Research Resources

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Leadership for all administrative research units serving the research enterprise at UAB. OVPRED oversees Core Facilities, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and Institutional Review Board.

Integrated Research Administration Portal (IRAP)

Electronic submission of funding applications and compliance forms for future research initiatives.

UAB Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The nexus for UAB innovation, entrepreneurial educational models, applied research, and management of intellectual property.

Funding Sources and Grant Opportunities

Presentations and general information related to effective grant writing.

Office of Postdoctoral Education

UAB is committed to the development and success of outstanding postdoctoral scientists.

Conflict of Interest Review Board (CIRB)

Charged with the ongoing development of policies and procedures related to conflicts of interest in sponsored research, review of disclosures of financial interests submitted by investigators, and the development of conflict of interest management plans.

Research News

UAB study says Alzheimer’s plaques can also affect the brain’s blood vessels
UAB study says Alzheimer’s plaques can also affect the brain’s blood vessels
The Alzheimer’s plaques that accumulate around brain cells also congregate along the walls of blood vessels, according to UAB research, and that may contribute to cognitive issues.

Amyloid beta, the plaque that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, may also contribute to Alzheimer’s by interfering with normal blood flow in the brain, according to investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In findings published Nov. 23 in the journal Brain, the team shows that when amyloid beta accumulates around blood vessels — where it is known as vascular amyloid — it appears to prevent the brain from properly regulating blood flow, which is essential to normal brain function.

“We have increasingly become aware that the disruption of blood flow in the brain can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Erik Roberson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Neurology. “While we have known that vascular amyloid built up around blood vessels, we did not fully understand its effects, and new technology now allows us to visualize how it affects the function of those vessels.”

Increased brain activity — remembering the lyrics to a song, for example — requires an increase in energy to the neurons responsible for memory. Neurons draw energy from glucose, which is transported by the blood stream. Cells called astrocytes regulate the diameter of blood vessels to increase or decrease blood flow and the corresponding glucose transportation. Astrocytes also tell the blood vessel to return to normal when the need has passed.

Astrocytes accomplish this signaling by means of projections called astrocytic endfeet, which wrap around the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessel wall. When a neuron calls for more glucose, the message is passed via the astrocytic endfeet, and the blood vessel expands and boosts blood volume.

The fate of astrocytic endfeet in a brain tumor study published last year at UAB led the research team to look more closely at vascular amyloid. UAB researchers led by Harald Sontheimer, Ph.D., then a professor in the Department of Neurobiology, published a paper in Nature Communications in June 2014 which showed that, in brain tumors, malignant astrocytes called glioma cells could travel along blood vessels and push astrocytic endfeet away, severing their connection to the vessel and interfering with their ability to regulate blood flow.

“We know vascular amyloid accumulates around the outside of blood vessels, and after seeing those research findings from the Sontheimer group, we wondered if these plaques could be doing the same thing,” Roberson said. “Working with Dr. Sontheimer and his laboratory, we used advanced imaging techniques — including high-resolution, 3-D image reconstructions from multiphoton laser scanning microscopes, and sophisticated labeling and experimental techniques — and were able to determine that, yes, vascular amyloid did push the astrocytic endfeet away and interfered with normal regulation of blood vessels.”

vascular slime3-D microscope image of blood vessels (in red) with surrounding vascular amyloid plaques (in green). Courtesy Ian Kimbrough.“In a live animal model of Alzheimer’s disease, we then activated the vascular smooth muscle cells with a pulsed laser, allowing us to mimic neuron-induced astrocyte-vascular signaling,” said Ian Kimbrough, a graduate research assistant in Neurobiology and a collaborator on the original brain tumor study. “In locations where no vascular amyloid was present, we saw a very dramatic and robust vessel response; however, on blood vessels that were surrounded by plaque, we saw a much diminished response.”

Kimbrough says that UAB is one of the few research centers in the Southeast with multiphoton laser-scanning microscopes, instruments capable of capturing images deep into a living brain. These images can then be used to create three-dimensional, volumetric representations of brain morphology.

