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.

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

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.

UAB student awarded Parkinson’s Disease Foundation grant
UAB student awarded Parkinson’s Disease Foundation grant

A UAB neuroscience student has received a summer fellowship from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

parkinsons disease foundationRanjani Ponnazhagan, a neuroscience student in the laboratory of David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has received a summer student fellowship from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. The foundation is providing $1.3 million in funding for more than 30 investigator-initiated research projects to help solve, treat and end Parkinson’s disease.

Awarded through a competitive application process, the grants reflect the PDF’s continued commitment to improving the lives and futures of people touched by Parkinson’s disease.  

Ponnazhagan’s project is titled “Metabotropic glutamate receptor 4 positive allosteric modulators attenuate LPS-induced inflammation in microglia cells.”

The projects are funded through the PDF’s International Research Grants Program, which supports innovative ideas of early-career scientists and its Fellowships and Career Development Program, as well as training for future leaders in Parkinson’s research and care.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and 7 million to 10 million people worldwide. Although promising research is being conducted, there is currently no cure.

Nursing’s Shirey named National League for Nursing fellow
Nursing’s Shirey named National League for Nursing fellow
Shirey, who will be inducted in September, is nationally recognized for her innovative integration of teaching and learning strategies.

marie shirey sMaria R. Shirey, Ph.D., professor and assistant dean for Clinical Affairs and Partnerships in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, has been selected for induction as a fellow into the National League for Nursing Academy of Nursing Education.

Shirey is nationally recognized for her innovative integration of teaching and learning strategies using research, evidence-based practice and real-world consultation to build nursing leadership capacity. She has published 85 journal articles, which have been cited almost 800 times and used in education, research, practice and workforce policy development around the globe. In her faculty role at UAB, she teaches in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, focusing on leadership, management and health policy.  

“My selection as a fellow into the Academy of Nursing Education within the NLN is validation from my colleagues that my contributions as a nurse educator have been meaningful and sustainable,” Shirey said. “I have been a member of NLN for many years and have watched as truly outstanding colleagues — people whom I deeply respect and admire — have been recognized with selection as fellows into the Academy of Nursing Education. Getting to join this group is a distinct honor and fuels my desire to continue to make a difference in the lives of those students I coach and mentor to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

Shirey is nationally recognized for her innovative integration of teaching and learning strategies using research, evidence-based practice and real-world consultation to build nursing leadership capacity.

The NLN established the Academy of Nursing Education in 2007 to foster excellence in nursing education by recognizing and capitalizing on the wisdom of nurse educators who have made sustained and significant contributions to nursing education. Fellows serve as important role models and resources for new educators and for those who aspire to become nurse educators.

The induction of the new fellows will be held Sept. 17-20 in Phoenix, Ariz., in conjunction with the NLN’s annual Education Summit. Shirey joins the academy’s 169 fellows representing nursing schools and programs throughout the United States.