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  • Community Engagement Institute links community leaders and academic researchers
    UAB’s Community Engagement Institute brings academic researchers and community leaders together to brainstorm ways to improve Birmingham, the region and the world.
    Written by Christina Crowe

    Keynote speaker Sampson Davis, M.D., tours the poster session.The second annual Community Engagement Institute enjoyed an overflow crowd for the daylong education and training event designed to benefit both community and academic partners.

    The event, held Oct. 2 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, was organized by the University of Alabama at BirminghamCenter for Clinical and Translational Science’s One Great Community Council and the UAB Center for the Study of Community Health’s Jefferson County Community Participation Board.

    Author and physician Sampson Davis, M.D., addressed the more than 250 individuals in attendance about the importance of family and community support in cultivating personal success. Davis returned to his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, after graduating from medical school where he and two of his high school friends — who also became doctors — started an organization called The Three Doctors. Their goal is to spread the word of health, education and youth mentoring, and become “the Michael Jordan of education,” so that learning becomes a glamorized trend throughout all communities.

    In the afternoon, Al Richmond, MSW, executive director, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, shared some of what he has learned in his more than 25 years in a career that uniquely blends social work and public health to address racial and ethnic health disparities.

    “This event is setting the stage for enhanced community engagement, for learning about what people can do in their own communities, as well as displaying the diversity of resources available at UAB,” Richmond said.

    This year’s CEI event was free to the public, and attendance more than doubled from last year. Attendees represented members of more than 100 Greater Birmingham faith-based organizations, universities, government and nonprofit agencies, local and state health department representatives, community organizers, city and county officials, and representatives from the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The CEI’s breakout sessions touched on three topics: activism, advocacy and community organizing; structural racism and community health; and ways to fully involve communities in collaborative research.

    The CEI’s breakout sessions touched on three topics: activism, advocacy and community organizing; structural racism and community health; and ways to fully involve communities in collaborative research.

    New this year, the CEI poster session featured more than 30 posters on a diverse array of public health topics, including domestic violence and HIV awareness and prevention programs, and other projects dedicated to tackling tough local public health issues. Event attendees were encouraged to network and receive a directory of all attendees’ names to facilitate future collaborations.

    Max Michael, M.D., dean of the UAB School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of working to foster collaborations between higher education institutions and their larger communities.

    “The momentum for this event continues to grow,” Michael said, “and reflects the desire by our Greater Birmingham community members from a broad range of organizations to have a platform to engage in meaningful conversations about how we can improve our communities’ public health.”

    “We continue to be encouraged by the response to this important event, which highlights the deep knowledge, experience and talent in our communities,” said Shauntice Allen, Ph.D., director of One Great Community. “We plan to harness the momentum the CEI generates to work toward achieving, and maintaining, improved health outcomes for our community as a whole.”

    Videos of Davis’ and Richmond’s talks, as well as photos of the event, are available on the CEI website, www.uab.edu/ccts/cei.

  • UAB study finds possible frontline therapy for older patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma
    UAB researcher reports that brentuximab vedotin may be effective therapy for older patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma who cannot tolerate standard therapy.

    Andres ForeroA new University of Alabama at Birmingham research study reports that brentuximab vedotin is an effective and safe first course of treatment for older patients with Hodgkin lymphoma that cannot be treated with conventional combination chemotherapy.

    Results of the study, led by Andres Forero, M.D., professor in the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology, were published online last month in Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology.

    In 2014, about 9,190 patients were diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in the United States, and up to 20 percent of newly diagnosed Hodgkin Lymphoma patients are 60 years of age or older.

    While standard chemotherapy can achieve complete remissions and cures in younger patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, the majority of those 60 and older either are ineligible because of other serious medical conditions or refuse treatment in order to avoid complications related to drug toxicity.

    “The biology in older patients may differ from that of younger patients,” Forero said. “Additionally, the presence of other illnesses, particularly cardiac dysfunction, may limit administration of standard regimens. It became clear to us that, as the rate of remission is much lower for older compared to younger Hodgkin lymphoma patients, there is a clear need for less toxic treatments that allow patients 60 and older to complete their full regimen without complications or interruptions.”

