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 Institutional Review Board.

Integrated Research Administration Portal (IRAP)

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

Research Data Management

UAB investigators will be required to submit data management plans (DMPs) with grant proposals and insure that copies of publications and the associated data are deposited as required by the granting agency.

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

Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis is reduced in a rat model using a cell-signaling inhibitor drug
Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis is reduced in a rat model using a cell-signaling inhibitor drug
Results show that JAK/STAT pathway inhibitors may be a new class of therapeutic treatments for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Acting by reducing inflammation, they prevent neurodegeneration in animal models and may be an important new approach to slow progression of the disease.

news etty benvenisteEtty “Tika” BenvenisteUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham researchers report the first documentation that suppressing a key cell-signaling pathway in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease reduces pathogenesis. Oral administration of AZD1480 — one of the JAK/STAT pathway inhibitors generally known as Jakinibs — lessened the destructive inflammation and nerve cell degradation in the area of the brain affected by Parkinson’s.

At present, there are no therapies available to patients to prevent progression of Parkinson’s disease, the chronic neurodegenerative movement disorder marked by profound loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.

“We believe Jakinibs may become a viable therapeutic option for Parkinson’s disease patients,” said Etty “Tika” Benveniste, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology and lead author of a paper published May 4 in The Journal of Neuroscience. “They are already being studied for other conditions, are orally bioavailable, seem to be well-tolerated, and do not promote troublesome immunosuppression. Furthermore, there may also be other ways of targeting the JAK/STAT pathway as a neuroprotective therapy for neurodegenerative disease.”

A variety of Jakinibs are in Phase I, II or III clinical trials for several other diseases. The current UAB study, funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson Research and the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that disrupting the JAK/STAT pathway prevents the neuroinflammation and neurodegradation specific to Parkinson’s disease.

“This is a very important advance,” said David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Neurology and a collaborator on the project. “It shows that anti-inflammatory strategies have real potential. The next steps will be to validate some of the inflammatory changes seen in the animals in patients with Parkinson’s disease, which in turn will enable planning of clinical studies of anti-inflammatory therapies in patients with Parkinson’s.”

“This is a very important advance. It shows that anti-inflammatory strategies have real potential. The next steps will be to validate some of the inflammatory changes seen in the animals in patients with Parkinson’s disease, which in turn will enable planning of clinical studies of anti-inflammatory therapies in patients with Parkinson’s.” — David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D.
Benveniste and Standaert are part of an interdisciplinary UAB team focusing on neuroinflammatory mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease. The group — co-led by Benveniste, Standaert and Andrew West, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology — seeks to understand how the body’s immune system contributes to the pathology seen in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients and to the development and progression of the disease. Only recently have researchers begun to suspect an important role for inflammation in the disease, and this is still largely uncharted territory.

For the current paper, UAB researchers, led by Hongwei Qin, Ph.D., associate professor of cell, developmental and integrative biology, either challenged rat immune cells in vitro with aggregated human α-synuclein, or induced overexpression of α-synuclein carried by a virus vector in brains of rats. Untreated, this in vivo model leads to neuroinflammation in the brain and degradation of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, the portion of the midbrain marked by cell death in Parkinson’s patients. Accumulation of α-synuclein in the brains of patients is a core feature of Parkinson’s disease, and this leads to the activation of the brain immune cells called microglia, the production of inflammatory signaling chemicals, and ultimately, neurodegradation.

In vitro and in vivo experiments showed AZD1480 inhibited JAK/STAT activation and downstream gene induction after a challenge by α-synuclein. The genes that are induced by α-synuclein, but not induced in the presence of α-synuclein and AZD1480, are associated with the proinflammatory phenotype. The inhibition by AZD1480 dampened both innate and adaptive immune responses.

Altogether, the researchers say, the results show the potential of Jakinibs to protect against the degradation of dopamine-producing neurons.

