Research Resources


Office of the Vice President for Research & Economic Development (OVPRED)

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

Integrated Research Administration Portal (IRAP)

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

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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 awarded $19.31 million to lead national study on chronic hypertension in pregnancy
UAB awarded $19.31 million to lead national study on chronic hypertension in pregnancy
Sixteen clinical centers and 30 hospitals will enroll up to 5,700 pregnant women to evaluate the benefits and harms of pharmacologic treatment of mild chronic hypertension in pregnancy.

tita 2Alan TitaThe University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Department of Biostatistics have been awarded a $19.31 million R01 grant by the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to coordinate the most comprehensive study of chronic hypertension in pregnancy ever undertaken.

The Chronic Hypertension and Pregnancy Project (CHAP) is a multicenter, randomized trial which will enroll between 4,700 and 5,700 pregnant women during the next six years with a primary aim to evaluate the benefits and potential harms of pharmacologic treatment of mild chronic hypertension in pregnancy, a decades-old question that has remained unanswered.

“This question has been an elephant in the room for obstetric care providers and researchers for quite some time,” said Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology in UAB’s School of Medicine and principal investigator/project director for CHAP. “Everyone knows chronic hypertension causes serious and sometimes life-threatening complications for the pregnant woman and her baby, but no one really knows how best to manage the condition during pregnancy. While treatment of chronic hypertension is standard for the general population, it is uncertain whether treatment during pregnancy is beneficial or safe for the fetus. Specifically, while we know chronic hypertension adversely affects the baby’s growth, there are concerns that treatment of hypertension may also impair the baby’s growth. It’s a catch-22, and it’s one for which we need to find answers.”

Joseph Biggio, M.D., Maternal and Fetal Medicine division chief, vice chair for research and quality in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the director of the Center for Women’s Reproductive Health, will oversee biospecimen collection for the study in an effort to uncover the underlying mechanisms for adverse outcomes. Biggio says UAB is well-positioned to conduct this expansive research effort.

“The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UAB has a well-known history of successful design and performance of complex clinical trials,” Biggio said. “Our team of investigators and research personnel has considerable expertise with clinical study design and implementation at the local level, and also with the coordination of efforts across multiple sites to accomplish study recruitment and answer critically important research questions. With our experienced investigative team, we are uniquely poised to efficiently enroll patients, orchestrate the interactions with the other centers, and — at the end of the study — produce a high-quality manuscript that has the potential to change the way obstetrics is practiced.”

pregnant hypertensionChronic hypertension during pregnancy also is believed to be associated with a five- to tenfold increase in rare maternal cardiovascular and other complications, including death, stroke, pulmonary edema and acute renal failure.The School of Medicine and the School of Public Health worked for almost three years with the NHLBI to plan and fine-tune a study that would help answer this question and others regarding chronic hypertension and pregnancy; it has been an issue since the late 1970s when the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program provided strong evidence for the benefits of treating even mild hypertension.

“CHAP is a pragmatic trial that aims to provide a clear understanding of current practice of managing blood pressure in pregnancy compared with a more rigorous approach to the treatment of blood pressure during this period,” said Gary Cutter, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics in UAB’s School of Public Health and principal investigator of the data coordinating center for the trial. “This standard of care versus a more rigorous approach parallels the Hypertension Detection and Follow-up Program study where referred care — usual care in the community plus referral when blood pressures were found to exceed certain thresholds — was compared to a rigorous stepped-care approach to therapy.” 

Chronic hypertension is the most common major medical disorder encountered during pregnancy, occurring in up to 6 percent of pregnant women in the United States. The substantial negative effect of chronic hypertension on pregnancy includes a consistent three- to five-fold increase in superimposed preeclampsia, placental abruption and adverse perinatal outcomes, including fetal or neonatal death, preterm birth, and poor fetal growth.

Chronic hypertension during pregnancy also is believed to be associated with a five- to tenfold increase in rare maternal cardiovascular and other complications, including death, stroke, pulmonary edema and acute renal failure.

Still, not treating pregnant women whose blood pressures are in the mild chronic hypertension range (less than 160/105-110 mmHg) with antihypertensive medication is the current recommendation.