“Using this 3-D model, which we can rotate and manipulate,” he said, “we can see the exact spatial relationship between the vasculature, the astrocytic endfeet and the vascular amyloid. This allows us to analyze how these elements interplay in a normal, healthy brain compared to an Alzheimer’s disease brain.”

Roberson and Kimbrough say that, as the plaque buildup worsens, the vascular amyloid forms rings around the blood vessels, with bridges eventually linking one ring to the next. These rings form a rigid exoskeleton on the vessels, restricting their ability to change in diameter when increased blood flow is demanded by neurons.

“The vessel has to be able to expand and contract, to dilate and constrict, if it’s going to regulate blood flow,” Roberson said. “If they have become rigid like a pipe, instead of having a flexible wall that can go back and forth, then they cannot do their job of regulating blood flow to the brain properly.”

“This was among the first studies to really attempt to understand the relationship between vascular amyloid and blood flow in the brain,” he said. “For the first time, using the amazing technology at our disposal, we can see what is happening in the vessel walls in real time, to better understand how the presence of vascular amyloid effects the function of that vessel.”

Funding for the study came from the National Institutes of Health.

UAB engineers develop new method to repair elephant tusks
UAB engineers develop new method to repair elephant tusks
A resin developed at the Materials Processing and Applications Development center is replacing the metal ring typically used to prevent cracks from furthering down an elephant’s tusk.

When Birmingham Zoo veterinarians approached researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering to help them stop a crack from growing in their oldest elephant’s tusk, the engineers saw an opportunity to use their expertise in materials science to improve the industry standard for the repair process.

Cracks in elephants’ tusks have historically been repaired by adhering a metal ring to the tusk in order to stabilize the crack and prevent it from growing any farther up the tusk.

The Birmingham Zoo asked the director of UAB’s Materials Processing and Applications Development Center, Brian Pillay, Ph.D., to do just that, for Bulwagi, a 35-year-old male African elephant in their care.

Pillay’s immediate response was to innovate the process, and apply some of the science the lab uses in other materials processes to create a new, more robust and seamless treatment for the crack.

“When the team at the Zoo asked me to create this metal ring, I thought, ‘we can do better,’” Pillay said. “We can use what we know about materials development to make something that will work better for the elephant.”

“This is something that’s bridging the gap between what Dr. Pillay’s lab does working with industrial settings and what we do working with a biologic situation,” said Richard Sim, DVM, associate veterinarian at the Zoo. “It’s a first of its kind in that way—combining engineering that would normally be used in structures like bridges and applying it to an elephant.”

elephant tusk brokenA cracked tusk can become infected and pose problems for an elephant. Tusks with cracks that are left untreated may ultimately have to be removed.A cracked tusk can become infected and pose problems for an elephant. Tusks with cracks that are left untreated may ultimately have to be removed.

“An open crack is a site for infection, as a tusk is basically a tooth,” Pillay said. “Imagine having a crack in your tooth—it’s rather painful for the elephants as well.”

The Zoo’s team of veterinarians, animal care specialists and curators worked with students and researchers from UAB to prepare, then apply, the composite fiberglass and carbon-fiber band and resin on Bulwagi’s tusk.

“We worked with Dr. Pillay’s lab to practice applying this product on a PVC pipe to start off with as a model,” Sim said. “I went down to the UAB lab on two occasions to really try to hammer out the details of how this was actually going to work. The first time I went down, we had a very successful practice session; but our idea of how we were going to apply it to a real-life setting was just not going to work for the elephant.”

Through training with MPAD staff engineer Ben Willis, Sim and Pillay’s team worked to perfect the process, and the end result was successful.

“We put a number of layers of carbon fiber and fiberglass around the tusk, and then used a vacuum pump to suck the resin, kind of like an epoxy, up into that product, and it set and became a really hard structure that is going to resist the forces that resulted in the crack,” Sim said. “No one has done this before, so it’s our hope that this will be a process that will stand the test of time.”

