The advocates behind AIM!

 AIM Executive Director: Tory Minus

AIM Executive Director Tory Minus; Patient Advocate, Author, Administrator, Spokesperson, Education Coordinator

AIM Executive Director Tory Minus; Patient Advocate, Author, Administrator, Spokesperson, Education Coordinator

Tory Minus is the Co-Founder of AIM and has been involved in medical research advocacy for many years. Because of personal events involving family illness (her sister’s three-year battle with cancer, and her personal diagnosis with Polycystic Kidney Disease in 2010), Tory saw that while significant progress has been made for some clinical research, there is a tremendous lack of funding and education for regenerative medicine across the state.

In 2010, Tory agreed to help family friend and spinal cord injury patient TJ Atchison — first participant in Geron’s stem cell clinical trial — document his experience of being involved in this landmark procedure. Since that time, she has compiled comprehensive amounts of research, conducted hours upon hours of relevant interviews, and learned more about Human Embryonic Stem Cell research than anyone would care to know.

Through her research, she has followed in her father’s footsteps — a legendary and respected local politician — and integrated herself into many advocacy groups and political offices. By May 2012, after working closely with a TJ 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, she realized more could be done to help move science forward and put Alabama on the map as leaders in the field.

In April 2013, with the help of close family, friends, and supporters, Tory was successful in the launch of AIM and is proud to report that over $1 Million has been raised to support AIM research projects in the state, including three studies at University of Alabama at Birmingham. Tory also completed a book about this amazing journey, Inevitable Collision, which debuted September 2014 through Mary Ann Liebert Publishing in New York City. In December 2015, Tory and AIM were recognized by the World Stem Cell Summit as the “Stem Cell Advocates of the Year”. She and the entire AIM team are determined to raise funding and awareness for stem cell research in Alabama…that’s their AIM!

AIM Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee: Dr. Hans Keirstead, Ph.D.

Hans Keirstead

AIM Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board, Dr. Hans Keirstead, Ph.D.

Since 2005 Dr. Keirstead has served as President and CEO of California Stem Cell, Inc. (“CSC”) (acquired by NeoStem in May 2014) and was also CSC’s founder.  He is currently President of NeoStem Oncology. Dr. Keirstead is an internationally known stem cell expert and has worked on stem cell-based therapies for late stage cancers, motor neuron diseases, spinal cord injury and retinal diseases. His previous management experience includes founding and serving as CEO of Ability Biomedical, a company that developed technology that was later sold to Bristol Myers Squibb. In 2000, Dr. Keirstead joined the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at the University of California, Irvine (“UCI”) where he founded the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, and served as Full Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology. He was awarded the Distinguished Award for Research, the UCI Academic Senate’s highest honor, as well as the UCI Innovation Award for innovative research leading to corporate and clinical development. He has served as a Scientific Advisory Committee Member of the California Stem Cell Initiative that resulted in a $3 billion stem cell fund. Dr. Keirstead received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada for which he received the Cameron Award for the outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the country. He conducted four years of Post-Doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge, with both Canadian and British Fellowships. He received the distinct honor of election to two senior academic posts, Fellow of the Governing Body of Downing College, and Senate Member of the University of Cambridge, and was the youngest member to have been elected to those positions. Dr. Keirstead has testified at Federal and California Senate Hearings on several occasions, is an avid scientific correspondent for public education. He serves on the editorial boards of several major journals. He is also the founder of several clinics and educational centers in Guinea, Africa, which focus on health and community development in rural Africa. – See more at: http://www.neostem.com/about/leadership/management-team/#sthash.jV0BzcIV.dpuf

Chair of the Scientific Grant Review Committee: Dr. Jane Lebkowski, Ph.D.

Jane Lebkowski

Chair of the Scientific Advisory Review Board, Dr. Jane Lebkowski Ph.D.

Internationally recognized leader in the development of cell and gene-based therapies with direct management experience in the multi-disciplinary functions required to translate research discoveries to therapeutic products. Princeton educated, Dr. Lebkowski has held the titles of but not limited to: SR VP Regenerative Medicine and CSO at Neuralstem SR VP Regenerative Medicine and CSO at Geron Vice President Discovery Research at Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Vice President R&D at Applied Immunesciences.

Among Dr. Lebkowski’s achievements- Built and Managed Geron’s Platform of Cell-Based Therapies for Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Indications.