Details

For the in vivo neuroinflammation experiments, α-synuclein overexpression was induced, and two weeks later rats were given AZD1480 by oral gavage for 14 days. Then the researchers analyzed the inflammatory response in the substantia nigra of the midbrain for AZD1480-treated and -untreated animals. AZD1480 prevented the increased numbers of microglia and macrophages seen after α-synuclein overexpression. AZD1480 also prevented inflammatory activation of the microglia, as measured by Iba1-positive cells, and it prevented upregulation of genes for the proinflammatory markers TNF-α, iNOS, IL-6 and CCL2.

AZD1480 also prevented neurodegradation. For the in vivo neurodegradation experiments, α-synuclein overexpression was induced, and four weeks later — at the peak of neuroinflammation — rats were given a four-week treatment of AZD1480 oral gavage. At 12 weeks, the brains were analyzed for nigral neurons of the substantia nigra. Benveniste and colleagues found that overexpression of α-synuclein caused a 50 percent loss of nigral neurons at three months. But when the α-synuclein rats were also treated with AZD1480, that loss was prevented, and the numbers of nigral cells were similar to those of the controls.

In Parkinson’s disease, chronic inflammation in the brain makes the blood-brain barrier more permeable, allowing immune system T-cells to infiltrate into the brain from the bloodstream, potentially adding to neuroinflammation. In the rat model, α-synuclein overexpression increased the infiltration of CD4+ T-helper cells and induced activation of the STAT3 signaling protein. AZD1480 treatment inhibited both of these immune responses. AZD1480 also inhibited induction of two genes for proinflammatory markers, CIITA and MHC Class II.

The UAB researchers further found that α-synuclein overexpression significantly upregulated 186 genes in the midbrains of rats, while AZD1480 treatment of α-synuclein-overexpression rats inhibited the expression levels of 59 genes, the majority being genes that were induced by α-synuclein. Genes induced by α-synuclein overexpression include many that are implicated in cell signaling, inflammatory and neurological diseases, and antigen presentation (a step in the adaptive immune response).

Besides Benveniste, Qin and Standaert, authors of the paper, “Inhibition of the JAK/STAT pathway protects against α-synuclein-induced neuroinflammation and dopaminergic neurodegeneration,” are Jessica A. Buckley, Yudong Liu, Thomas H. Fox III, Gordon P. Meares, Hao Yu and Zhaoqi Yan, all of the UAB Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology; Xinru Li and Ashley S. Harms, UAB Department of Neurology; and Yufeng Li, UAB Department of Medicine.

At UAB, Benveniste holds the Charlene A. Jones Endowed Chair in Neuroimmunology, and Standaert holds the John N. Whitaker Endowed Chair in Neurology. West holds the John A. and Ruth R. Jurenko Endowed Professorship in Neurology.

Research support came from the M.J. Fox Foundation, and from NIH grants RO1 NS57563-05, P20 NS095230, P30 AR48311, P30 NS47466, P30 CA13148 and P30 AI027767.

First-of-its-kind driving simulator lab at UAB powered by donation from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and ALDOT
First-of-its-kind driving simulator lab at UAB powered by donation from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and ALDOT
The facility will enable new distracted-driving research, addressing a major public health issue that is a leading cause of highway and traffic-related injuries and death.

During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, UAB has opened the first SUV driving simulator laboratory in the world.

In the development of this lab, UAB partnered with Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, which provided a full-bodied 2016 Honda Pilot built at their factory in Lincoln, Ala., to be retrofitted with state-of-the-art simulator technology funded by the Alabama Department of Transportation. The technology gives UAB researchers the opportunity to conduct important safety studies involving distracted driving practices.

Representatives from Honda, ALDOT and Alabama’s Office of the Attorney General joined the UAB team to announce the new initiative at a grand opening this week.

“Honda Manufacturing of Alabama is honored to partner with UAB in this important project, with the goal of saving lives by increasing awareness of distracted driving,” said HMA Vice President Mike Oatridge. “Honda is very pleased we could donate the most advanced Honda Pilot ever built in Alabama, which has a five-star crash safety rating and features Honda most advanced safety features including the full range of Honda Sensing technology.”

