Interview with Tory Williams of Amazing Alabama Institute of Medicine (AIM)

tory and roman wscs 2013

tory and roman wscs 2013The Alabama Institute of Medicine (AIM) is one of the great success stories in the stem cell research field. It’s an extraordinary achievement as a state stem cell agency. Below I’ve interviewed one of AIM’s founders and its Vice President, Tory Williams. Above you can see a picture of Tory with Roman Reed at the 2013 World Stem Cell Summit.

1. Please tell us about the Alabama Institute of Medicine (AIM). How did it get started?  Williams: First and foremost, on behalf of the entire AIM team, we sincerely appreciate your invitation to participate in this Q & A, and are humbled to be amongst your astounding list of interviewees! In answer to your first question, I have been involved in medical research advocacy for several years, and because of personal events involving family illness (my sister’s three-year battle with cancer, and my diagnosis with Polycystic Kidney Disease in 2010), I saw that while significant progress has been made for some clinical research, there is a tremendous lack of funding and education for regenerative medicine in our state.

By May 2012, after working closely with a young man from Chatom, Alabama to pass a law for spinal cord injury research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), it was clear that scientists from across the state were not being encouraged to include progressive stem cell approaches like hESC for example in their research. After meeting with patient advocates, political leaders, and researchers from other states that supported regenerative medicine, I realized more could be done to help move science forward and put Alabama on the map as leaders in the field. In November 2012, I gained the support of my best friend and leading stem cell advocate in the world, Roman Reed, to partner with me in launching the Alabama Institute of Medicine (AIM).

Since our official launch in April 2013, AIM has received tremendous support from constituents, Legislators, biotech CEO’s, and economic developers from Alabama and abroad. AIM is the first of it’s kind in the southeast, a declared 501(c)3 non-profit organization that brings together influential donors, partners, leading scientists and the public to create a unique dialogue around regenerative medicine and to support innovation in advancing stem cell education and therapy. Because we are an independent, privately funded organization, we can take on high-risk projects that would normally not receive funding or attention.

2. Who is involved? What is its mission?  Williams: AIM is made up of an incredible team of Staff, Board Members, Patient Advocates, and Volunteers who work tirelessly each day to accomplish AIM goals and objectives. Our administrative staff includes Executive Director, Roman Reed; Vice President and Education Coordinator, Tory Williams; and Digital Marketing Consultant, Matt Lovett. Members of AIM Board of Directors: Jason Cosgrove, Melissa King, and Darlene Robertson. AIM External Advisors: Chair, AIM Scientific Grant Review Committee, Dr. Jane Lebkowski; Chair, AIM Scientific Advisory Committee, Dr. Hans Keirstead; and AIM Scientific Advisor, Dr. Raj Singh. We make decisions in consultation with members of each advisory group, and we rely on the support of our staff, Board of Directors, and scientific advisors who are the leaders in each field they represent. – See more about our AIM Team at: http://aim4cure.org/about/

Our mission at AIM is to attract and support Investigators who use stem cell research to accelerate treatments and cures for the major diseases and injuries of our time. Through a combination of research in laboratories across the state, AIM is connecting local scientists with other top researchers from around the world. For example, through our public outreach program, we have successfully connected several Alabama researchers with top researchers from other states, including California, Florida, and Pennsylvania to name a few. One of our goals is to shift dialogue into a sphere that everybody – patients, policy makers, scientists, community leaders and the public – can participate in. Our focus on education and public dialogue engages and unifies a growing stem cell community and supports this vital science that has potential to turn traditional disease research and drug discovery on its head.

3. I heard recently about a very exciting $1 Million anonymous donation. Can you tell us more about that?  Williams: Yes, isn’t this amazing! After several representatives from our program attended the 2013 World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego, the momentum and positive energy from this event carried over into our return trip to Alabama. Through this meeting, AIM was able to demonstrate the advances other states are making in stem cell research. A member of our group, a young man from Birmingham, was encouraged to help AIM join this biotech ecosystem and become a leader in the field. With a medical background, he understands how expensive translational research is, especially for start up programs like AIM. So after several coffee shop meetings, group teleconferences, and email exchanges, this incredible man reached into his pocket book and made a generous $1 Million gift to AIM to advance stem cell research in Alabama. The press release for this announcement can be found here.

4. How can people help AIM?  Williams: Paul, in all honesty, I believe the question is, “How can AIM help people?”  And to do this, you know better than anyone that it takes significant funding to support pilot studies which lead to medical breakthroughs. Each pilot study ranges from $100k to $300k or more for proof of concept in the laboratory. Projects that are successful and move beyond the pilot study phase and into human clinical trials, range well into the eight-figure amounts. AIM hopes to fund several pilot studies with the recent $1 M gift, as 90% of all donations are directly deposited into AIM’s Scientific Research Grant Trust account. AIM in a nutshell is about helping people of our state and around the globe who are suffering each day with a chronic disease and / or injury. Because we are people just like you wanting to make a difference in the lives of our loved ones and friends, we rely heavily on the creative efforts of generous individuals and groups of all ages to raise awareness for our efforts. To donate to AIM’s Trust account or to learn how to get involved with AIM, please visit http://aim4cure.org/support-aim/.

5. Where do you see AIM in 5 years? What are its long-term goals?  Williams: AIM will meet its goals in three continual and staggered phases.

Phase 1: AIM Granting Program – Scientists will go through a Request for Application Process (RFA) for support of their stem cell research of any disease, injury, or field of ailment.

Phase 2: AIM Core Laboratory – Early on, we realized that we needed a state-of-the-art, privately funded laboratory where researchers could check politics at the door and do the most advanced stem cell work in house. In Phase 2 of our program, AIM will house a core laboratory where qualified scientists from all over Alabama may use AIM’s cutting edge equipment, space and scientific experience.

Phase 3: AIM Alpha Clinic – AIM will develop hospital space where regenerative medicine treatments can be administered and where patients suffering from chronic disease, injury, or ailment can receive on-site treatment in Alabama.

Each Phase of the Alabama Institute of Medicine will move a step closer to advanced treatments and cures for our state, and the world. We are uncertain of how many years it will take us to accomplish these goals, but you can bet we are determined to get through each Phase and beyond!

6. Anything else you want to tell us about AIM?  Williams: AIM is excited to be a part of a biotech industry that is a fast-developing ecosystem. There’s a lot of really promising work happening in the academic institutions across our state, and we believe that Alabama has the talent, resources, and expertise to compete with larger biotech centers  in developing new drugs and therapies. Our hope is that the unique opportunities here, make Alabama an ideal location for recruiting top researchers to the area, and to keep our best and brightest from being recruited away to other states and countries that support stem cell research. With already three spin off companies of AIM, we want to continue economic growth in Alabama by utilizing stem cell technology to build  the bioscience ecosystem here to even greater heights. – See more at: http://aim4cure.org/stem-cell-research/

AIM for Cures, and Cures for ALL!

In Partnership,

Tory Williams

Vice President, AIM

[email protected]