Archives: Team Member

Alyssa McQuilling

McQuilling leads the energy and environment research team, focusing on energy transition, energy storage testing and other environmental challenges. She has nearly 10 years of research experience in air quality, energy and agricultural topics, and her scientific record includes peer-reviewed publications and presentations on a wide range of topics. McQuilling joined Southern Research in 2016, where she oversaw the operation and commissioning of two energy storage systems. Her current focus includes proposals to improve air quality monitoring in underserved communities, ensure rural communities are included in electrification efforts, and prepare Alabama’s workforce to meet demands from the energy storage and electric vehicle sectors. McQuilling received a doctorate and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from North Carolina State University.

Babu Tekwani

Tekwani’s team focuses on the disease-causing mechanisms and novel therapeutic and vaccine approaches for a diverse array of pathogens, with the objective of identifying novel mechanisms, targets and strategies for the prevention and treatment of protozoal, bacterial and viral infectious diseases throughout the world.

Tekwani has spent more than 30 years researching tropical parasitic diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis, vector-borne infectious diseases, and major global health threats. His work has identified potential new targets and sources for therapies against these diseases. Some of his most recent work focuses on developing a targeted drug delivery approach for a safer and more effective antimalarial therapeutic relative to currently used strategies against the disease for U.S. troops and global travelers. His research has been funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, World Health Organization (WHO), Medicines for Malaria Venture, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command.

Prior to his appointment at Southern Research, Tekwani worked at the University of Mississippi, where he served as principal scientist and professor of pharmacology at the School of Pharmacy’s National Center for Natural Products Research. Before joining the University of Mississippi in 2001, he worked as a scientist in the Biochemistry Division at the Central Drug Research Institute in Lucknow, India. He was awarded an international fellowship by the Fogarty International Center National Institute of Health and completed post-doctoral research training at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Penn State College of Medicine.

Tekwani received a doctorate in biochemistry from Lucknow University, a master’s degree in biochemistry from G.B. Pant University in Pantnagar, India, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rajasthan University in Jaipur, India. He has published more than 225 peer-reviewed manuscripts and has been issued two patents. His research has been recognized with several awards, including a career development award of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/World Health Organization Tropical Diseases Research, The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy Faculty Research Award, and the Distinguished Scientist Award for Global Health Drug Discovery and Global Challenges in Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Briana Bryant

Bryant oversees the organization’s internal and external communications strategy. She brings more than 10 years of strategic storytelling, internal communications, marketing and award-winning public relations experience with robust industry knowledge in higher education, diversity and belonging, research and economic development, tourism and small business. Prior to joining Southern Research, she led communications for the UAB Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where she managed internal and external commercialization storytelling for the technology transfer office.
She received a master’s degree in public administration and bachelor’s degree in communications from UAB. Bryant has served in local and national leadership roles on Public Relations Council of Alabama and Public Relations Student Society of America chapters. She now serves on the board of directors for Alabama Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and for PRSA’s Southeast District.
Bryant was named 2022 Women’s Empowerment Champion by the PR News Social Impact Awards and honored as a 2022 Rising Star Alumni by the UAB National Alumni Society.

Donghui Bao

Bao is a research scientist in the Chemistry Department at Southern Research. His main research interests are ADME, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, and bioanalytical chemistry.

Bao received a doctorate in chemistry from Rutgers University, after which he completed a two-year, post-doctoral study at Pfizer Inc. (formerly Parke-Davis). Before joining Southern Research in 2014, he held research & development positions at several pharmaceutical companies, including Wyeth, Cumbre, and Pharmasset, where he contributed to the discovery/development of Sofosbuvir (PSI-7977) and several other compounds that went into clinical trials.

Fusataka Koide

Koide joined Southern Research’s infectious disease program in 2007. He has 18 years of experience in research and program leadership, and he specializes in animal studies to evaluate novel vaccines and therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases including dengue, Zika, and yellow fever. In his previous experience, he worked at Nabi Pharmaceuticals, where he was involved in the research and development of a vaccine for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). He previously worked Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he worked on studies related to newly developed cancer vaccines and also was involved in more than 10 phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials. He is currently directing multiple dengue and Zika vaccine pre-clinical and clinical programs for commercial and government clients. His most recent research interests focus on the animal model development for Zika virus infection. Koide received his master’s degree in immunology and microbiology at the New York Medical College.