“It’s the latest in technology, and it’s a great deal lighter, stronger and tougher than steel,” Pillay said. “The standard ring that would have been traditionally used is four to five times heavier than what Bulwagi has now. This is a significantly better solution.”

Tusk cracks are fairly common in elephants, because a great deal of pressure is put on the tusk as the elephants use them to interact with their environment and other elephants, so the repair process is something that will always be in demand.

elephant tusk repaiThe Zoo’s team of veterinarians, animal care specialists and curators worked with students and researchers from UAB to prepare, then apply, the composite fiberglass and carbon-fiber band and resin on Bulwagi’s tusk.While Bulwagi may eventually lose his tusk because of the progression of this particular crack, UAB and the Zoo sought to use this development process as a way to help other elephants in the future.

“Our hope is that we came up with something that will help a lot of elephants moving forward,” Pillay said.

The team’s next step is to wait and see how, and whether, the crack continues to develop over time, to evaluate how their creation will work for other elephants.

“Right now it’s just a waiting game, but we feel good about what we created and are looking forward to seeing if it can help other elephants,” Pillay said. “We’re hopeful that when vets first observe cracks, they will be able to go in and replicate this procedure to prevent the cracks from growing any farther and save the elephants’ tusks.”

Regardless of the outcome, this project has served another purpose—fostering collaboration between two Birmingham organizations.

“Having a partnership with the Greater Birmingham area is a model we use in caring for our animals,” Sim said. “It can only benefit us by employing the expertise of our community to help with issues that are outside of the scope of what we can do here.”

“It’s a perfect partnership, with the Zoo’s environmental responsibility to protect and care for the animals,” Pillay said. “At UAB, we do a lot of work in terms of human care; but it’s great to be able to take some of that technology and apply it to the animal world.

“Working with the Zoo to innovate and create something that serves to benefit animals has been tremendously rewarding for our team of researchers and students. For our students, specifically, it’s opening their eyes to how diverse the engineering industry can be. Being able work on a project like this as undergraduate and graduate students has been invaluable for their career development.”

U.S. biomedical postdoctoral fellow numbers decline, UAB researcher finds
U.S. biomedical postdoctoral fellow numbers decline, UAB researcher finds
“A major issue facing biomedical research,” says Fran Lund, chair of UAB microbiology.

biological postdocsThe number of U.S. biomedical postdoctoral fellows has fallen for three years in a row, an unprecedented decline that University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Louis Justement, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and Brown University call “an end to the era of expansion.”

For 31 years since 1979, the number of biomedical postdocs had increased nearly every year, except for single-year dips in 1982, 1995 and 1999, according to analysis of data from the National Science Foundation Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. But in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — the most recent data available — that trend reversed. The number of biomedical postdocs fell each of those three years, with consecutively larger drops each year and an overall three-year decline of 5.5 percent, to a total of 38,719.

“… unless we find some way to improve career prospects for early-career scientists, we risk losing the talent that will be essential for our future progress in the biologic and medical sciences,” Justement, first author Howard Garrison, Ph.D., and Susan Gerbi, Ph.D., wrote in a recent FASEB Journal paper. They conclude that a continued decline in the number of postdocs could diminish the quality and quantity of research because postdocs, along with graduate students, are the majority of the biomedical research workforce. Garrison is director of public affairs at FASEB, Justement is a UAB professor of microbiology, and Gerbi is a professor of biochemistry at Brown.

“This is a major issue facing biomedical research,” commented Frances Lund, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology. “It’s good to see that we have faculty at UAB who are working to influence science policy by providing data to support what is entirely obvious to those working in science but may not be evident to those responsible for setting the science budgets.”

postdoc researcher

The authors say possible causes of the drop could include a decrease in qualified applicants, though data do not seem to support that; technical changes in employment titles from postdoc to something else; diminished demands for postdocs; or shifting patterns in the number of doctorate-holders willing to take postdoc positions. They note that the inflation-adjusted NIH budget lost 19 percent of its purchasing power from 2003 to 2012, and the number of RO1-like NIH grants fell by 11 percent in that same period.

