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

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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

BCRFA presents its largest donation to UAB Cancer Center
BCRFA presents its largest donation to UAB Cancer Center
BCRFA continues to provide substantial gifts to UAB Cancer Center to accelerate breast cancer research.

BCRFThe Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama presented $650,000 — its largest donation to date — to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, for a total exceeding $5.1 million since BCRFA’s inception in 1996.

BCRFA has made an annual donation to the Cancer Center with proceeds from all its fundraising efforts during the previous year, including BCRFA events, corporate and individual donations, and sales of the breast cancer specialty license plate tags.

“We are extremely thankful for this generous gift. Without the help of the community, none of this would be possible,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “If I could clone exactly what BCRFA does for breast cancer research and care for all of our other cancer areas, we would make tremendous breakthroughs, as we have done with breast cancer.”

BCRFA provides pilot funding for several projects at UAB to accelerate discovery and translate new knowledge into meaningful therapies for all types of breast cancer. Projects range from examining the ways patients’ immune systems respond to triple-negative tumors, which are among the hardest to treat, to developing therapies to prevent DNA repair in breast cancer tumor cells.

All BCRFA donations go to the UAB Cancer Center and stay in the state to help the residents of Alabama. Community partners for this year’s gift include Winn-Dixie, Docupak, Tameron Automotive, Belk, Sirote & Permutt, The Alabama Power Foundation and others.

UAB research probes molecular basis of rare genetic disorder
UAB research probes molecular basis of rare genetic disorder
Together with European partners, UAB unravels basis of Singleton-Merten Syndrome, which causes heart calcification and early periodontitis.

mary macdougallMary MacDougallAn international group co-led by University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Mary MacDougall, Ph.D., has unraveled the molecular basis for the rare, inherited genetic disorder, Singleton-Merten Syndrome (SMS). Individuals with SMS develop extreme, life-threatening calcification of the aorta and heart valves, early-onset periodontitis and root resorption of the teeth, decreases in bone density, and loss of bone tissue at the tips of fingers and toes.

The cause of SMS is a missense mutation that changes a single amino acid in the protein MDA5 from arginine to glutamine, MacDougall and colleagues are reporting today (Jan. 22) in the online version of The American Journal of Human Genetics. That change in MDA5 — which detects viral double-stranded RNA as part of the innate immunity system — causes increased induction of interferon beta. Thus SMS is recognized as an innate autoimmune disease for the first time.

“The autoimmunity finding was startling,” said MacDougall, associate dean for research, James R. Rosen Chair of Dental Research, and professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at theUAB School of Dentistry, and director of UAB’s Global Center for Craniofacial, Oral and Dental Disorders. She and Frank Rutsch, M.D., Department of General Pediatrics, Muenster University Children’s Hospital, Germany, are co-first authors of the paper, “A Specific IFIH1 Gain-of-function Mutation Causes Singleton-Merten Syndrome.

Because of the unusual dental problems in SMS patients, Rutsch had contacted MacDougall 10 years ago to probe the molecular mechanisms of the syndrome. MacDougall is an internationally respected research leader in craniofacial developmental biology and dental genetics, particularly the molecular basis and mechanisms associated with human dental genetic disorders that alter tooth number, formation and hard tissue structure. Such investigations of differentiation during tooth and bone formation have broad applications across medical research.

SMS is an autosomal-dominant disorder, meaning the mutation is not carried on the sex chromosomes, and a single copy of the mutation in the gene IFIH1 that encodes MDA5 can cause disease. Rutsch identified three SMS-affected families, and researchers in Cologne, Germany performed whole-exome DNA sequencing and targeted Sanger sequencing to identify the mutation. The same mutation was found in 10 different patients.

MacDougall’s group at UAB analyzed the dental features of patients and created cell lines from SMS individuals and controls. Several of the dental pulp cell lines came from an extracted, forming third-molar that was shipped from Germany to Alabama by FedEx.

mary macdougall 2From left: Changming Lu, Mary MacDougall and Olga MamaevaFunctional studies by the UAB group found that:

  • MDA5 — as measured by immunohistochemistry of human heart, skin and cartilage tissue, or demineralized developing mouse teeth — was present in all target tissues that are altered in SMS.
  • Presence of the SMS- IFIH1 mutant gene increased interferon beta gene expression by 20-fold, and correcting the single mutation of the SMS-IFIH1 back to normal reduced expression to control levels.
  • The SMS- IFIH1 mutant gene had a greater response, as measured by interferon beta induction, when challenged with double-stranded RNA, as compared with the normal gene.
  • Whole blood of SMS individuals and the cell lines developed from the SMS tooth had higher expression of interferon signature genes, compared with control individuals and cells.