Grace Brumlow

Brumlow joined Southern Research in August 2022. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where her dissertation work focused on pharmacological interventions of cardiac arrhythmogenesis in inherited forms of heart failure. Brumlow’s research interests involve employment of in vivo studies and ex vivo perfusion systems to understand the critical involvement of paracrine signaling mechanisms in sudden cardiac death. Prior to joining Southern Research, Brumlow served as a senior scientist and business development specialist at DiscoveryBioMed, a small CRO focused on diseased human cell model development and custom bioassay design. There she contributed to the business success and laboratory operations of a specialized sector of the company called Sentirix, a niche provider of cell-based assays designed to probe the biochemical pathways involved in human taste perception. Brumlow received a bachelor’s degree in violin performance and bachelor’s degree in biology from Furman University.

Harry Nortega

Nortega performs process testing and sample analysis in support of the Department of Energy’s NCCC located at Southern Company’s Plant Gaston. He installs and operates state-of-the-art sampling equipment at critical process locations, carrying out research and development measurements that provide the basis for the evaluation of a broad range of carbon capture technologies. Prior to joining Southern Research in 2006, he trained and worked on commercial and industrial electrical installation projects.

James Toomey

Toomey serves as the attending veterinarian and the manager of animal care and research. He has regulatory oversight for all animals at Southern Research, including management of the animal program and maintenance of animal facilities. He is responsible for ensuring compliance with USDA Animal Welfare Regulations, Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, as well as maintaining the organization’s accreditation through the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. He has played a role in a wide variety of research studies using animals, and is eligible to sit for board examinations in Laboratory Animal Medicine. Prior to joining Southern Research, Toomey managed colonies of breeding nonhuman primates and maintained CDC quarantine practices for nonhuman primates being brought into the U.S. In addition, he worked in a private veterinary private practice. Toomey graduated from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and received a doctorate from LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Jason Johnson

As the director of technology at Southern Research, Johnson leads a team of dedicated professionals intent on providing Southern Research with world-class technology solutions, with a focus on innovation, agility and cost-efficiency. He is also on the information technology leadership team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he serves faculty, researchers, staff and students. He also holds a non-tenure track appointment as a professor at UAB. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from University of Alabama and a master’s in management information systems from UAB. He is an active member of the Alabama Chief Information Officers Association.

Jennifer Pickens

Pickens holds more than 10 years of scientific leadership experience as a subject matter expert in infectious diseases and preclinical drug development focused on the advancement of cutting-edge vaccine and therapeutic medical countermeasures in the nonclinical and clinical setting. Before joining Southern Research in 2019 and again in 2022, she earned a Ph.D. in Infectious Diseases from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in 2011 under the mentorship of S. Mark Tompkins and later completed postdoctoral fellowships (2012-2017) within the laboratory of James E. Crowe, Jr at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center and Ralph A. Tripp at the University Georgia. Her career has focused on managing preclinical research programs aimed at identifying and assessing the efficacy of novel antiviral therapeutics against potentially lethal respiratory viruses (i.e. respiratory syncytial virus, metapneumoviruses, SARS-CoV-2 and influenza), as well as managing more than 40 clinical trials within the Lymphoma and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Division at Sarah Cannon Research Institute, working alongside renowned physician leaders Dr. Ian W. Flinn and Dr. Carlos Bachier. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her work focused predominately on developing the nonclinical commercial and government A/BSL-3 SAR-CoV-2 program at Southern Research before joining the Biomedical Advanced Research & Development Authority (BARDA) in 2021 as a nonclinical and infectious disease SME/Biologist. She returned to Southern Research in 2022 as Associate Director of Client Services; and in her new role, she works alongside commercial and government clients providing scientific and operational guidance through the lifecycle of their pre-IND pipelines. Her research has resulted in eight highly-cited publications and invitations to present at national and international conferences.

Pickens’ Key Accomplishments:
• Identified low pathogenic avian influenza strains that exhibited enhanced pandemic potential
• In vitro and in vivo characterized antiviral therapeutics against influenza, RSV, orthopoxvirus, SARS-CoV-2, HIV, and hMPV
• Helped develop the hamster and NHP animal models for SARS-CoV-2