    Forero, a senior scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, has a long history of developing promising therapies for lymphoma and of working with drugs like brentuximab vedotin, a therapy that targets Hodgkin lymphoma cells and delivers a potent dose of chemotherapy without harming healthy cells. In previous studies, brentuximab vedotin has been shown to achieve remissions in patients with relapsed or treatment-resistant disease.

    To examine the potential of brentuximab vedotin as a first course of treatment for older Hodgkin lymphoma patients, Forero and his team evaluated 26 patients, ages 64-92, who were ineligible for conventional chemotherapy or declined treatment after receiving information about its risks. The aim was to gather more information about the safety of brentuximab vedotin and how well it worked.

    Researchers administered 1.8 mg/kg of intravenous brentuximab vedotin treatment every three weeks for up to 16 doses. Those who benefited from the drug could continue beyond this time period until disease progression, unacceptable toxicity or study closure. Patients received a median of eight cycles, with four completing 16 and one completing 23 cycles.

    “In this population of older patients with Hodgkin lymphoma who were unfit for standard chemotherapy, we observed that brentuximab vedotin as a single agent produced a very high rate of response, including a very high rate of complete remission.”

    “In this population of older patients with Hodgkin lymphoma who were unfit for standard chemotherapy, we observed that brentuximab vedotin as a single agent produced a very high rate of response, including a very high rate of complete remission,” Forero said.

    At the time of analysis, 92 percent of patients achieved a complete or partial response to the drug that lasted about 9.1 months. Of those, 73 percent achieved a complete remission that lasted about 9.2 months. The treatment was generally well-tolerated and consistent with previous reports of brentuximab vedotin in patients with relapsed and treatment-resistant Hodgkin lymphoma. As expected, the toxicity that was observed was mild and reversible sensory neuropathy, which is decreased sensitivity in the fingers and toes. Fewer than half of the patients experienced fatigue and nausea.

    “While we observed promising responses, the next step is to evaluate this drug in combination with additional chemotherapy or immunotherapies that might allow us to prolong the response without relapse,” Forero said.

    Direct funding for this research was issued by Seattle Genetics, Inc., through the joint financial support of Seattle Genetics, Inc., and Takeda Pharmaceuticals International Co.

  • Autism education specialists to host conference for parents and educators
    Third annual “Autism: Unlocking the Mystery” conference will be held Friday, Oct. 16.

    Rajesh KanaUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham faculty and alumni will present at the third annual “Autism: Unlocking the Mystery” conference Friday, Oct. 16, at the Worship Center Christian Church, 100 Derby Parkway. The conference will be held from 8 a.m.-3:15 p.m.

    Organized by the Autism Society of Alabama and Special Education Consultants and Conference Organizers, in collaboration with the Birmingham City Schools Special Education Department, the conference is designed for parents, general and special educators, para-educators, college students, and anyone else with a desire to learn about autism.

    “We are working to improve the collaborative relationship between parents and educators,” said Special Education Consultants and Conference Organizers member Cindy Nelson. “We want people to know there are resources and highly qualified autism spectrum disorder specialists right here in Alabama. With each conference, our hope is that we’re developing a network of parents, professionals and educators to address the unique needs of everyone who works or lives with children with ASD.”

    In 2013, the UAB School of Education offered the first education specialist degree in collaborative special education with a concentration in autism spectrum disorders in the state of Alabama. The program’s first cohort of students, including Nelson, went on to organize the inaugural “Autism: Unlocking the Mystery” conference in 2014. The Special Education Consultants and Conference Organizers group was founded by Nelson, and other School of Education alumni, with the day-to-day needs of parents and educators in mind. This year, the conference has expanded to Mobile, Alabama.

    Among this year’s presenters is Rajesh Kana, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Department of Psychology’s Cognition, Brain and Autism Laboratory. Kana will discuss targeting brain plasticity using intervention in children with ASD, the subject of a recent study where he found that 10 weeks of intensive reading intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder was enough to strengthen the activity of loosely connected areas of their brains that work together to comprehend reading.

    Other topics include practical interventions for home and school, how to identify giftedness in students with ASD, smart parenting for children with behavioral difficulties related to ASD, and litigation pitfalls for special and general education teachers.

    To register for the conference or for more information, visit www.specialconferences.com.

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