Thus, the altered gene is a gain-of-function mutation. Recently, IFIH1 has been linked to several autoimmune disorders, including Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome, though those individuals show brain and developmental defects.

The UAB research team included Changming Lu and Olga Mamaeva, research associates for the Institute of Oral Health Research in the UAB School of Dentistry, and Heidi Erlandsen, a former dental school instructor.

MacDougall is continuing SMS gene research at UAB, including probing the impact of its dysregulation of 30 genes that are involved in tooth formation and dentin mineralization; using it as a paradigm for patients with other diseases, such as periodontitis and aggressive periodontitis; screening glaucoma patients for the mutation, since early-onset glaucoma is one phenotype seen in some SMS individuals; and looking for altered microbiomes and oral biomes in SMS individuals.

The Global Center for Craniofacial, Oral and Dental Disorders at UAB, in conjunction with Dr. John Grant III, M.D., the James C. Lee III Chair in Pediatric Plastic Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Alabama, does basic, translational and clinical research to help treat and diagnose craniofacial, oral and dental disorders, and develop novel therapeutics and gene discovery for those disorders. Craniofacial and dental defects account for the majority of birth defects in the U.S., with one affected child born each hour. Grant is also Professor of Surgery at UAB and Director of the UAB Cleft and Craniofacial Center.

UAB researcher awarded $1.25 million grant for “high-Medicaid” nursing home research
UAB researcher awarded $1.25 million grant for “high-Medicaid” nursing home research
UAB researchers receive a $1.25 million grant to identify and disseminate best management practices in nursing homes with a high census of Medicaid residents.

robert maldonadoResearchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions have been awarded $1.25 million by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to better understand the management and market factors associated with high performance among nursing homes that have a high proportion, 85 percent or greater, of Medicaid residents.

Robert Weech-Maldonado, Ph.D., professor and L.R. Jordan Chair of the Department of Health Services Administration, says this five-year R01 grant is for a mixed-methods analysis — using both quantitative and qualitative studies — to study high-Medicaid-resident nursing homes and identify evidence-based, best management practices.

“Nobody has taken a mixed-methods look at why some high-Medicaid nursing homes perform well and others do not,” Weech-Maldonado said. “This grant will enable us to gather quantitative data, such as surveys of management, and find patterns. Following that, we will use qualitative methods, such as interviewing staff, to reveal the complete story about what is really happening inside nursing homes across the United States.”

The five-year project, titled “Performance of High-Medicaid Nursing Homes – Contextual and Management Factors,” will survey management from 1,000-1,200 nursing homes to learn which management practices are in use. After analysis, Weech-Maldonado’s team will select eight nursing homes — four of the best-performing and four of the worst-performing — for qualitative analysis. They will work directly with the staff of each nursing home to study its finances and quality of care.

“High-Medicaid nursing homes have resource constraints, lower-quality care, a higher proportion of minorities and a tendency to be for-profit organizations. Within this vulnerable group of nursing homes, there are performance variations, with some facilities having both better quality and better financial performance than others. We want to learn what management practices and market factors explain these differences in performance.”

“High-Medicaid nursing homes have resource constraints, lower-quality care, a higher proportion of minorities and a tendency to be for-profit organizations,” Weech-Maldonado said. “Within this vulnerable group of nursing homes, there are performance variations, with some facilities having both better quality and better financial performance than others. We want to learn what management practices and market factors explain these differences in performance.”

A portion of the grant will enable a partnership with the Alabama Quality Assurance Foundation to translate and implement the lessons learned. With the help of AQAF, a collaborative group will be formed to design a new program for the operation of high-Medicaid nursing homes. The team will then select 10 nursing homes across the country for implementation.

“There always is criticism that research is published but not implemented. So we will engage closely with providers to make sure it is implemented in the real world when we are finished,”Weech-Maldonado said.

This is the first mixed-methods R01 grant for the Department of Health Services Administration. The study will include fellow UAB faculty Larry Hearld, Ph.D., Nataliya Ivankova, Ph.D., Amy Landry, Ph.D., Midge Ray, Ph.D., Jeff Szychowski, Ph.D., and Jessica Williams, Ph.D.; plus Rohit Pradhan, Ph.D., University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Jane Banaszak-Holl, Ph.D., University of Michigan School of Public Health; and Kent Rondeau, Ph.D., University of Alberta, Canada.

