Alabama Power Foundation awards $150,000 grant to HudsonAlpha

Alabama Power Foundation awards $150,000 grant to HudsonAlpha
Bioinformatics is a big need in gene research and HudsonAlpha will use an Alabama Power Foundation grant to expand the practice to other colleges in the state. (Getty Images)

The Alabama Power Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant to the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology to help expand gene research education to students across Alabama.

HundsonAlpha plans to grow its new program, Characterizing Our DNA Exceptions (CODE), by engaging small groups of college students with authentic genomic research. The students will computationally analyze DNA variants – a practice known as bioinformatics – from real-world, anonymous clinical samples.

Current sequencing technologies make it possible to obtain the entire genetic code of an individual in a matter of days. Often, the process detects DNA variants, or genetic changes, that are not well understood because they have not been studied. These changes are known as variants of uncertain significance, or a VUS.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology will use a $150,000 Alabama Power Foundation grant to expand bioinformatics to colleges throughout the state. (Getty Images)

“A VUS undergoes extensive analysis and testing to determine whether it has a role in the development of a trait or disease, a process that is very time-consuming,” said Michele Morris, Workforce Development lead at HudsonAlpha. “Because of this, VUS interpretation has historically been conducted in larger universities. Through CODE, we want to lower those access barriers.”

In doing so, HudsonAlpha is collaborating with five Alabama colleges and universities across a broader scope of academia. Schools range from nonprofit, to large community colleges, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and liberal arts:

Each school will select a faculty member to serve as program adviser who will then select five to 10 students to participate in CODE. HudsonAlpha researchers and educators are hosting a two-day workshop for advisers May 14-15.

Dr. Jeremy Prokop presents at a workshop at HudsonAlpha to prepare advisers in the Characterizing Our DNA Exceptions (CODE) program. (HudsonAlpha)

“It has always been the mission of the Alabama Power Foundation to support advances in our state. As technology continues to evolve and innovation is more vital than ever, it is important that we continue to expose Alabama’s students to cutting-edge initiatives to ensure their success,” said Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation.

Since its creation in 1989 with funds donated by shareholders, the foundation has supported Alabama communities, educational institutions and nonprofits with nonratepayer dollars through more than 20,000 grant and scholarship awards. “Programs like this one can be real game changers for these students, and we are proud to provide support,” Calhoun said.

Pilot schools will participate in CODE for the 2018-2019 academic year. Students will present their work at a pilot group symposium in March 2019. Following the initial experience, pilot schools will be eligible to continue participation for a second year. This fall, HudsonAlpha will begin recruiting 25 more schools.

“Enormous amounts of genomic data are being generated on a daily basis, so CODE participants will have access to that data and work to characterize newly identified DNA variants,” said Neil Lamb, Ph.D., vice president for Educational Outreach at HudsonAlpha. “We hope this experience will inspire more Alabama students to pursue a career in the STEM fields such as genomics and bioinformatics.”

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