Five exceptional and dedicated faculty members are selected.  The Provost's Award for Faculty Excellence in Academic Engagement and Gobal Citizenship are awarded to acknowledge extraordinary commitment to engaging UAB's undergraduate students in research, scholarship, creative activities, service learning, and study away experiences.

https://www.uab.edu/undergraduateresearch/faculty/provost-s-faculty-excellence-awards

Faculty News

UAB researcher wins early-stage investigator award for epigenetics of substance abuse research
UAB researcher wins early-stage investigator award for epigenetics of substance abuse research
A UAB researcher focusing on the epigenetics of drug abuse wins a significant funding award from the National Institutes of Health.

jeremy dayJeremy DayJeremy J. Day, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has been named one of six inaugural recipients of new research awards from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Avenir Award programs in HIV/AIDS and epigenetics are newly developed programs that reward early-stage investigators who propose highly innovative studies. Avenir means ‘future’ in French.

The Avenir Award Program for Genetics or Epigenetics of Substance Abuse supports early-stage investigators who show promise of being tomorrow’s leaders in the field of genetics or epigenetics of substance abuse. Epigenetics is an emerging field that studies how environmental factors influence changes in gene expression without altering the DNA sequence.

Day says his proposal examines exposure to drugs of abuse, which produce long-lasting changes in neuronal circuits that control learning and decision-making.

“This project will investigate the role of epigenetic mechanisms in these changes, providing insight into the molecular basis by which these mechanisms contribute to drug addiction,” said Day. “We will use these insights to develop new tools that target specific epigenetic processes in the brain, which will lead to more effective epigenetics-based treatment and prevention strategies for drug addiction and improve quality of life for addicted individuals.”

“The innovative proposals by these young scientists in the fields of HIV/AIDS and epigenetics are very exciting,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “We’re pleased to support these creative approaches and are looking forward to seeing the results of their research.”

Research finds males and females process chronic pain differently
Research finds males and females process chronic pain differently
Male and female mice use different immune cells to process chronic pain, indicating that different therapies for different genders could better target the problem.

robert sorgeNew research by University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Robert Sorge, Ph.D., and team published today in Nature Neuroscience online challenges the common belief that males and females process pain in the same way.

The majority of existing research shows that men and women have different sensitivity to pain — women are more sensitive to pain overall — but the assumption has always been that a common pain circuit exists in both sexes that is altered by circulating hormones like estrogen.

Sorge and colleagues from three laboratories in the United States and Canada found that this assumption may be false, and that males and females may use very different biological systems to process pain. The key sex difference appears to be in the immune system, and under control of the male hormone, testosterone.

“Realizing that females likely process pain differently than males will allow us to focus on creating alternate pain therapies for each sex,” said Sorge, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Females could respond better to a treatment that is different from what is prescribed for males — that’s something we as researchers were not looking at before, and this study has helped us uncover that need.”

For years, researchers who study the brain did not think the immune system had much to do with brain functions such as producing pain; but now it is known that the immune system does a lot more than just fight off infection, and actually works in conjunction with the nervous system.

women men pain graphic smallClick to enlargeFor example, many experiments have shown that one immune cell, called microglia, is critical for pain processing. When activated by injury like inflammation or nerve damage, microglia sound the alarm by changing their shape and releasing chemicals. These chemicals communicate with nearby neurons in the spinal cord to turn up the volume knob of pain.

The findings from Sorge and colleagues show that this process only occurs naturally in male mice. Interfering with the function of microglia in a variety of ways blocks pain in male mice, but has no effect whatsoever in female mice. A completely different type of immune cell, called T cells, appears to be responsible for releasing the same chemicals and sending the same signal in female mice. The study also found that females are able to use the male system in instances when the female system is not available or when high levels of testosterone are present.

“Given that women greatly outnumber men as sufferers of chronic pain, one might wonder why it is that this sex difference was not noted until now,” Sorge said. “The reason is that, as in most pain research, the overwhelming majority of the studies of microglia and pain were performed only on male rats and mice.”

The U.S. National Institutes of Health recently unveiled a new policy, similar to one already in force in Canada, to require the use of female animals and cell lines in preclinical research.

“The current findings from this paper are an excellent example of the wisdom of this policy,” said Sorge. “Introducing female animals into research will ensure that we can identify problems and conditions that may be mechanistically differently in each sex.”

The paper detailing the research, “Different immune cells mediate mechanical pain hypersensitivity in male and female mice,” was published today in Nature Neuroscience online.

The work was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Louise and Alan Edwards Foundation, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

School of Dentistry aims to capitalize on best investment — its people
School of Dentistry aims to capitalize on best investment — its people
The school aims to continue offering students cutting-edge opportunities by expanding educational programming, enhancing diversity, growing research dollars and broadening its capacity to help Alabama’s underserved.

michael reddy 2015Dean Michael Reddy says the school's faculty, staff, students and alumni are why it has sustained a tradition of excellence in community service, research and scholarship, ethics and professionalism, and clinical dentistry.University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry Dean Michael Reddy, DMD, D.M.Sc., and his team have ambitious goals for the school in the coming years in its efforts to optimize oral health in Alabama and beyond.

Over the next five years, the school will evolve its robust strategic plan initially developed when Reddy became dean in 2012. That plan reaches for excellence in the educational experience, enhances its diversity, broadens its capacity to help others in communities throughout the state, and adds to its degree, certificate and fellowship programs.