“Everyone knows chronic hypertension causes serious and sometimes life-threatening complications for the pregnant woman and her baby, but no one really knows how best to manage the condition during pregnancy."

“In general, when the blood pressure is greater than 160 over 110, women are treated regardless of pregnancy because of concerns of stroke and other cardiovascular incidents,” Tita said. “The problem is the majority of women with chronic hypertension at the reproductive age have mild chronic hypertension. So we are talking about up to 80 percent of pregnant women with chronic hypertension who may not receive treatment, and we don’t know how that affects their pregnancy and whether that might lead to bad outcomes in the long term compared with treatment. In addition, the information that associates treatment with poor fetal growth is relatively weak, which is why we must investigate this further in a rigorous trial.”

CHAP will involve at least 16 academic clinical centers, including UAB, with approximately 30 hospitals across the United States. Columbia University, Duke University, Stanford University, University of California–San Francisco, University of Mississippi, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas at Houston, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, University of Texas Southwestern, the University of Utah and Washington University in St. Louis are major partners with UAB in the project.

Managing multicenter clinical trials as the data coordinating center is a key component of being able to conduct complex clinical trials that span multiple institutions and locations, something in which the UAB School of Public Health Biostatistics group has had extensive experience.

“CHAP is one of the many trials our group manages,” Cutter said. “Our job involves developing Web-based data entry systems, quality control and quality assurance monitoring. We perform analyses for monitoring the safety and reporting of the information to external Data and Safety Monitoring Committees, which provide an outside review of the trial with the primary goal of protecting the patients. Finally, our analyses go into preparing reporting of the results along with the trial investigators.”

Jeff Szychowski, Ph.D., associate professor of public health, will help Cutter manage the data coordinating center as the deputy director.

Distinguished Professor of Medicine Suzanne Oparil, M.D., also is a co-investigator on the grant.

William W. Andrews, Ph.D., M.D., professor and chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology will serve as CHAP steering committee chair.

The project will be implemented as a cooperative agreement with NHLBI collaborators.

UAB Art History professor pens book on Indian temple's iconography
UAB Art History professor pens book on Indian temple's iconography

“Decoding a Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal” interprets the visual images and symbols of the temple.

cathleen india2The first book by University of Alabama at Birmingham Associate Professor of Art History Cathleen Cummings, M.A., Ph.D., “Decoding a Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal,” has been published.

Cummings is a faculty member in the UAB Department of Art and Art History, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The book interprets the visual images and symbols of the temple. Queen Lokamahadevi, the chief wife of the early Chalukya king Vikramaditya II, began construction of the temple in approximately 733, at the dynasty’s royal consecration site of Pattadakal in Karnataka, India. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and adorned with carved images of Shiva, Vishnu and other deities, the Virupaksha Temple is widely considered one of the most important of the freestanding structures erected during the Chalukya era, and it represents the zenith of temple construction of its period, Cummings says.

“Although this temple has been studied for more than a century and appears in virtually every textbook on Indian art, its iconographic program has never been fully explored,” Cummings said.

The work demonstrates that the visual images and symbols of the temple express royal aspirations, both material and spiritual, and past successes. Specific imagery that legitimizes the king through references to his genealogy and lineage, his royal marriage, and his conquests and defeats of other rival monarchs are identified, as well as his role in upholding the social order, she says. The book also looks at the issue of female patronage to show that the temple reflected the importance of the role of the queen to the functioning of the kingdom.

“Decoding a Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal” received the 2011 American Institute of Indian Studies’ Dimock Book Prize for best unpublished manuscript in Indian studies. The South Asian Studies Association published the book. It is available for purchase onAmazon.

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.

Research questioning sodium intake guidelines supported in New England Journal of Medicine editorial
Research questioning sodium intake guidelines supported in New England Journal of Medicine editorial
UAB Distinguished Professor’s editorial highlights research efforts exploring low-sodium intake guidelines and implications on cardiac disease and mortality.

suzanne oparil2Recent studies suggest national dietary guidelines for sodium intake are unrealistic, and that the recommended level of sodium could be associated with a higher risk of cardiac disease and mortality.

In an invited New England Journal of Medicine editorial, “Low Sodium — Cardiovascular Health Benefit or Risk?University of Alabama at Birmingham Distinguished Professor of Medicine Suzanne Oparil, M.D., reinforces the research efforts of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study.

