Archives: Team Member

Mustafa Syed

Syed serves as chemical process engineer at the National Carbon Capture center, a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored facility. The National Carbon Capture center is an internationally known neutral test facility that evaluates carbon capture technologies from third-party developers, such as research organizations, universities, and engineering firms from around the world. As an engineer, Syed is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the gas analysis laboratory located in Wilsonville, AL. Syed began his career with Southern Research in 2021, and prior to joining the team, he worked as a process engineer for four years in the design, testing and development of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) reactors and other innovative emissions controls technologies for power-generating and manufacturing plants. Syed holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Omar Moukha-Chafiq

Moukha-Chafiq has almost 20 years of experience performing research at Southern Research. He has been involved as a lead chemist or key team member in research for potential treatments for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, and he initiated and/or contributed to research projects to develop new drugs to fight viruses like HIV, bacteria like tuberculosis, and other diseases. He contributed to discovering two compounds now in phase 1 clinical trials as potential treatments for advanced solid tumors and for acute myeloid leukemia, and he played a role in potential treatments that are under preclinical investigation for several cancers, including pancreatic and colon. Mouka-Chafiq attended the University of Cadi-Ayad in Morocco, in collaboration with the University of Montpellier-France. He has a bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry, as well as a master’s degree and doctorate in nucleosides chemistry. He joined Southern Research in 2002 as a postdoctoral fellow in medicinal chemistry.

Paige N. Vinson

Paige Vinson, Ph.D., leads a team of scientists in Southern Research High-Throughput Screening Center, where advanced robotic equipment sifts through hundreds of thousands of compounds looking for potential treatments for viruses, bacterial infections and diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cystic fibrosis. This capability, paired with cell-based and biochemical assays selected to reflect the biology being studied, provides a foundation that supports hit identification as well as downstream drug discovery efforts.
She gained experience in providing high-throughput drug discovery solutions to researchers in both academia and industry as part of the laboratory automation business unit at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Following this role, Vinson returned to a research environment at Vanderbilt University where she spent twelve years participating in team science, including drug discovery efforts, both as director of HTS and in the molecular pharmacology group of the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. During this time, she helped bridge academic investigators’ basic research to early translational stages and helped drive later-stage projects by providing in vitro pharmacology support.

Serving on multidisciplinary project teams, including several partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies, has given Paige a broad perspective of the early drug discovery landscape. Vinson holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of South Alabama and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Emory University where she applied analytical approaches to answer questions in neuroscience. She completed postdoctoral training at Emory University performing biochemical and enzymological studies of monoamine oxidase A and B. Her drug discovery experience spans different target classes and diseases but has primarily focused on GPCR targets in CNS disorders. She brings her love of data-driven approaches and team science to Southern Research.

Rebecca Boohaker

Boohaker is the study director for the oncology department. She designs, oversees, executes and interprets all cancer-related in vivo studies to evaluate potential cancer treatments, including cancer-fighting viruses and other agents that might help combat the disease. Trained primarily as a molecular biologist, Boohaker’s graduate work at the University of Central Florida resulted in a targeted peptide therapy to combat triple negative breast cancer. Since joining Southern Research, her recent work has focused on chemo-resistant colorectal cancers, as well as pancreatic cancers, which are aggressive and highly resistant to treatment. Boohaker received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a doctorate in biomedical sciences from the University of Central Florida. Her postdoctoral work at Southern Research focused on cancer biology and DNA damage repair.

Rita Cowell

Cowell maintains an independently-funded research program and oversees the Neuroscience Department, with the mission of discovering new treatments for people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. She has more than 20 years of experience and expertise in this area, has more than 30 publications in journals, has authored four book chapters and published almost 50 abstracts. The Cowell Lab is currently supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Cowell received her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Michigan, where she also completed her postdoctoral work. Before joining Southern Research in 2017, she began her independent research laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she also served as co-director of the Neuroscience Graduate Theme for the UAB’s biomedical sciences program and associate director for communications and outreach for the Civitan International Research Center.

Sixue Zhang

Sixue Zhang, Ph.D., has more than 10 years of experience in computer-aided drug discovery. He obtained a Ph.D. of computational chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with the J. & M. Witt Fellowship under the supervision of Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, Ph.D. Since joining Southern Research, Zhang has collaborated with multidisciplinary teams from both academia and industry, and provided CADD support for more than 50 projects covering oncology, neuroscience, infectious diseases, genetic disorders and other therapeutic areas such as precision medicine.

As part of the A.I.-enabled integrated tech platform for drug discovery in Southern Research, the CADD laboratory facilitates drug discovery pipelines through receptor-based drug design (small molecule-protein and protein-protein docking, molecular dynamics simulations, homology modeling, etc.), machine learning models (A.I.-aided virtual screening, DMPK predictions, preclinical safety predictions, etc.), and bioinformatics. Outside the lab, Zhang serves as a review editor of multiple scientific journals, has been invited as an industry expert to speak at national and international conferences, and has been recognized with multiple research awards.

Stephanie Coulter

Coulter provides strategic guidance and leadership for all human resources operations at Southern Research and sets the vision and direction for the full complement of core human capital programs, policies, and services. Coulter has more than 20 years of human resources experience. Immediately before joining Southern Research, she was a human resources manager for Boeing, with responsibility for performance support and employee wellness programs across multiple states. She is a member of the Birmingham Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management and the Junior League of Birmingham. She is a graduate of the Momentum program for women in leadership in Birmingham. Coulter holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in business administration degree from Southern Illinois University.

Steve Orr

Orr has more than 15 years of experience with infectious disease research in Good Laboratory Practice and Select Agent regulated laboratories. He joined Southern Research in 2015 and has served the organization in increasingly impactful roles, including manager of biosafety compliance, select agent responsible official, FDA Good Laboratory Practice and International Organization for Standardization 9001:2015 Auditor. Previously employed at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, he has extensive bioanalytical and GLP study coordination experience in high containment animal/biosafety levels (A/BSL)-3&4 environments, conducting non-clinical safety and animal rule efficacy studies. Prior to working in infectious diseases and environmental health and safety, Orr was a high school teacher and university professor. He has a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and bachelor’s degrees in both chemistry and secondary education from Lock Haven University. He is a member of the American Biological Safety Association, the American Society of Safety Professionals and Society of Quality Assurance, which twice named him a Distinguished Speaker.

Tayo Sanders II

Tayo Sanders II, Ph.D., has spent the last seven years working with investors and startups in the biotech and industrial technology space. Most recently, he led due diligence on more than 15 companies, totaling more than $130 million in deployed capital as a senior member of the investment team at the Boston-based VC firm, Anzu Partners. Prior to that, Tayo led technical diligence on Anzu’s first investment, Axsun Technologies, which was acquired for an 8x return in 2019. Tayo received a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.