The event brings faculty and staff members from each of the UA campuses together to explore best practices and new ideas for technology in our teaching, learning, and research.
The University of Alabama System 2014 Scholars InstituteThe 2014 UA System 2014 Scholars Institute will be held May 12th and 13th in Tuscaloosa at the Alabama Bryant Conference Center.

The event, now in its 7th year, brings faculty and staff members from each of the UA campuses together to explore best practices and new ideas for technology in our teaching, learning, and research and foster a shared community of knowledge.

2014 tracks include:
  • Research and Technology: Exploration and Discovery
  • Teaching in the Digital Age, and
  • Social, Community, Service: The World as Classroom

Contact Ronan O'Beirne ( if you have any additional questions about this event.

Faculty News

UAB interventional cardiologists offer innovative solution for patients unable to risk major surgery
UAB interventional cardiologists offer innovative solution for patients unable to risk major surgery

Advanced intravascular ultrasound techniques combined with expertise available at UAB give cardiologist ability to locate and attack complex calcium buildup problems.

mae kramerDothan's Mae Kramer, 78, had a left main artery blockage caused by a severe buildup of calcium. She was considered a high-risk surgical candidate, but UAB's intravascular ultrasound capabilities made it possible for her to have a stent placed near the heart as part of a minimally invasive procedure and correct a potentially fatal condition. Athens resident John Welch has 7 acres of land, a woodworking shop and rental properties to keep up, “plenty of things to do that require activity,” said the hardworking 87-year-old.

But Welch recently experienced a heart attack a day after working on an addition to the back deck of his home. He had experienced pains for a few days, but his complaints were of shoulder pain and burning lungs. Tests showed that Welch had significant calcium buildup in his left main artery; surgeons and interventionalists in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa told him an open heart procedure was the only option they could offer him.

Because of his age and comorbidities, including kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, no one wanted to risk major surgery.

Out of options and experiencing frequent intense pain, Welch visited University of Alabama at Birmingham Professor of Medicine Massoud Leesar, M.D.

“We were told there was a special doctor here in Birmingham who works on the left side of the heart, in the aorta,” said Welch’s wife, Doris. “Our doctors told us we needed to get here and see him quickly.”

UAB’s advanced imaging techniques combined with Leesar’s knowledge of the left main artery gave Welch a chance. On July 29, Leesar used a minimally invasive procedure to place a left main artery stent in Welch’s heart. Welch went home two days later.

“We have advanced imaging techniques, including intravascular ultrasound, which really give us a tremendous tool to see where the problems are and how to tackle them,” said Leesar, section chief of Interventional Cardiology in UAB’s School of Medicine. “A lot of hospitals do have intravascular ultrasound, but interpreting the results and performing stenting in the left main artery requires a special kind of expertise. We have that here, and it makes us comfortable doing these types of difficult procedures.”

As part of the procedure, UAB interventional cardiologists initially perform an angioplasty and then an intravascular ultrasound on the patient to form the best plan to make the procedure successful.

Leesar’s team has completed a number of these types of cases recently, including on 78-year-old Mae Kramer of Dothan.

Kramer had what she termed “excruciating” pain in the center of her chest that she also felt in her left arm.

“It felt like I had a charley horse in my chest,” she said.

Kramer also had left main artery blockage, a severe buildup of calcium, which was blocking blood flow. Leesar placed two stents in the left main artery of Kramer’s heart to correct the problem.

“I was surprised I even had a problem with my heart,” Kramer said. “I’ve always been active; I still do 30 minutes a day on a treadmill religiously, and I always watched what I ate and never smoked. The doctors told me I was the least likely of people to ever have a heart attack. It just goes to show it can happen to anyone.”

Leesar says age and other risk factors played a significant role in both Welch’s and Kramer’s conditions.

“As we age, calcium builds up in our arteries,” Leesar said. “When you have kidney failure, as Mr. Welch does, that also causes calcium to build up in the arteries. In many cases, patients can have an angioplasty to repair these issues; but sometimes the calcium buildup is so severe that it makes it very challenging to do angioplasty.”

The comorbidities many elderly patients face also make this procedure a challenging one. For instance, Welch had to have his procedure delayed for a day while he was in the hospital because doctors did not believe his creatinine level was low enough to do it safely. They flushed his kidneys for 24 hours, a step his wife believes showed the true value of the comprehensive care he received at UAB.

“I was so appreciative that they recognized that his creatinine level was an issue and decided to hold off another day on the procedure,” Doris Welch said. “Every one of these little details is what brings a patient like John home. The nursing staff and doctors who helped us navigate through all of this – I just can’t say enough good things about them.”

Visit UAB Medicine to learn more, or call 205-934-9999 or 800-UAB-8816 to schedule an appointment.