The goal of this effort is to facilitate solutions and best practices in motor-vehicle-related safety and crash prevention, addressing the major public health problem of highway and traffic-related injuries and death. 

“Data tell us that distracted driving is a factor in nearly 50 percent of car crashes, which translates to one million injury-producing crashes each year,” said Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the UAB Translational Research for Injury Prevention Laboratory. “Ten percent of those crashes result in a fatality. Understanding which factors influence an individual’s likelihood to engage in distracted driving is essential to being able to purposefully address this growing problem. With this new simulator, we will be able to gain new information about how drivers participate in distracted behavior, giving us valuable insight that can increase the effectiveness of educational campaigns and improve driving safety.”

news Driving Simulator 2The core of Stavrinos’ work is the prevention of injury, particularly unintentional injuries like those that result from distracted driving behaviors. She will lead her TRIP Lab in conducting studies with the new simulator.

The first study, set to begin in a couple of weeks, will focus on teens and adults over 65, two of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to distracted driving.

The simulator is intended to be available to researchers from all appropriate disciplines throughout UAB, other universities in the state, and even throughout the Southeast. In addition, non-university research scientists will be afforded access to the simulator and its associated support services.

“UAB really thrives on investing in resources that are going to allow multidisciplinary research to take place,” said Richard Marchase, Ph.D., vice president for research and economic development at UAB. “With this new technology, which we are very thankful to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and ALDOT for helping us create, we will be able to do just that and make this facility a destination for collaboration and innovation for researchers across campus and beyond. It will be a resource that I’m sure will be game-changing.”

“Honda Manufacturing of Alabama is honored to partner with UAB in this important project, with the goal of saving lives by increasing awareness of distracted driving,” said HMA Vice President Mike Oatridge. “Honda is very pleased we could donate the most advanced Honda Pilot ever built in Alabama, which has a five-star crash safety rating and features Honda's most advanced safety features, including the full range of Honda Sensing technology.”

Individuals interested in utilizing these resources or contributing should contact Stavrinos at dstavrin@uab.edu or (205) 934-7861. 

UAB observational study of Zika virus infection during pregnancy begins in Brazil
UAB observational study of Zika virus infection during pregnancy begins in Brazil
UAB professor leads study in Brazil to help further understand the effects of Zika virus during pregnancy.
william brittWilliam Britt

An observational study of pregnant women in Brazil to further understand Zika virus and its impact on reproductive health and fetus development have been launched. William Britt, M.D., professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, leads the study, which complements his current research in Brazil on cytomegalovirus infection during pregnancy. CMV infection can lead to hearing and vision impairment in babies. Suresh Boppana, M.D., and Karen Fowler, M.D., professors in the UAB Department of Pediatrics, are co-investigators on this project.

“We are expanding the scope of our research to include studies of the outcomes of pregnancy in women with Zika virus, which in some cases parallels the outcomes of pregnancy in women with cytomegalovirus infection,” Britt said. “These studies are part of a larger effort by the NIH to more fully define the natural history of Zika virus in pregnancy, including identifying laboratory and clinical characteristics of this infection associated with damage to the developing brain. The results of these studies will establish the foundation for interventions to limit the consequences of the virus infection in pregnant women.”

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development-funded study looks to increase enrollment to approximately 200 pregnant women per month in Ribeirão Preto, in the state of São Paulo. The collaboration between UAB and Marissa Mussi-Pinhata, M.D., chief of the Department of Pediatrics of Ribeirão Preto Medical School at the University of São Paulo, follows pregnant women beginning in their first trimester, regardless of their Zika virus infection status.

Samples of blood, urine, breast milk and amniotic fluids from the mother will be collected during and after pregnancy, as well as urine, saliva and cord blood from the newborn infants. Researchers will analyze the maternal and newborn samples for evidence of Zika virus infection, following infants suspected of having Zika from birth until age 2.

Personality may dictate how distracted you are while driving
Personality may dictate how distracted you are while driving
UAB researchers uncover new information about drivers’ likelihood to participate in risky roadway behavior.
distracted drivers study 4Click to see older drivers graphic. Click to see teen drivers graphic.