The PURE study provides new evidence about the association of sodium and potassium intake — estimated from morning urine specimens — with blood pressure, death and major cardiovascular events. The study included more than 100,000 adults from the general populations of 17 countries, providing a broad sample of people that varied greatly in socioeconomic, geographic and demographic makeup.

National guidelines for sodium intake recommend less than 2.3 grams daily for the general population and less than 1.5 grams for people with co-morbidities including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease or diabetes. But approximately 90 percent of the participants in the PURE study had either a high (greater than 5.99 grams per day) or moderate (3 to 5.99 grams per day) level of sodium excretion; approximately 10 percent excreted less than 3 grams per day, and only 4 percent had sodium excretion in the range associated with current U.S. guidelines for sodium intake (2.3 or 1.5 grams per day).

The PURE study found that those who consumed more than 6 grams of sodium daily had higher blood pressures than those who consumed less sodium. Within this group, blood pressure was higher in those with higher sodium intakes. The effect of dietary sodium intake on blood pressure was less dramatic for those in the medium (3 to 5.99 grams) or low range of sodium intake. There was no effect of dietary sodium on blood pressure for those in the low range of sodium intake (less than 3 grams).

Although there was no effect of dietary sodium on blood pressure for those in the low range, there were more deaths and cases of cardiovascular disease outcomes.

“Importantly, the very large PURE study provides evidence that both high and low levels of sodium intake may be associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease outcomes. Further, the study also showed that consuming larger amounts of potassium in the diet counterbalances the adverse affect of high sodium excretion on blood pressure in cardiovascular disease outcomes.”

“Importantly, the very large PURE study provides evidence that both high and low levels of sodium intake may be associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease outcomes,” said Oparil, director of the vascular biology and hypertension program of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease in UAB’s School of Medicine. “Further, the study also showed that consuming larger amounts of potassium in the diet counterbalances the adverse affect of high sodium excretion on blood pressure in cardiovascular disease outcomes.”

Oparil also pointed out the limitation of the PURE study.

“While the PURE study is a major advance in terms of scope and the use of very careful and consistent methodology, it does not allow us to conclude that low sodium intake causes death and cardiovascular disease outcomes,” she said. “The PURE study is observational in design and does not test directly whether reducing sodium intake in a population reduces cardiovascular disease outcomes compared to a comparable population, selected at random, that consumes moderate amounts of sodium.”

To achieve this, or to establish causality, a randomized, controlled outcome trial to compare reduced sodium intake with usual diet is needed.

“In the absence of such a trial, results of the PURE study argue against reduction of dietary sodium to currently recommended levels as an isolated public health recommendation,” she said.

See Oparil’s full editorial, including her comments on a third salt intake study published today.

UAB researchers receive $1 million NIH grant for obesity research course
UAB researchers receive $1 million NIH grant for obesity research course
Investigators from UAB’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center and School of Public Health have been awarded a four-year, $1 million R25 grant to deliver an annual short course on innovative methods to find obesity causes.

obesity research grantUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and Nutrition Obesity Research Center researchers Kevin Fontaine, Ph.D. and David B. Allison, Ph.D., have been awarded a four-year, $1 million R25 grant from the National Institutes of Health to deliver an annual short course on applying innovative methodologies in behavioral and social sciences to obesity research.

The Strengthening Causal Inference in Behavioral Obesity Research grant will be used to offer a five-day course at UAB in which experts from various disciplines — statistics, psychology, philosophy and more — and will expose students to new methods to find causation from observational studies, rather than associations.

“Obesity literature is often association studies rather than randomized controlled trials, which makes it a challenge to determine true causation,” said Fontaine, chair and professor in the Department of Health Behavior. “But there are many techniques in other disciplines that can help us strengthen the quality of the conclusions of obesity research to better determine whether A really does cause B.”

Fontaine says about 50 experts from across the United States and UAB have been secured to teach the course on a rotating basis. The intended students are up-and-coming obesity researchers, postdoctoral investigators, and even established researchers. More information on course sign-up will be available late fall/early winter 2014. The first course will take place in summer 2015.

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