UAB researcher receives grant to study decision-making abilities in cancer patients
UAB researcher receives grant to study decision-making abilities in cancer patients
UAB neurology researcher Kristen Triebel gets substantial American Cancer Society grant to investigate the ability of patients to understand, choose and consent to treatment.

triebel webKristen TriebelA University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher has received an American Cancer Society Mentored Research Scholars grant to study long-term decision-making abilities in patients with advanced cancer.

Kristen Triebel, Psy.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of the Neuropsychology Fellowship Training Program in the UAB Department of Neurology, has been awarded a five-year, $728,000 grant for her work titled “Decisional Capacity Evaluation in Metastatic Brain Cancer.”

Metastasis, or the spread of a cancer from one organ or disease site to another,to the brain occurs in 25 percent of all individuals with cancer. Due to cognitive impairment, emotional distress and other changes occurring as a result of their severe illness, individuals with brain metastases frequently have reduced capacity to make well-informed decisions about their medical treatment. These decisions may include deciding among focused or whole-brain radiation, surgery, chemotherapy or palliative care, or whether to pursue experimental treatment. Surprisingly, decisional capacity is not routinely assessed in this patient population prior to patients’ consenting to treatment.

The ACS grant allows Triebel to critically study patients with advanced cancer, including lung and breast cancer that has metastasized to the brain, and pancreatic cancer. She also will examine issues in these patients’ treatments, cognitive function and quality of life.

“Patients with advanced cancer are seriously ill and have to make a lot of important medical decisions,” said Triebel, an associate scientist in the Cancer Control and Population Sciences program at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.“We are looking to see whether our initial findings from metastatic cancer patients can generalize to other cancer populations who have comparable levels of illness — even those who don’t get tumors that spread to the brain.”

According to Triebel, the goal is to be able to improve decision-making capacity. “We hope this research leads to better understanding of patients at risk, so we can advise on best practices for assessment and interventions to support patients in this capacity, ultimately improving their quality of life.”

Triebel, who received a Center for Clinical and Translational Sciencegrant in 2012, leveraged that research into this five-year grant from ACS. “This award provides opportunities for me to grow a research program by fostering collaboration with other cancer investigators. And it also allows me to pursue other career-development opportunities.”

At a time when funding opportunities are difficult to attain, Triebel is an example of what researchers need to do to secure additional funding that has the potential to change the future of cancer treatment and care. She emphasizes the protected time and money to conduct the research that the CCTS grant allowed, as well as “access to successful researchers who taught me how to conduct research and write grants,” she said. “That grant was great, providing two years of support that allowed me to do the research, which in turn helped me secure this larger ACS grant.”

Ultimately this work comes down to the patients. “Certainly, this study will address the knowledge gap by investigating medical decision-making capacity in patients; but the great potential is to improve clinical practice and decision-making for these populations,” said Triebel.

Classic psychedelic use found to be protective with regard to psychological distress and suicidality, study finds
Classic psychedelic use found to be protective with regard to psychological distress and suicidality, study finds
Classic psychedelic drugs include LSD, psilocybin and mescaline. This new School of Public Health research is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

suicideClassic psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and mescaline, previously have been shown to occasion lasting improvements in mental health. But researchers led by University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health investigators wanted to advance the existing research and determine whether classic psychedelics might be protective with regard to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Approximately 30,000 lives in the United States are claimed by suicide every year, and more than 90 percent of victims have been diagnosed with mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Using data from more than 190,000 respondents of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2008-2012, the researchers found that those who reported ever having used a classic psychedelic drug in their lifetime had a decreased likelihood of psychological distress in the past month, and decreased suicidal thinking, planning and attempts in the past year.

“Despite advances in mental health treatments, suicide rates generally have not declined in the past 60 years. Novel and potentially more effective interventions need to be explored,” said Peter S. Hendricks, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and lead study author. “This study sets the stage for future research to test the efficacy of classic psychedelics in addressing suicidality as well as pathologies associated with increased suicide risk (e.g., affective disturbance, addiction and impulsive-aggressive personality traits).”

Hendricks says the take-home message from this study is that classic psychedelics may hold great promise in the prevention of suicide and evaluating the therapeutic effectiveness of classic psychedelics should be a priority for future research.

This study was recently published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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