" on October 18, 2021.