“Our greatest asset is our people — our students, faculty, staff and alumni — and they demonstrate that every day in their compassion, ambition and work,” Reddy said. “They help us sustain a tradition of excellence in community service, research and scholarship, ethics and professionalism, and clinical dentistry. The result is a school that can aggressively recruit the best faculty, expand diversity, enhance the student experience, enrich research, increase philanthropy and improve our facilities — all to optimize health outcomes.”

Research

The School of Dentistry has worked diligently to expand research efforts since it was awarded a seven-year, $66.8 million grant from the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network in 2012, which ranked it No. 1 for dental school funding by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

The school’s 58 faculty members are funded at an impressive average of $220,000 each in support. They average 4.6 research papers published per faculty member, including several recent research advances. Total grant and contract submissions have risen 20 percent since 2011.

The school is concentrating its efforts around four research themes:

  • Biomaterial Science/Biomimetic Theme incorporates dental materials and implants, producing medical devices, regenerative medicine, dental stem cells, growth factors, and bony wound healing.
  • Infection/Host Response Theme includes oral infectious diseases, microbiome, inflammation, immunosenescence, and interactions between oral and overall health and disease.
  • Implementation Science/Clinical Outcomes Theme focuses on National Dental Practice-Based Research Network activities, clinical effectiveness, clinical trials and public health issues.
  • Craniofacial Development/Genetics Theme examines craniofacial development and growth, genetic disorders of the craniofacial complex, personalized genomic-based dentistry, and imaging studies related to normal and disease-associated growth.

“Our goal is to strengthen these four areas and continue to develop the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network to keep us on the cutting edge,” Reddy said. “We believe our expertise in research will allow us to leverage our current funding into more research dollars so we’re poised to maintain our leadership of oral health research.”

The School of Dentistry has accomplished a number of renovations and improvements in recent years, enhancing educational, research and patient-care opportunities.

Education and student experience

UAB aims to create a strong pipeline of dentists in Alabama and beyond by offering the highest-quality educational and training opportunities for the next-generation workforce. The school prides itself on a 100 percent pass rate on the first and second steps of the national dental licensing examination and in graduating people with vast clinical experience, opportunities for research, and a high level of training in ethics and professionalism.

Reddy wants the school to expand its dual-degree program offerings to include DMD/MPH and DMD/MBA in addition to its current DMD/Ph.D. and M.D./DMD programs.

“Strategically we are positioning ourselves where our students know, when they come here, they will have every opportunity imaginable in our field available to them,” Reddy said. “We also plan to add a global dentistry program to invite international dentists to join our current DMD program on an accelerated track. This will provide a new layer of diversity to enrich our student experience.”

Along with new degree options, the school has developed several pipeline programs aimed at diversifying the student body and increasing the number of minorities entering dental school. A Health Careers Opportunity Program and a Summer Health Enrichment Program engage middle school, high school and college students in learning about dentistry careers. Additionally, the School of Dentistry is working with the Alabama Department of Education to identify schools with a primarily Hispanic and Latino population to advance its Hispanic Dental Association Immersion Program.

“We are engaged in these and other diversity initiatives in an effort to continue to nurture and diversify our student body,” said Michelle Robinson, DMD, associate dean for Health Information and Business Systems in the School of Dentistry and vice chair of the school’s Strategic Planning and Assessment Committee.

Patient experience

A recently instituted student ambassador program is in many ways the front door for patients into the school. Students are often the first people to greet patients when they walk into the school; they serve as guides to help patients navigate their way to the proper clinic for care.

dentistry faculty clinicThe School of Dentistry's 58 faculty members are funded at an average of $220,000 each in support and average 4.6 research papers published per faculty member. “Our visitors and our patients love being greeted by our students; we hear it all the time,” Robinson said. “It’s great for the students because it starts to enhance their communication with patients.”

The school plans to launch the second phase of its electronic medical record program this July so patients can have peace of mind knowing that all of their providers at the School of Dentistry have up-to-date information on their courses of care. The long-term plan is for the school’s electronic record to link to UAB Medicine’s medical records, giving all caregivers a clear picture of their patient’s overall health.

The well-received UAB Dentistry Cares Community Day will return this fall with a few tweaks. The school will also continue its partnership with the state dental association to build upon the Alabama Dental Workforce Development Project, a program enabling the school to identify and incentivize dentists who will practice four years in areas around the state with limited access to oral health care. Initial funding of $500,000 was provided through a workforce development grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Leadership also plans to place its general practice residency program into some of these areas of limited access in an effort to improve dental care for the underserved throughout Alabama.

On campus, a new, unique dental wellness clinic also is in development. Caregivers in the clinic will check standard measurements — height and weight, and diabetic indicators if the patient is diabetic, for example — giving the patient an up-to-date look at some of their most vital health information.

“By putting this clinic in place, we can monitor a patient’s blood pressure, perform a hemoglobin test for diabetes, or tests for some other indicator if they are here several times over the course of a couple of weeks to get a crown, for example,” Reddy said. “We can pass that information on to the patient’s physician, and they don’t have to go in for another doctor’s visit. It will give us and the patient a holistic approach to their care.”

“We are very proud that our School of Dentistry is consistently recognized as one of the top in the nation,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Dean Reddy and his team have put a great deal of thought into the many initiatives encompassed in their strategic plan that promise to keep the school at the forefront of research and care, all while making a real difference in our community.”

Learn more about the School of Dentistry’s patient care, including how to make an appointment, and discover more about its academic programs by visiting www.uab.edu/dentistry.

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