  •  Built and Directly Managed All Research, Preclinical Development, Product Development, Device Development and Manufacturing, and Clinical Development Functions for Geron’s Cellular Immunotherapy and Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Based Products.
  • Developed and Managed Program Operations Structure at Geron for Horizontal Integration of Multifunctional Project Teams to Ensure Efficient Execution and Achievement of Corporate Goals.
  • Successfully Led the Development of the First Human Embryonic Stem Cell Based Therapeutic Cleared for Human Clinical Testing.
  • Directly Interfaced with Worldwide Regulatory Agencies on the Development of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Based Therapies.
  • Responsible for Program Operations and Budgetary Management for the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Program.
  • Directly Interfaced with the Board of Directors, Investors, Industry Partners, Advisors, and the Scientific/Medical Communities on the Activities of the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Program.
  • Successfully Raised Over $30M in Public Funds for Geron’s Projects in 2011.
  • Managed a Team of > 90 Employees.

Dr.Lebkowski is on board and ready to help us fund only the absolute best science to find cures. That’s the AIM!


AIM External Scientific Advisor: Dr. Raj Singh

AIM External Scientific Advisor, Dr. Raj Singh, President and CEO of Vivo Biosciences located in Birmingham, AL.

AIM External Scientific Advisor, Dr. Raj Singh, President and CEO of Vivo Biosciences located in Birmingham, AL.

Dr. Singh is the President and CEO of Vivo Biosciences Inc. located in Birmingham, AL.  Vivo Biosciences Inc., a spin out from UAB, is an emerging, venture-backed small biotech company. It is developing novel 3-D or tissue-like biology models for oncology, preclinical and biomedical applications.

Multiple utility of patented HuBiogel technology is targeted to diagnostic, drug discovery and regenerative medicine.  Human Microtumor and Microliver assay platforms are established for accurate prediction of drug efficacy and toxicity profiling.

Dr. Singh received his Master’s Degree from Lucknow University, India and PhD in Biochemistry from Central Drug Research Institute, India.  He completed his postdoctoral training at St. Louis University Medical School, MO.  He has spent over 25 years working in the area of Cancer Biology, as Scientist at Southern Research Institute and Professor at UAB, AL.  He has published over 60 research articles and co-authored 3 book chapters.

Dr. Singh started his entrepreneur carrier in 2005 after he won as PI several NIH and NASA SBIR grant awards (> $5 M) for new technology development.  He is an inventor on 4 patents involving human biomatrix (HuBiogel, 2010) and 3D tissue culture platforms (Top-10 innovations of 2012 by The Scientist). He has been invited as speaker at many national and international conferences.


Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Jonathan R. Ahern

Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Jonathan R. Ahern

Jonathan R. Ahern is a Mississippi native growing up in Jackson and Columbus MS. He finished high school at Woodland Hills Baptist Academy and continued his education at Auburn University where he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication with minors in Psychology and Business Management. He began his career in sales in Atlanta, GA with Georgia Pacific and was a profitable salesman for five years. In 2001 Jonathan was selected for a fundraising position at his Alma Mater Auburn University with his home College of Liberal Arts. This work initiated his accomplished fifteen year career in development raising money for higher education and nonprofit organizations. He spent six years strategically raising major gift money at Auburn University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the University of Memphis. In 2007, Jonathan was recruited to join Palmer Home for Children as a Vice President of Development where he raised 4 to 6 million dollars a year and managed a team of four directors. During the ensuing nine years, he worked with Palmer Home for Children and two other excellent nonprofit organizations including The Baddour Center, and Streets Ministries. Jonathan has been successfully through all facets of fundraising from annual money to planned giving with each of these organizations. In 2014, Jonathan transitioned from Olive Branch, MS to Birmingham, AL to start Ahern Connection, a Contract Fundraising-Consulting company where he has been working with a number of small nonprofit organizations in MS and AL. His most recent work was with the Deep South Cancer Foundation where he raised sponsorship funds for their Cycliad cycling event. He is currently looking forward to helping the Alabama Institute of Medicine raise funds to support stem cell research to assist its employees and Board in growing the organization while meeting its established objectives and Mission.


Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Richard Phillips

Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips is a Blount County native, raised in the small town of Oneonta. He attended Auburn University where he obtained a BFA Degree in Graphic Design and minor in Art History. Before practicing law, Richard was a graphic designer working and living in New York City. After almost five years, Richard relocated to Atlanta where he served as a graphic consultant to trial attorneys. After working across the country as a designer, Richard returned to earn his Juris Doctor Degree and practice law in Oneonta.

Richard also serves as second vice-chair for the Blount-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce, Vice-President of The Oneonta Foundation for Educational Resources, Member of Magic Moments Birmingham, Member at large for The Covered Bridge Players and consultant to the Blount County Economic Development Council.

After watching his classmate, Daniel Robertson, suffer with Transverse Myelitis, Richard began to realize the importance of stem cell research and the impact it can have on individuals across the world.


Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Darlene Brandenburg

Member of AIM Board of Directors, Darlene Robertson, Patient Advocate, Established Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day in AL, CEO of Darlene’s Boutique located in Oneonta, AL.

