Dec. 3, 2014 | The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Laura James, M.D., was announced today as an inaugural fellow of the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) during a news conference at the state Capitol.

The ARA Fellows program recognizes distinguished university research leaders who are already working in the state. ARA Fellows are nominated by their chancellor and receive a $75,000 grant paid over three years. James is a pediatrician, researcher and director of the UAMS Translational Research Institute.

“Dr. James is an outstanding clinician-scientist who has an exceptionally strong track record of conducting research that spans the translational spectrum from basic to clinical in the area of acetaminophen toxicity,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “She is a member of a vanishing breed of academicians— ‘triple-threat’ clinician-scientists who maintain excellence in the delivery of clinical care, the conduct of research, and the transfer of knowledge to the next generation of clinicians and researchers.”

James was among five inaugural ARA Fellows welcomed by Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday.

“Research is paramount to Arkansas’ future in the knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century,” Beebe said. “As we strive to create opportunities for high-paying, technology-based jobs, partners like ARA are critical and help our state concentrate our energy and resources on the most effective paths to further success and prosperity.”

Rahn noted that among James’ 96 peer reviewed publications are papers that range from describing cellular and molecular mechanisms of acetaminophen toxicity in liver cells to evaluation of acetaminophen-associated hepatic injury in children. He credited her ability to assemble a collaborative team of investigators focused on understanding an important clinical problem.

James_Rahn podium-400Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., who nominated Laura James, M.D. (center), for the ARA Fellow award, provided an overview of her research achievements and congratulated her for becoming UAMS’ first ARA Fellow.
Her team’s work has led to the development of a new diagnostic test for measuring a biomarker of liver injury secondary to acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is the most common drug used around the world for the treatment of pain and fever. It is also a very common cause of acute liver injury in the United States and Western Europe. The present diagnostic approaches used by physicians to identify acetaminophen as the culprit of liver injury are inadequate and fail to detect many of the cases. Because acetaminophen is found in hundreds of over-the-counter pain killers, patients may be unaware of the amount of acetaminophen they have received. James and colleagues founded Acetaminophen Toxicity Diagnostics, LLC in 2006. The company has the potential to grow significantly once the diagnostic test obtains regulatory approval.

As an entrepreneur, James and her research team at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) have developed a rapid and sensitive test for detecting acetaminophen protein adducts in blood. Working with UAMS BioVentures, she formed a start-up company, Acetaminophen Toxicity Diagnostics, LLC, to develop and market the diagnostic kit.

“ARA is proud of the new ARA Fellows program because it underscores our mission to stimulate economic opportunities through university innovation and collaboration,” said Jerry Adams, ARA president and CEO. “By identifying and investing in researchers currently working in the state, we are maximizing opportunities for commercialization and economic impact.”

The ARA Fellows program is a companion to the well-established ARA Scholars program, which recruits research talent to Arkansas. UAMS has three ARA Scholars: Peter Crooks, Ph.D., Gareth Morgan, M.D., and Daohong Zhou, M.D.

In addition to UAMS, the ARA Fellows represent Arkansas’ other research universities: Arkansas State University (ASU), University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF), University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

ARA Fellows _Chancellors-400In the photo taken following Wednesday’s announcement of the ARA Fellows program are (l-r) UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander, ARA Fellow Trace Peterson, ARA Fellow Laura James, UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, ARA Fellow Alexandru Biris, UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, ARA Fellow Alan Mantooth, Gov. Mike Beebe, UA Chancellor David Gearhart, ARA Fellow Argelia Lorence and ASU Chancellor Tim Hudson.
James received her medical degree from the University of South Carolina and residency training in pediatrics at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She also completed fellowship training in pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham and additional fellowship training in pediatric clinical pharmacology/toxicology at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. In 1996, she joined UAMS as assistant professor in pediatrics. Today, she is a professor of pediatrics and chief of the Section of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in the Department of Pediatrics. Earlier this year she was named director of the Translational Research Institute.

Other inaugural ARA Fellows are:

Alexandru Biris, Ph.D., UALR; Director and Chief Scientist, Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences (CINS); explores the science of nanostructures that can be used to alter properties of substances at the atomic level.
Argelia Lorence, Ph.D., ASU; Co-Lead Plant Imaging Consortium (PIC); leads research for the potential development of crop plants with enhanced nutritional content, better growth, and improved tolerance to multiple environmental stresses.
Alan Mantooth, Ph.D., P.E., FIEEE, UAF; Executive Director, National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission; Executive Director, National Science Foundation Center for Grid-connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems; 21st Century Endowed Chair, Mixed-signal IC Design and CAD; continues to build upon his internationally recognized electronics research program; the team’s designs have flown on the International Space Station; latest achievements include developing an electronic charger for Toyota’s new plug-in electric vehicles.
Trace Peterson, Ph.D., D.V.M., UAPB; Assistant Professor, Regulatory Science Center of Excellence; examines transgenic humanized zebrafish used to study human cancers and kidney diseases; researching drug delivery systems and patentable vaccine technology for previously non-preventable food fish diseases, which will enhance worldwide food security.
ARA is a 501(c)(3) organization governed by a board of trustees comprised of chancellors from Arkansas research universities and CEOs from across the state. ARA evolved out of the visioning developed in a 2007 strategic plan developed by Accelerate Arkansas. In 2007, the Arkansas legislature approved the appropriation of start-up operational funding from the state’s general improvement fund. Funding was authorized through the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority. Operating as a public-private partnership, ARA is committed to strengthening the economic competitiveness of Arkansas by maximizing university-based research and innovation in designated strategic focus areas. To learn more, visit www.aralliance.org.