“… it may be that the declining purchasing power of grants and the rising cost of postdoctoral stipends and benefits reached critical threshold after 2010,” they wrote. “Postdocs are the most vulnerable part of the workforce, hired for short-duration, temporary positions. Therefore, as research budgets come under increased pressure, it would be expected that this group would be affected most.”

Also, they say, Ph.D. recipients may be deciding to forgo a postdoctoral position for different career options, in the face of a tight academic labor market and uncertain prospects for success. The loss of talented research personnel threatens biomedical research.

“A continued loss of postdocs without an alternative source of talented research personnel will slow our rate of progress,” they concluded. “We need to develop a steady-state model for the biomedical research workforce while maintaining the vitality and excellence of the enterprise.”

UAB has also seen a decline in postdocs.

postdoc numbers

“Looking at numbers from over the past nine years, we have seen a decline of approximately 20 percent in the total number of Ph.D. postdocs here at UAB,” said Lisa Schwiebert, the UAB associate dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, and a professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology. “As discussed in Dr. Justement’s paper, this is likely the result of several concurrent forces, including but not limited to a decrease in NIH funding, coupled with increased awareness of career options that don’t require a postdoc. Despite this trend, we continue to actively recruit postdocs, as they represent a critical part of the research program here at UAB. We work diligently to provide them with opportunities to broaden their professional skills and development, so that they are able to pursue the career of their choice.”

Large national study shows little difference between ‘old’ and ‘new’ CPR in cardiac arrest
Large national study shows little difference between ‘old’ and ‘new’ CPR in cardiac arrest
The first large-scale trial of continuous chest compression following cardiac arrest shows little difference between the old and new methods of doing CPR.

cpr studyContinuous chest compression, touted as the new way to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, was not an improvement over standard CPR, according to findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine today. The University of Alabama at Birmingham was one of eight United States and Canadian universities involved in the study, the largest such study of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest ever conducted.

The study looked at more than 23,000 adults with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, for whom EMS crews responded. Those patients were randomized in the eight participating communities to either standard CPR or continuous chest compression. Standard CPR, known as 30:2, is 30 chest compressions with a pause for two ventilations, or breaths. CCC CPR is uninterrupted chest compressions with one ventilation every 10 compressions without a pause.

“We did not see any significant difference in neurologically intact survival to hospital discharge between patients receiving standard 30:2 CPR compared to those receiving CCC,” said Henry Wang, M.D., professor in the UAB Department of Emergency Medicine and a study co-author. “The neurologically intact survival rate for patients receiving 30:2 CPR was 7.7 percent, against 7 percent for those receiving CCC.”

The neurologically intact standard means that, upon discharge from the hospital, a patient has no significant cognitive deficit and can return to near-normal function.

“There have been some smaller-scale studies that suggest CCC was as effective or perhaps more effective than 30:2; but until now, that had never been tested in a full-scale, randomized clinical trial,” Wang said. “The current results indicate that 30:2 and CCC are equally effective. Further evaluation of the role of ventilation in CPR is warranted.”

Wang says that, over the past 10 years, CCC has been suggested as an easier and safer way for an individual to perform CPR.

“We did not see any significant difference in neurologically intact survival to hospital discharge between patients receiving standard 30:2 CPR compared to those receiving CCC. The neurologically intact survival rate for patients receiving 30:2 CPR was 7.7 percent, against 7 percent for those receiving CCC.”

“In the absence of differences in patient outcomes between the two CPR strategies, the study’s conclusion is that EMS practitioners and their medical directors should decide on an individual basis if they will perform 30:2 or continuous chest compressions,” said Shannon Stephens, an instructor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and a study co-author.