Extraverted older adults and conscientious, curious teens may be more likely to engage in risky driving behavior, while agreeable teens are less likely to drive distracted, according to new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In the study published online this month in Accident Analysis and Prevention, the research team said that certain personality characteristics relate to distracted driving tendencies.

Leading the project was Morgan Parr, an undergraduate psychology student in the UAB Translational Research for Injury Prevention (TRIP) Laboratory. Parr worked with Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., director of the TRIP Lab and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences, and others to uncover these new findings about the link between personality and distracted driving. Stavrinos has made injury prevention, and unintentional injuries such as those that result from distracted driving behaviors in particular, the core of her work.

“Data tell us that distracted driving is a factor in nearly 50 percent of car crashes, which translates to 1 million injury-producing crashes each year. Ten percent of those crashes result in a fatality,” Stavrinos said. “Understanding which factors influence an individual’s likelihood to engage in distracted driving is essential to being able to purposefully address this growing problem. Through this study, we were able to gain new information about why drivers might be participating in distracted behavior, giving us valuable insight that can increase the effectiveness of educational campaigns and improve driving safety.”

While researchers have closely examined the impact of demographics, health, and sensory and cognitive functioning on driving behaviors, the influence of personality on driving behaviors has not yet been a major focus of study. UAB’s team sought to take a closer look at that potential link.

“Others in the field have hypothesized that personality traits may have some impact on distracted driving practices; but no one had taken the next step, which was to test that theory,” Stavrinos said. “Before going into the study, common sense and other related research told us that there would likely be some kind of link between the traits and behaviors — we just didn’t know exactly how one would dictate the other.”

The UAB researchers used one of the most widely accepted models of personality, McCrae and Costa’s Big Five questionnaire, to evaluate which traits might correlate to distracted driving behaviors. According to this model, everyone falls within a continuum for each of five factors: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

“We targeted two populations that we believe are at risk for potentially dangerous driving practices — teens ages 16 to 19 and older adults ages 65 to 85,” Parr said. “While the underlying factors that lead to increased crash risk for the two groups are likely different, one emerging concern for both groups is their use of electronic devices behind the wheel.”

Participants included 120 drivers who completed the 45-item Big Five questionnaire assessing their own personality traits as well as the Questionnaire Assessing Distracted Driving, or QUADD, assessing the frequency of their distracted driving behaviors — talking on their cellphones, sending text messages and interacting with their cellphones, all while driving — by reporting the number of times per day they engaged in the risky activities during a two-week period.

The Results

The researchers’ hypothesis that higher openness to experience, agreeableness and extraversion would be associated with greater self-reported levels of distracted driving behaviors across both age groups was partially supported.

Population 1: Teens

For teen drivers, openness to experience was associated with an increase in two of the distracted driving behaviors: texting and interacting with a cellphone while driving. A 10 percent increase in openness was associated with a 22 percent increase in risk for distracted driving. This finding may provide partial explanation for prior work finding that individuals high in sensation seeking and impulsiveness — traits often associated with the openness factor — report more driving violations.

distracted driver teenConscientious teen drivers were also more likely to engage in texting and interacting with their cellphone while driving. Because individuals scoring high in conscientiousness typically endorse organized, dependable and even obsessive traits, the research team expected that high scores in this personality trait would result in fewer instances of engaging in distracted driving behaviors; however, a 10 percent increase in conscientiousness was associated with a 21 percent increase in risk for those distracted driving behaviors.

“It may seem counterintuitive that conscientious teens would be the ones to participate in risky behavior,” Parr said. “However, it may be that these individuals feel the need to respond immediately to text messages from peers, even in a potentially dangerous context, such as driving in a car, in order to maintain peers’ perception of their dependability.”

Contrary to the original hypothesis, teens with lower levels of agreeableness were more likely to report texting and interactions with a phone while driving — a 10 percent decrease in agreeableness was associated with a 16 percent increase for distracted driving.

