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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.

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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.

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Presentations and general information related to effective grant writing.

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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

$3.75 million endowed chair will boost vision research at UAB
$3.75 million endowed chair will boost vision research at UAB
A unique philanthropic partnership between Research to Prevent Blindness, EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, and Susan and Dowd Ritter will fund ophthalmology research.

endowed chairThe University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology will establish the Research to Prevent Blindness/Susan and Dowd Ritter Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology Research with a $3.75 million endowment, one of the largest in UAB history.

The endowment will enable the department to recruit a world-class scientist to join its existing roster of international experts in the study of blinding diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.

The endowment is funded by Research to Prevent Blindness, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to funding eye research in the world, the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, the department’s and university’s largest donor, and Susan and Dowd Ritter. Both RPB and ESFA have a long history of support for UAB and recognized that they could leverage their individual philanthropic impact with equal matching support from an additional private philanthropic partner.

Dowd Ritter, former CEO of Regions Bank, and his wife, Susan, agreed to become that private partner and pledged to provide the crucial third matching gift.

The endowment will enable the department to recruit a world-class scientist to join its existing roster of international experts in the study of blinding diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.

“We’ve gone to the Department of Ophthalmology for family eye care for years, and all the doctors we’ve encountered have been fabulous — it’s a stellar part of UAB, and as it grows is going to be a real jewel for the city,” said Susan Ritter. “We liked the fact that this is a public and private partnership that’s going to allow UAB to bring top ophthalmology researchers to Birmingham to improve vision care for the entire world.”

Christopher A. Girkin, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and holder of the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology, says UAB researchers have made many significant contributions to vision science, many of them funded by RPB, an organization that has been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of vision loss over the past 50 years.

“RPB’s partnership with the Ritters and the EyeSight Foundation provides an opportunity at a critical juncture for expansion of the department’s research program,” Girkin said. “Having a $3.75 million endowed chair will enable us to recruit another stellar individual who will add even more depth and breadth to our already outstanding research faculty.”

RPB has awarded grants and pledges totaling $2.18 million to the School of Medicine at UAB since 2008.

“RPB is interested in supporting upward trajectory in vision science, so this concept of a highly leveraged endowed research chair with potential to attract a truly excellent national vision researcher to UAB was appealing to us,” said RPB President Brian F. Hofland, Ph.D. “We see this project at UAB as an effort that may well prove to be a model for other such partnerships in other parts of the country.”

The ESFA is also supportive of Girkin’s vision for the department’s research goals, according to Torrey DeKeyser, executive director of the organization.

“Under his leadership, there is an emphasis on research that is generating excitement among the scientists, and this collaborative endowed chair will help boost and continue this momentum,” she said. “The EyeSight Foundation board and staff could not be more pleased to be part of this strategic funding collaboration with the Ritters and Research to Prevent Blindness.”

25th annual Vascular Biology and Hypertension Symposium set for Sept. 22-23
25th annual Vascular Biology and Hypertension Symposium set for Sept. 22-23
Symposium attendees will gain a better understanding of the most recent developments in the fields of clinical and basic science research in cardiovascular disease.

cardiovascular confThe University of Alabama at Birmingham Vascular Biology and Hypertension Program, of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease in the Department of Medicine, will host its 25th annual Vascular Biology and Hypertension Symposium on Sept. 22-23 at the UAB National Alumni Society House, 1301 10th Avenue South.

Registration for the event is free but required. Detailed program and registration information can be obtained by emailing Faith Lang at faithlang@uab.edu.

Attendees will gain a better understanding of the most recent developments in the fields of clinical and basic science research in cardiovascular disease. The symposium begins at 8 a.m. Monday, Sept. 22. The morning session will focus on vitamin D and cardiovascular disease, and the afternoon will feature the endothelial cell, cause and cure for cardiovascular disease.

The Tuesday, Sept. 23, session begins at 8:30 a.m. and will focus on ovarian hormones and the vasculature; the afternoon session will look at novel treatments.

The 15th annual trainee poster session will take place from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Monday, Sept. 22.

CME credit is available for this event. Limited parking is available.

Sociology doctoral student earns fellowship grant from NIH
Sociology doctoral student earns fellowship grant from NIH
Kristi L. Stringer will study the interrelated stigmas around HIV infection and substance abuse.

kristi stringerKristi L. Stringer, a doctoral candidate in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Sociology, has been awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship grant through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which enables promising predoctoral students to obtain individualized research training while conducting their dissertation research.

