• September 22, 2017
 Eleven postdoctoral scholars have been selected to receive Outstanding Postdoctoral Awards, which honors those who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments. They were recognized Sept. 21 during the Postdoc Appreciation Luncheon.

The 2017 honorees represent nine departments, divisions and schools across UAB.


Andrew ArrantAndrew Arrant, NeurologyExcellent Peer Award

Given to the postdoc who habitually extends their talents, patience and time to help other students or researchers

Andrew Arrant, Ph.D., Department of Neurology

Arrant, a postdoc at UAB for four years, won a Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00) from the National Institutes of Health. He also has been the primary mentor for two students in the UAB PREP Scholar’s Program, four undergraduate neuroscience majors, a medical student and all graduate students in the lab.

“No matter what he is doing or how occupied he is, Arrant always makes time to help out other students and postdocs with any issues that come up,” one nominator wrote. “His attitude and patience with his peers, even down to the undergraduate student level, makes him approachable and dependable.”


Excellent Peer Honorable Mention

  • Jada Vaden, Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology
    “Jada goes out of her way to help all of the graduate students in the labs,” one nominator said. “She doesn't mind stopping what she's doing to advise others on designing experiments, putting together presentations, and even practicing those presentations. She left for one week, and the lab descended into chaos. She is pivotal to this place.”

  • Brandon Roberts, Ph.D., Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrated Biology, UAB Center for Exercise Medicine
    “He has shown drive and dedication since first arriving at UAB,” a nominator said of Roberts. “However, that drive and dedication extends far beyond his own research pursuits. He is always willing to lend a hand, to help someone learn, to provide feedback and to aid in writing, etc. He does these things with no expectation of a reward or recognition; he is just a genuinely caring and helpful person.”
  • Timothy Jarome, Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology
    “Regardless whether they are at the undergraduate or graduate level, Tim treats all students as a peer,” one nominator wrote of Jarome. “He is very approachable and is always willing to go out of his way to help others. I have had more fun talking about our shared scientific interests with Tim than anyone else.”


community mindedMelike Dizbay Onat, CORD; Samir Rana, Cardiovascular DiseaseCommunity-minded Award

Given to the postdoc who is dedicated to filling the needs of a local, national or international community

  • Melike Dizbay Onat, Ph.D., Center for Community Outreach Development (CORD)
    Onat has directed, developed and taught in CORD’s summer engineering camps, and encouraged students from the Birmingham area to consider majoring in science or engineering when they begin college. She also is active in the GEAR UP program, facilitating physical science activities for Birmingham City middle schools.

    “I believe more and more local students are interested and encouraged to study science and engineering at UAB or other universities because of Onat’s work and dedication,” said one nominator.

  • Samir Rana, Ph.D., Division of Cardiovascular Disease
    Rana, a native of Nepal, is a founding member and former president of the UAB Nepalese Student Association, which helps students from Nepal find a community in Birmingham. He is a mentor to the organization and led fundraising campaigns for Nepalese earthquake and flood victims in 2015.

    “Rana has been a good supporter for us Nepali students, as well as other international students on campus,” said one nominator. “He is a guide to all of us; we regard him as our brother.”


Mohamed SelimMohamed M. Selim, Materials Science and EngineeringDr. Congeniality Award

Given to the postdoc who has a disposition so kind and pleasant, their presence brightens the atmosphere of the work environment

Mohamed M. Selim, Ph.D., Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Selim began working in the department when they were struggling to find funding, transitioning between department chairs and lab heads and struggling with morale. Since day one, nominators say he took on more responsibilities than his position required, including helping review papers, presentations and posters and testing data and company reports put out by students and faculty.

“I cannot picture Dr. Selim without a smile on his face,” a nominator wrote. “I can always count on him to give good feedback and constructive criticism, all with the goal of improving students’ skills, work product and happiness. You can tell he wants every student to leave the program becoming a better doctoral or master’s student than he ever was, and I can only imagine how great he was.”



