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UAB will showcase new way to secure mobile devices at DHS conference
UAB will showcase new way to secure mobile devices at DHS conference
Computer and Information Sciences researchers introduce a secure framework for protecting users while employing apps accessing location information.

hassanUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham researchers, led by Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences will demonstrate their technology for secure location provenance for mobile devices at the 2014 Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Showcase in Washington, D.C., this week.

This project was funded by a $583,000 grant from DHS to Hasan and his team in the UAB Secure and Trustworthy Computing Lab, or SECRETLab. The project resulted in several conference and journal publications, plus the creation of software libraries and applications for mobile phones and the Google Glass and Google Watch wearable platforms.

Location-reporting services permit mobile devices to access various services based on the physical location of the users. Path-critical applications, such as supply-chain verification, require secure location proofs and secure chronological ordering of the proofs. It can be a significant challenge for users to prove their presence and the path of travel in a privacy-protected and secure manner.

Hasan’s team at SECRETLab is introducing WORAL, a secure, collusion-resistant, asserted and verifiable decentralized framework for location provenance. WORAL is a complete, ready-to-deploy framework for generating witness-oriented, asserted and privacy-protected location provenance records. An externally authorized auditor can later verify the proofs and their order. WORAL has been developed for use in low-resource devices. The framework features an Android mobile app to request location proofs and manage the provenance records. The app allows profile management and automatically syncs the settings with the server. Users can easily export proofs with personal privacy settings.

The UAB researchers also provided a Google Glass and Google Watch extension for WORAL users. The users, location authorities and auditors also are provided with an easy-to-use and fully featured Web-based interface for account management.

The developed technology will be demonstrated to the public during the DHS showcase this week.

Hasan is also affiliated with the Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensic Research.

Harper to serve on VA National Academic Affiliations Council
Harper to serve on VA National Academic Affiliations Council
School of Nursing dean receives second appointment from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2014.

doreen harperBy: Jennifer Lollar

Doreen C. Harper, Ph.D., Dean and Fay B. Ireland Chair in Nursing of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, has been appointed to serve a two-year term on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Academic Affiliations Council by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald.

The NAAC will provide a forum for joint planning and coordination between VA and the nation’s health professions schools and universities. The council will advise Secretary McDonald and Robert A. Petzel, undersecretary for Health, on ways to further enhance what has become the largest public-private partnership in VA history and a cornerstone of American health professions education.

This is Harper’s second Department of Veterans Affairs appointment in 2014. Earlier this year she was selected for a two-year appointment on the Veterans Affairs Special Medical Advisory Group. As a member of that federal advisory committee, Harper provides advice to the secretary of Veterans Affairs and the undersecretary for Health on matters relating to the care and treatment of veterans and other matters pertinent to the operations of the Veterans Health Administration.

The UAB School of Nursing has significant ties to the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans health care and offers or participates in a number of programs geared toward veterans and their families:

  • The Birmingham VA Medical Center and UAB School of Nursing are partners in the VA Nursing Academic Partnerships in Graduate Education, the only one of its kind. Created with a five-year grant from the Veterans Health Administration to the Birmingham VAMC, the program will put 48 new psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners into the VA workforce during the next five years.
  • The school also has partnered with the Birmingham VAMC on a residency program to put more mental health nurse practitioners into the VA pipeline. The program, created by a three-year pilot grant from the Veterans Health Administration Office of Academic Affiliation to the Birmingham VAMC, is one of only four in the country.
  • The School of Nursing joined the ranks of hundreds of nursing schools and organizations in April 2012 in pledging support to the Joining Forces campaign and is dedicated to educating nursing students on post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other unique health care needs of veterans and their families.
  • The School of Nursing has a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a program, Veterans Career Advancement in Nursing, to help veterans with military medical experience more easily transition into the nursing profession.
  • A DVD developed by the School of Nursing and the Birmingham VAMC contains three clinically relevant mental health scenarios for nurses that simulate issues on a typical VA medical-surgical floor. The DVD, accompanied by a guidebook and information necessary for obtaining 1.0 CEU, is used by VA medical centers nationwide.
  • Through UAB’s role as one of eight VA National Quality Scholars Program sites in the United States, School of Nursing Professor Pat Patrician, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, and School of Medicine Professor Carlos Estrada, M.D., M.S., are senior scholars for the Birmingham VAMC site. VAQS promotes leadership in quality-improvement research and emphasizes interprofessional learning. The program offers fellowships to pre- and post-doctoral nurses and physicians. 
  • The UAB School of Nursing offers “Caring for America’s Heroes,” a distance-accessible elective course to improve understanding of veterans’ health issues and the Veterans Health Administration that can be applied to the care of veterans across a variety of settings.
  • Working together, the school and the Birmingham VAMC have developed and use clinical simulation scenarios to highlight the unique health care needs of veterans. The scenarios include burn, gunshot wound, automobile accident and OB simulations. The benefits of simulation training include practicing and making mistakes in a risk-free environment and identifying sources of error in care processes prior to practice.

