Alabama’s biotechnology industry is growing rapidly, and more than 80 businesses are seeking skilled employees. UAB is preparing to generate the workforce they need.

Tino Unlap (left) is the director of a new biotechnology graduate certificate and master’s program in the School of Health Professions. The program will begin in August 2009. Jenelle Chiasera (right), director of medical technology and clinical science programs, says the program will provide students the skills needed in the biotech workforce.
The School of Health Professions is introducing a biotechnology graduate certificate and master’s program beginning in August 2009. The Biotechnology Program can be completed in a year and will consist of three semesters of course work, a two-week internship at a biotechnology company, a research project and a scientific poster presentation at the end of the third semester.

Interested students can choose to complete 34 credit hours for the master’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Sciences with a concentration in biotechnology or 20 credit hours for a graduate certificate in biotechnology.

“When students graduate they will be well trained and nicely positioned to join a biotechnology company,” says Tino Unlap, Ph.D., director of the program. “We believe we’re going to develop a workforce that’s going to go through training that’s very relevant.”

The graduate-level program is designed to prepare a diverse student body for careers in various fields in biotechnology, says Jenelle Chiasera, Ph.D., director and associate professor of medical technology and clinical science programs. The program prepares a student with foundational skills and knowledge they can translate to in a variety of job opportunities.

“Biotechnology covers a wide scope of fields with more than 60 percent of them in the human health-care sector,” Chiasera says. “These graduates will work in a variety of settings, so our goal is to provide them with a set of skills for a rapidly changing work environment.”

Applied science
Students with a bachelor’s degree in any science-related field such as biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, psychology and sociology are encouraged to apply for the post-baccalaureate program.

Two unique aspects of the curriculum include a certificate of good laboratory practices — a requirement for many companies in the biotech industry — and a short internship that will enable students to get a hands-on experience in the biotech industry.

Unlap says students will learn basic science in an applied science environment. Some of the courses included are: Biotechniques (which teaches every procedure a researcher needs to know in a lab setting), Molecular Diagnostics, Instrumentation and Automation, Protein Chemistry, Scientific Publications and Advanced Technological Assessment.

Students also will undertake a research project that they will then be able to use to help obtain a job or apply for a patent.

“For example, let’s say a student tries to generate hydrogen gas as an alternate fuel source,” Unlap says. “They can work with a strain of bacteria and work to grow it in the garbage; in the process that bacteria growing is going to put off hydrogen gas. Now, we’ve done two things: generate hydrogen gas and take care of our garbage. Now all you have to do is harvest the gas when the bacteria grows and then you can use it in an engine designed to run on hydrogen gas. Some say we can’t get hydrogen in a clean and efficient way. Well, guess what, we can if we get it this way, and we can sell it or design an engine to run off of it. That’s the kind of cutting-edge research we want our students to do.”

To ensure the program stays at the forefront of changes in the industry, an advisory board comprising members from the Biotech Association of Alabama, Hudson Alpha Institute of Biotechnology, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the UAB community and the local business community was assembled.

“Dr. Unlap was instrumental in the development of this advisory board, and we are certain it will transition us into the future,” Chiasera says. 

Open house
The School of Health Professions is hosting an open house Oct. 9 in the DoubleTree Hotel from 4 to 6 p.m. Students, faculty and staff interested in learning more about the biotechnology graduate program are encouraged to attend. Biotech vendors also will be at the DoubleTree, as well.

Visit the Biotechnology Program in the The Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences or contact Unlap ( or Chiasera ( for more information.