Member of AIM Board of Directors, Darlene Brandenburg, Patient Advocate, Established Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day in AL, CEO of Darlene’s Boutique located in Oneonta, AL.

Darlene Brandenburg became involved in AIM during the organization’s launch in April 2013, and was asked to serve as a member of the Board of Directors because of her passion and commitment to raise awareness and financial support for eradicating disease and injury. A disease that has impacted her own family is a rare neurological disorder called Transverse Myelitis (TM). This non-traumatic spinal cord injury occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin sheath around the nerves of the spinal cord causing in essence a short circuit. The victims of this disorder experience a range of afflictions from complete paralysis below the site of the spinal lesion to about 90% recovery. Darlene took on this cause when her son, Daniel, was stricken with this disease at age 29. Since then she has worked tirelessly to promote awareness of this rare and poorly understood disease. In fact, she is responsible for the establishment of the Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day in the state of Alabama. This was approved by the State Legislature and the Governor. At that time, there were only four other states that recognized this disorder. Since then, paperwork and documentation have been provided to individuals in other states who wish to establish similar awareness dates. It is unfortunate that Darlene’s son, Daniel, succumbed to complications from TM after a 3 year battle. Yet, Darlene remains a committed advocate for organizations that promote awareness and funding for spinal cord injuries.

Darlene realized her talent for fashion design while raising Daniel and began to produce custom-designed clothing.  After taking marketing, merchandising and business courses, she eventually started her own business by opening a retail store, Darlene’s Boutique & Gift Shop, which has been a staple of downtown Oneonta for 28 years! She now supplies clothing/accessories for clients throughout central Alabama and ships products from her store all over the world while continuing to raise awareness/funds for more research in order to improve the quality of life for those that live with the challenge of spinal cord diseases/injuries.


Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Jason Cosgrove

AIM Board of Director Jason Cosgrove, Patient Advocate, Senior Geospatial Analyst at Geographic Information Services, Inc. Jason and his wife live in Chelsea, Alabama with their six-year-old twins.

AIM Board of Director Jason Cosgrove, Patient Advocate, Senior Geospatial Analyst at Geographic Information Services, Inc. Jason and his wife live in Chelsea, Alabama with their six-year-old twins.

Jason Cosgrove is a native of Mobile, AL and currently lives in Chelsea, AL. He attended The University of West Alabama where he met his wife, Tamara. After moving to Birmingham in 2003, he earned his MS in Environmental Management at Samford University. Jason and Tamara have two children, Addison and Logan, both six-years-old.  Jason is a Senior Geospatial Analyst for a Birmingham based Geographic Information Services (GIS) company. GIS is the technology behind the maps you use on the internet, your phone, car navigation systems and weather maps. He most recently worked with the US Navy to track, manage, and reduce their energy consumption for all of the Navy’s shore facilities across the world. Once a year, he takes his career to a different level and teaches students at his kids’ school about geography and map making.

In 2002, his wife Tamara was diagnosed with Lupus SLE, a chronic autoimmune disease that means your immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissue. It creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. Along with the physical challenges of Lupus, comes the emotional challenges of having an invisible illness and the misunderstanding of, “but you don’t look sick.” Tamara has been able to keep her Lupus in remission most of the time, but Lupus flare ups are difficult for her and the family. Jason is encouraged by the work already done by the Alabama Institute of Medicine and is committed to supporting AIM.

Jason has always taken opportunities to help others in need when time permits. In the last few years, he has volunteered with Wounded Warrior Project, Habitat for Humanity, and during AIM’s Workplay Dinner and Tailgate for Cure Event at Oak Mountain Amphitheater.


Member of AIM’s Board of Directors: Melissa King

Member of AIM Board of Directors Melissa King, Former Executive Director of California Institute of Regenerative Medicine ICOC Committee; Board Member, Wellesley College; Program Director, California Research & Cures Coalition; MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business

Member of AIM Board of Directors Melissa King, Former Executive Director of California Institute of Regenerative Medicine ICOC Committee; Board Member, Wellesley College; Program Director, California Research & Cures Coalition; MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business

AIM Board of Director Melissa King is an organizational strategy, communications and public affairs professional with diverse management and operational experience. She creates and drives impactful interactions between people and concepts, causes and brands. Her industry experience includes technology, internet, healthcare, medical research, education and government.

Melissa played a leading role in the founding, building and operations of a unique $3 billion State medical research funding agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as well as the successful launches of numerous companies, programs and products in the healthcare, technology, internet and consumer products industries. She has provided public relations, marketing, social media and government relations counsel and generated high-impact media and analyst coverage for a diverse group of corporations, non-profits, elected officials and political candidates across the country.

Melissa has a B.A. in Philosophy from Wellesley College and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.