“The cooperative nature, including respect for rules and authority figures, of individuals who score high in agreeableness may make them less likely to engage in distracted driving behaviors because of their deference to road regulations and concern for safety,” Stavrinos said.

Population 2: Older Adults

In older adults, only one personality factor was significantly associated with distracted driving behaviors — extraversion. A 10 percent increase in extraversion scores translated to a 20 percent increase in instances of talking on or interacting with a phone.

distracted drivers older1Based on previous research suggesting that those high in extraversion are more susceptible to peer influence, the team hypothesized that drivers high in extraversion would be more likely to engage in texting and driving behavior, especially teen drivers who are more often influenced by peer relationships. However, extraversion was associated with an increase in talking and interacting with a cellphone while driving only among older drivers.

With the older adult population’s reporting minimal instances of texting while driving, there was no link found between personality traits and that particular distracted driving behavior.

“This study showed us that personality traits are an important factor in understanding distracted driving tendencies. More research into this area will help us become even more clear about how personality traits can predict distracted driving behaviors,” Parr said. “With more information, we can tailor our injury prevention efforts to appeal to drivers with specific personality traits that we know are associated with a higher risk of distracted driving behaviors.”

Lawson receives ADA investigator award
Lawson receives ADA investigator award
Nathaniel Lawson, DMD, assistant professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Dentistry, is the recipient of the 2015 John W. Stanford New Investigator Award given by the American Dental Association.

nate lawsonNathaniel Lawson, DMD, assistant professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Dentistry, was recently awarded the 2015 John W. Stanford New Investigator Award for his research project examining methods used to measure the effectiveness of new composite materials used in crowns, cavities and other dental repairs.

“In the laboratory, we test many of the new products that either have come to market or are about to come to the market,” Lawson said. “Often we will discover problems with new materials based on specific clinical applications.”

He says that, as these materials transition to mainstream dentistry, clinicians will need to know if they are able to fully polymerize at different depths. Lawson’s research project examined the method used to measure the depth of cure of composites, specifically bulk fill composites.

In his laboratory, some of the new materials being tested include a resin infiltration material that would allow small cavities to be restored without the use of anesthesia or drilling and new filling materials that release calcium and phosphate to help remineralize teeth.

The American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs selected Lawson to receive the award, which is being bestowed for the third time in as many years.

“It was a huge honor for me to receive a national research award from the ADA,” Lawson said. “The recognition from the ADA helps me realize the benefits of pursuing an academic career and serves as encouragement for me to continue working in dental research.”

Before becoming an assistant professor, Lawson earned both his DMD in 2011 and his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering in 2012 at UAB.

The John W. Stanford New Investigator Award honors the contributions of one of the ADA Standards Program’s most vital figures, John Stanford, Ph.D. The award acknowledges the original research that dental students and new dentists produce in the realm of dental standards.

Odessa Woolfolk Community Service Award

This award was established by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to recognize one of its faculty who has rendered outstanding service in the Birmingham community in one or more of the following areas:
  • Education
  • Economic development
  • Health care delivery
  • The arts
  • Social services
  • Human rights
  • Urban and public affairs

Eligibility


To be eligible, a person must currently hold a full-time regular faculty appointment at UAB, as defined by the UAB Faculty Handbook, and have completed at least one academic year in this position. A person may receive the award only once in any five-year period.

The recipient of the Odessa Woolfolk Community Service Award will be recognized at the annual Faculty Awards Convocation and will receive a $2,500 cash award.

A nomination package should consist of a brief letter of nomination, the faculty member’s curriculum vitae, a one- to two-page description of the community service for which the award is sought, and a maximum of five letters of recommendation. This information should be submitted to Linda Piteo (AB 374, +0103) by 5:00 p.m. February 3, 2016. If you have questions, please contact Linda Piteo at 205-934-9438.

Past Recipients


2015 - James McClintock
2014 - Cynthia Ryan
2013 - Larry DeLucas
2012 - Stephen Yoder
2011 - Tamilane Blaudeau
2010 - Max Michael
2009 - Brian Geiger
2008 - John Thornton