The study, which began in June 2011 and ran through May 2015, was conducted by the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium, a group of United States and Canadian research institutions.

The ROC CCC trial was carried out in Birmingham; British Columbia; Dallas; King County, Wash.; Milwaukee; Ottawa, Ontario; Toronto; and Pittsburgh. Locally, the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service, Bessemer Fire Department, Centerpoint Fire District, and Hoover Fire Department participated. The local agencies enrolled 700 patients in the study.

The UAB component of ROC, the Alabama Resuscitation Center, is led by Wang, along with Jeff Kerby, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Trauma, Burns and Surgical Critical Care, and Jean-François Pittet, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Anesthesiology.

Landmark blood pressure study, published today by NEJM, confirms benefits of lower blood pressure
Landmark blood pressure study, published today by NEJM, confirms benefits of lower blood pressure
Treating patients 50 and older with high blood pressure to a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg reduced rates of cardiovascular events, including heart attack, heart failure and stroke, by 25 percent.

suzanne oparil beth lewisSuzanne Oparil, left, and Cora LewisFinal results from the landmark SPRINT study, published online today in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirm that treating adults 50 years and older with high blood pressure — but without diabetes or prior stroke — to a systolic blood pressure of 120 reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and can save lives.

These results from the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, were presented today at the American Heart Association 2015 Scientific Sessions in Orlando. The results are in part products of the work by UAB investigators, including University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine professors Suzanne Oparil, M.D., Cora E. Lewis, M.D., David Calhoun, M.D., Stephen Glasser, M.D., and Virginia Wadley Bradley, Ph.D. Their work was highlighted when preliminary findings were announced in September.

The study demonstrates that treating patients 50 and older with high blood pressure to a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg reduced rates of cardiovascular events, including death due to cardiovascular disease, heart failure, stroke and heart attack, by 25 percent. Additionally, reducing systolic blood pressure to this target reduced the risk of death due to all causes by 27 percent compared to a target systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg.

“By design, SPRINT enrolled a diverse population of adults at sufficiently high risk for cardiovascular events and death to ensure adequate statistical power,” said Oparil, principal investigator for the UAB hub of the SPRINT trial, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, and director of the Vascular Biology and Hypertension Program in UAB’s School of Medicine. “Achieving the lower systolic blood pressure goal required use of additional medications — on average, an additional one or more — and extra clinic visits, so the findings represent more work for clinicians and patients. However, we strongly believe that it is worth it in terms of saving lives and reducing cardiovascular death events.”

“The results of SPRINT are likely to have a major impact on the treatment of hypertension,” added Lewis, co-principal investigator of the UAB hub and professor of preventive medicine. “However, there are many important lessons to be learned from SPRINT to apply the results in a safe and effective manner.”

In their report, investigators provided detailed data showing that both cardiovascular deaths and overall deaths were lower in the intensive treatment group. Certain types of serious consequences were more common in the intensive group, including low blood pressure, fainting, electrolyte abnormalities and acute kidney damage.

However, other serious adverse events associated with lower blood pressure, including slow heart rate and falls with injuries, were not increased in the intensive group. In patients with chronic kidney disease, there was no difference in the rate of serious decline in kidney function between the two blood pressure goal groups.

SPRINT Trial Blood Pressure graphic Tyler“The benefits of more intensive blood pressure lowering exceeded the potential for harm, regardless of age, gender, or race or ethnicity,” Oparil said.

The study continues to examine kidney disease, cognitive function and dementia among SPRINT participants; however, these results are not yet available as additional information will be collected and analyzed over the next year.

“Although the study provides strong evidence that a lower blood pressure target saves lives, patients and their health care providers may want to wait to see how guideline groups incorporate this study with other scientific reports into any future hypertension guidelines,” said study co-author Lawrence Fine, M.D., chief of the Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “In the meantime, patients should talk to their health care providers to determine whether this lower goal is best for their individual care.”