Demark-Wahnefried named chair-elect for Obesity Society section on cancer
Demark-Wahnefried named chair-elect for Obesity Society section on cancer

Demark-Wahnefried takes leadership post with Obesity Society.

wendy demark wahnefried

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., professor in the University of Alabama at BirminghamDepartment of Nutrition Sciences and the associate director for cancer prevention and control in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named the chair-elect of the Obesity and Cancer Section of the Obesity Society. Her term as chair-elect begins Nov. 6, and she will assume the chair in November of 2015.

The purpose of the Obesity and Cancer Section is to promote research, education and advocacy related to cancer, including: understanding how obesity affects etiology, prevention and management of cancer; the development of effective strategies, interventions and educational efforts that may reduce the impact of obesity on cancer risk and progression; and promote the dissemination of knowledge of the obesity-cancer relationship to the scientific community, clinicians and the public.

New research presents an improved method to let computers know you are human
New research presents an improved method to let computers know you are human

UAB researchers are investigating game-based verification that may improve computer security and reduce user frustration compared to typical “type-what-you-see” CAPTCHA tools that use static images.

shapeCAPTCHA services that require users to recognize and type in static distorted characters may be a method of the past, according to studies published by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

CAPTCHAs represent a security mechanism that is often seen as a necessary hassle by Web services providers — necessary because they seek to prevent Web resource abuse, yet a hassle because the representation of a CAPTCHA may not be easy to solve. Moreover, successful attacks have been developed against many existing CAPTCHA schemes.

Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., associate professor of the Department of Computer and Information Sciences and information assurance pillar co-leader of the Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research, led a team that investigated the security and usability of the next generation of CAPTCHAs that are based on simple computer games.

The UAB researchers focused on a broad form of gamelike CAPTCHAs, called dynamic cognitive game, or DCG, CAPTCHAs, which challenge the user to perform a gamelike cognitive task interacting with a series of dynamic images. For example, in a “ship parking” DCG challenge, the user is required to identify the boat from a set of moving objects and drag-and-drop it to the available “dock” location.

captchaSample prototypes of the game-based CAPTCHAs developed by Saxena's team.The puzzle is easy for the human user to solve, but may be difficult for a computer program to figure out. Also, its gamelike nature may make the process more engaging for the user compared to conventional text-based CAPTCHAs.

Saxena’s team set out to investigate the effectiveness of DCG CAPTCHAs. They first created dynamic cognitive game prototypes to represent a common type of DCG CAPTCHA, then developed a novel, fully automated attack framework to break these DCG challenges.

"The attack is based on computer vision techniques and can automatically solve new game challenges based on knowledge present in a “dictionary” built from past challenges," said Song Gao, a UAB doctoral student and a co-author on the project.

“In traditional CAPTCHA systems, computers may have a hard time figuring out what the distorted characters are — but trained humans can do it in seconds,” Saxena said. “The trouble is that criminals have figured out that they can pay people — a penny or less per time — to sit in front of a screen and ‘solve’ CAPTCHAs to let them do what they want. This is known as a CAPTCHA relay attack.”

“Most existing varieties of CAPTCHAs are completely vulnerable to such relay attacks,” said Manar Mohamed, a UAB doctoral student and another co-author on the papers. “Our research shows that DCG CAPTCHAs appear to be one of the first CAPTCHA schemes that enable reliable detection of relay attacks.”

By the time the solver provides the location of moving objects in the given challenge frame, the objects themselves would have moved to other places, which makes the provided information inaccurate. The Web robot attempting the breach could not pass the challenge due either to time out or to generating too many incorrect drag-and-drop operations, which would be recognized by the backend server as different from normal human behavior. As a result, the DCG CAPTCHAs can provide protection against relay attack to some extent.

The usability studies of these DCG CAPTCHAs conducted by the team indicate a more user-friendly and playful design direction compared to the conventional text-based CAPTCHAs.

The research team is now working toward re-designing DCG CAPTCHAs so that automated or semi-automated attacks can be made difficult while still retaining their inherent usability advantages and tolerance to relay attacks. The team has been working with companies such as Are You a Human which have been offering the first commercial instantiation of DCG CAPTCHAs.

The research is funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation and a research award from Comcast. Several studies have been done in conjunction with this research.

The project resulted in three publications at prime security conferences. One study, in collaboration with the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in India, Carleton University and Virginia State University, was recently presented at the ACM Symposium on Information, Computer and Communications Security. Another study completed by Saxena and his research team at UAB was presented at the Usability Workshop at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium. A final study appeared at the IEEE International Conference on Multimedia and Expo. Chengcui Zhang, Ph.D., also an associate professor of Computer and Information Sciences, is a faculty co-author on the project.


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