Stringer, who completed her master’s degree in sociology at UAB in 2012 and was a predoctoral trainee in the Division of Preventive Medicine’s Center for Outcomes Research and Education, will study the effects of social stigmas related to substance abuse and HIV on care for HIV patients, examining the relationships between these stigmas and medication adherence, as well as retention in HIV care.

“HIV now has become a chronic medical condition, just like diabetes,” Stringer said. “A patient with HIV can live just as long as anyone else. The important questions at this point are sociological questions. What are the barriers to treatment adherence? Are there social factors preventing medication adherence and HIV care?”

Stringer says societal stigmas toward substance users are deeply ingrained, appearing in frequently used terms such as “crackhead,” “junkie” and “addict.” These stigmas and deeply ingrained attitudes can affect the treatment of substance abuse and HIV in a population vulnerable to HIV infection, as well as people who are living with HIV. Injection drug users represent 16 percent of those living with HIV and 8 percent of new HIV infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Transmission rates are also high among noninjection drug users.

“When I’ve gone to HIV conferences and people are talking about populations in which HIV is more prevalent or on the rise, there is a genuine discussion about the best way to target at-risk populations,” Stringer said. “However, discussions are limited regarding drug users. Addressing the stigmas around HIV and drug use simultaneously is important because HIV and substance use disorders are highly interrelated, and people living with HIV who have alcohol and/or substance use disorders are even less likely to consistently engage in HIV care and adherence to medication.”

The NRSA award provides for tuition and fees, an institutional allowance, and a stipend, allowing Stringer to expand her understanding of public health and the sociology of health care as she begins to work with HIV patients.

“This award will allow me to devote 100 percent of my time over the next four years to the training and research activities that are critical for my development as an independent investigator in the fields of substance abuse, HIV and stigma.”

The NRSA award provides for tuition and fees, an institutional allowance, and a stipend, allowing Stringer to expand her understanding of public health and the sociology of health care as she begins to work with HIV patients.

“This award will allow me to devote 100 percent of my time over the next four years to the training and research activities that are critical for my development as an independent investigator in the fields of substance abuse, HIV and stigma,” she said.

Stringer’s team of mentors and advisors includes dissertation co-chair Janet Turan, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB School of Public Health, whose research also focuses on stigma discrimination among HIV patient populations; medication adherence expert Mirjam Kempf, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health; Joseph Schumacher, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine, who studies substance addictions; retention in care expert Michael Mugavero, M.D., M.H.Sc., associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases; and Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and Stringer’s dissertation co-chair.

Stringer will collect survey data from 200 patients of UAB’s 1917 Clinic and compare survey answers on drug use history, social support, treatment efficacy, and stigmas to medication adherence and care retention. Based on the quantitative survey results, Stringer will develop follow-up questionnaires for individual or focus group interviews to learn more about barriers to, and successful examples of, treatment adherence.

“As sociologists, we often talk about the ways in which social factors such as socioeconomic status and discrimination, ‘get under the skin’ of individuals to affect measurable medical outcomes,” Baker said. “Health-related stigma has emerged as a significant player in health behavior. This study is unique in that it focuses on substance abuse stigma and its effects on HIV medication adherence and retention in care and employs a mixed-methods design that will provide a multidimensional and more comprehensive picture of the factors associated with retention in care.”

Stringer hopes her research will help reduce the effects of substance abuse stigmas on HIV patients and raise awareness of stigmas toward substance users among both primary care providers and HIV care providers.

“Kristi is an amazing student, and getting an NIH award so early in her career shows her potential,” Turan said. “At UAB we have a nice momentum going in terms of several different studies and projects that are aiming to understand and reduce stigma. I’m sure her research is going to elucidate the challenges of helping patients with multiple co-morbidities. It’s going to be a very informative part of a toolbox of answers for HIV care providers trying to figure out how to retain people in care.”

“My long-term career goal is to contribute to improvements in the lives and clinical outcomes of people living with HIV who have co-occurring substance abuse disorders, through the study of stigma as a barrier to treatment and to interventions that reduce the stigmatization and discrimination experienced by this population,” Stringer said. “This award will make this possible.”

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.

Alan tita current2013Alan 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.

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