Lewis says it is still important for those with high blood pressure to engage in a healthy diet, be physically active, maintain a healthy weight and learn to check their own blood pressure. All of these, Lewis says, will help to achieve blood pressure control.

“It’s important to remember that healthy lifestyle changes can make a difference in controlling high blood pressure, no matter the goal,” Lewis said.

UAB’s School of Medicine played major clinical and leadership roles in the SPRINT study. The study, which began in fall 2009, included more than 9,300 participants age 50 and older, recruited from about 100 medical centers and clinical practices throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. UAB was selected by the NIH as one of five hubs to recruit and direct almost 20 of these clinics from Massachusetts to Puerto Rico; UAB-directed clinics recruited more than 1,950 study participants, surpassing the study’s initial goal for UAB’s network.

About 36 percent of participants were women, 58 percent were white, 38 percent were African-American, and 11 percent were Hispanic. The SPRINT study did not include patients with diabetes, prior stroke or polycystic kidney disease, as other National Institutes of Health trials were studying those particular populations.

Approximately 28 percent of SPRINT participants were 75 or older, and 28 percent had chronic kidney disease. The study tested a strategy of using blood pressure medications to achieve the targeted goals of less than 120 mm Hg (intensive treatment group) versus the 140 mm Hg (standard treatment group).

“Although many classes of medications were available, emphasis was placed on using classes with the best outcomes in large clinical trials, including thiazide-type diuretics, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers,” Oparil said. “Other agents could be added if necessary.”

The study’s blood pressure intervention, which was to finish in summer 2016, finished earlier after National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Director Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., took action when the Data and Safety Monitoring Board interpreted the benefits of the lower goal as far outweighing the harms. The findings were announced in September, with the detailed results presented today.

“SPRINT is part of a proud legacy of NIH-funded clinical trials that will change clinical practice and save lives for decades to come,” Gibbons said. “These results reinforce the compelling public health importance of enhancing the awareness, treatment and control of hypertension in this country and around the world.”

In addition to primary sponsorship by the NHLBI, SPRINT is co-sponsored by the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute on Aging.

UAB role

Experts in blood pressure management, primary care physicians, nephrologists or other health care providers have seen SPRINT participants regularly for a period of four to six years. UAB’s Vascular Biology and Hypertension Research Program Clinic, part of the UAB School of MedicineDivision of Cardiovascular Disease and directed by professor of medicine David Calhoun, M.D., was one of several clinics that enrolled patients in Alabama. Athens Internal Medicine had the largest patient population in the study, with the more than 300 enrollees. The UAB Division of Nephrology and Nephrology Associates in Birmingham also participated and enrolled an important subgroup of patients with chronic kidney disease.

In addition to clinical roles, UAB faculty also have leadership roles in the SPRINT trial. Oparil and Lewis are on the trialwide steering committee and co-lead the morbidity and mortality committee, in which capacity Oparil, Lewis and their committee members review medical records in order to determine whether trial participants have had a heart attack, heart failure, stroke or other cardiovascular event. Lewis also leads the measurement procedures and quality control committee and serves on the executive committee for the study.

Virginia Wadley Bradley, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, is co-lead of the trial’s MIND committee, which oversees the cognitive and dementia aspects of the trial. Tom Ramsey, a program manager in the Division of Preventive Medicine, is the lead author of the trial’s recruitment paper, which is currently under review. Steve Glasser, M.D., professor of medicine in Preventive Medicine is a cardiologist who also is on the trial’s morbidity and mortality committee.

“UAB was selected and is able to be a part of this remarkable study because we put together a great team of investigators and staff to run the hub,” said Lewis, the co-principal investigator of the UAB hub. “We recruited a good diversity of clinics that could bring in diverse patients and achieve the study recruitment goals, we wrote an outstanding application, and we have a lot of relevant experience for all aspects of the trial. We are able to provide all of the logistical support, and we have the infrastructure to handle a trial of this scope and magnitude. It was an incredibly competitive selection process.”