April 30, 2009
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Professor of Pathology Casey Weaver, M.D., has been awarded the HudsonAlpha Prize for Outstanding Innovation in Life Sciences for his lab's groundbreaking studies that identify a new pathway by which the body's immune system normally responds to infections and cancer, and which when uncontrolled, can cause autoimmune disease.
Dr. Richard Myers, president and director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, presented the award to Weaver during DNA Day festivities held at the institute Friday, April 24.
"I want to thank the HudsonAlpha Institute, the Alpha Foundation and the Innovation Prize Committee for this tremendous honor," Weaver said. "This award is an acknowledgement of the work of a number of fine young scientists whom I've had the privilege of mentoring over the past few years, and reflects the quality of scientific investigation that is ongoing at UAB.
"Just as the HudsonAlpha Institute represents a forward-looking, entrepreneurial initiative to integrate basic advances in the genomic sciences with education and industry, I'm excited by the potential of this prize to build new ties with Alabama life scientists, to enhance the recruitment and development of scientific talent in our state, and to build on the legacy of health care innovation that we have inherited," Weaver said.
"This recognition is a wonderful affirmation of the innovation, hard work and dedication of Dr. Weaver and his research team, and of the outstanding scientific research for which UAB is internationally known," said UAB President Carol Z. Garrison.
The HudsonAlpha Institute, located in Huntsville, hosts a synergistic cluster of biotechnology talent - science and business professionals - that promises collaborative innovation to turn knowledge and ideas into commercial products and services for improving human health and strengthening Alabama's progressively diverse economy. HudsonAlpha has a three-fold mission of genomic research, economic development and educational outreach.
Funded through a grant from the Alpha Foundation, the annual prize, along with $20,000, is awarded to a current faculty member or staff scientist at one of Alabama's six research universities - UAB, the University of Alabama, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Auburn, University of South Alabama or Alabama A&M University. It recognizes exceptional talent, dedication and discovery and is designed to increase awareness of biotechnology in Alabama and encourage students to pursue biotechnology as a field of study.
Each research university may nominate up to two candidates who have recently
effected advancements in the life sciences that provide significant, practical implications in biotechnology or biomedicine. These achievements should reflect great promise for further development and benefit to mankind. Nominations recognizing efforts that are already delivering on that promise are especially welcome.
At UAB, Weaver's lab studies the immune system; his team is interested in understanding mechanisms by which specialized immune cells called T-cells balance the need to protect against infections and cancer without turning on the body to cause immune-mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
"The studies that this prize recognizes have helped to advance our understanding of immune protection and immune disease by contributing to the identification of a new class of T cells, called Th17 cells," Weaver said. "By understanding how this class of T cells develops and functions in normal and abnormal immunity, we hope to learn how to curb the destructive potential of these cells as a means to identify novel approaches to treat patients who suffer from certain types of autoimmune disease. This might also lead to new ways to harness the potential of these cells to eradicate certain types of infection and malignancies."
Weaver earned his bachelor's in biochemistry and medical degree from the University of Florida. He completed his internship and residency in pathology at Jewish and Barnes Hospitals, Washington University, St. Louis, followed by postdoctoral training in immunology in the Department of Pathology at Washington University. He was an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at Washington University until joining the UAB Department of Pathology faculty in 1992.
The UAB Department of Pathology provides extensive clinical services and teaching while maintaining large and productive research programs. Currently, the department has more than $25 million per year in extramural research funding and its clinical services, including inpatient, outpatient and outreach, complete more than 6 million procedures per year. Its training programs are among the finest in the country, and its faculty have achieved national and international recognition in service, teaching and research.