New study of proteins in space could yield better understanding, new drug development, in addition to future scientists
New study of proteins in space could yield better understanding, new drug development, in addition to future scientists
Best of 2014 2Innovative methods of drug discovery don’t always take place in an academic laboratory. They may start there, but they can also happen in orbit aboard the International Space Station, as protein crystallization research from UAB is about to demonstrate once again.

Innovative methods of drug discovery do not always take place in an academic laboratory. They may start there, but they can also happen in orbit aboard the International Space Station, as protein crystallization research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham is about to demonstrate once again.

ISSrecent s“The human body contains many proteins known to be involved in a number of diseases,” said Lawrence DeLucas, O.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering. “Understanding the atomic structure and function of a protein allows scientists to begin development on compounds that can interact with the protein and subsequently regulate its function.”

In order to determine the structure of a protein, the researcher must experiment with solutions that allow the protein to form crystals. Research has shown that many proteins flown in space demonstrated the propensity to grow crystals with an increased size and quality compared to crystals grown in a lab on Earth.

Analyzing a resulting protein crystal includes X-ray diffraction, whereby the crystal form of the protein is subjected to an X-ray beam. The X-rays create a pattern of all the amino acids in the protein that scientists then use to create models for drug design. X-ray crystallography is considered by many to be the optimal method for evaluating protein crystals. This method, utilized in university and pharmaceutical laboratories, is often referred to as structure-based drug design, and it has contributed to development of a multitude of drugs to treat cancer, HIV, diabetes, and other chronic and infectious diseases.

Scientists with the CBSE have been interested in microgravity research for years. DeLucas, a former Space Shuttle mission specialist, performed his own protein crystallization experiments on board the STS-50 space shuttle flight (June 25-July 9, 1992).  

Current protein research from the CBSE

DeLucas and his team are working to demonstrate the benefits of microgravity on protein crystallization. There are close to 100 proteins being utilized in the crystallization experiments scheduled for the launch of the SpaceX-3 rocket to the ISS on March 16.

The growth of these crystals is compared to control experiments performed at UAB. Researchers from across the United States have contributed their protein samples for flight. These proteins will remain on the ISS until August, when they return to Earth.

The analysis will be performed as a double-blind experiment, meaning that the researchers will not know which crystals for each protein were grown in space versus in the ground control experiments.

“This is a better method to evaluate the results since there is no chance for bias during the analysis,” DeLucas said.

Potential outcomes of this microgravity research

DeLucas believes the design of this study will provide a statistically relevant sampling of protein crystallization experiments that benefit from a microgravity environment, which would make this flight a success.  

“This is a very important flight, the goal of which is to demonstrate whether microgravity is a valuable resource for improving the quality of a protein crystal,” DeLucas said.

He hopes NASA will consider expanding the program and perhaps get other government agencies involved to support structural biology research in microgravity.

“There are many projects with proteins that are considered high-value drug targets that have been unable to grow diffraction-quality crystals,” DeLucas said. “We would like to determine whether microgravity can play a role in overcoming such obstacles found in structure-based drug discovery.”

Getting students engaged in science

In addition to the goals outlined for advancing structural biology research with this grant, DeLucas wanted to engage high school students to participate in a subset of flight experiments.  

Students from 10 Alabama high schools were selected by their schools to participate in developing their own set of protein crystallization experiments. DeLucas and members from his laboratory provided tutorials and guidance on the experimental designs as well as provided the schools with the materials needed. Their experiments will also launch on the SpaceX-3 rocket.

“I believe it is essential for the development of the next generation of scientists to engage them early in their academic careers, and high school is the perfect time to motivate and inspire many of these students to pursue academic degrees in STEM fields,” DeLucas said. “These students are excited to have their experiments launched into space; it is a unique opportunity.”

When the experiments return, each group of students will analyze their samples, prepare posters and orally present their results to a nonbiased panel of UAB scientists in early 2015. The presentations will be judged, and the top three presenting groups will be awarded scholarship money.

DeLucas credits Kevin Walsh, Ph.D., executive director of the Youth Leadership Development Program with the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America, as instrumental in the recruitment of the schools. He is solely responsible for raising the scholarship money to be awarded at the end of the project.

“Dr. Walsh and the YLDP have been wonderful at not only raising money for scholarships, but raising the awareness of our educational outreach goals to several school systems in our area,” DeLucas said. “Their efforts have been phenomenal.”

Update: According to SpaceX, this launch has been delayed until March 30,  with April 2 as a backup date. Watch the launch live at www.spacex.com/webcast.

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