Bryan BeckerBryan Becker, NephrologyExtraordinary First-year Postdoc Award

Given to the first-year postdoc who has become an immediate asset to the lab

Bryan Becker, Ph.D., Division of Nephrology
In addition to his work as a postdoc at UAB, Becker sits on the Career Opportunities Committee within the Association for Psychological Science and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on both basic and advanced renal physiology. During his first year, Becker took a research project that had been floundering in the lab for almost a decade, generated new data and was published; he simultaneously had a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

“In the decision letter, the editor even made a note that this was an extraordinary amount of data,” a nominator wrote. “It’s clearly impressive given that he worked on two publications during this first year.”


Hardest-working Postdoc Award

Given to the postdoc who puts in consistently great work, but whose dedication and skill is not necessarily represented with publications

Malorzata “Gosia” Kasztan, Ph.D., Division of Nephrology
Kasztan has been a postdoc at UAB for almost three years and recently had a 16-page paper with an eight-page supplement published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.  She has mentored several undergraduate and graduate students and recently was elected chair of the Trainee Advisory Committee for the American Physiological Society renal section.

“Gosia is one in a million,” a nominator wrote. “Her work is superb. Her attention to rigorous techniques and high ethical standards means that she puts in the extra time and effort to do it right.”


Jessica ScoffieldJessica Scoffield, Pediatric DentistryMost-esteemed Postdoc Award

Given to the postdoc with an impressive number of peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations and posters 

Jessica Scoffield, Ph.D., Department of Pediatric Dentistry
Scoffield has published a book chapter and four first-author papers during her tenure at UAB, including a recent publication in Plos Pathogens, which was featured by Nature Reviews Microbiology, National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research Institute News and two second-author papers. She also is the recipient of a Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00) from the National Institutes of Health.

“She in an outstanding postdoctoral fellow and a role model for postdocs,” a nominator wrote.




Deborah Ejem insideDeborah Ejem, Nursing

The Dory Award

Given to the postdoc who, despite setbacks and obstacles in their project, has kept pushing until successfully finishing the work

Deborah Ejem, Ph.D., School of Nursing
Ejem has received grants from both the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research to explore the ways spirituality factors into relationships among patients with chronic illnesses, their caregivers and their clinicians. While working at UAB, she consistently overcame setbacks in her research due to serious health concerns on multiple occasions.

“Despite being in pain some days, she still shows up to work and performs well,” a nominator wrote. “Her efforts to persevere and still carry out her individual and team responsibilities are inspiring.”
UAB named Center of Excellence by Rett syndrome advocacy group

UAB’s Civitan Rett Syndrome Clinic has been named a Center of Excellence by rettsyndrome.org, one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups.

rettgroup17Alan Percy, M.D., (right), a leading clinician and researcher in Rett Syndrome receives the Center of Clinical Excellence Award along with members of the the clinic team, and Rett Syndrome.org.The University of Alabama at Birmingham Civitan Rett Syndrome Clinic has received the Center of Excellence award from Rettsyndrome.org, a leading advocacy organization for patients and families affected by Rett syndrome.

The award will be presented at a reception Friday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m. at the Children’s of Alabama Performance Area on the second floor of the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children, 1600 Seventh Ave. South.  

Rett syndrome is a neurological disorder seen almost exclusively in females, affecting one in every 10,000-23,000 individuals. It is found in all racial and ethnic groups worldwide.  

Alan Percy, M.D., director of the UAB Civitan Rett Syndrome Clinic, is an internationally renowned researcher and clinician in Rett syndrome. When at Baylor College of Medicine in the 1980s, Percy was one of the first physicians in the United States to identify the condition.

In 1999, a decade long search for the genetic basis for Rett syndrome succeeded in identifying mutations in the MECP2 gene in girls fulfilling the criteria for the syndrome. This discovery allowed confirmation of clinical diagnoses and the development of genotype-phenotype correlations. Research at UAB is now examining the molecular genetics of children who do not meet all diagnostic criteria for RS, but who are near the border zones of clinical involvement. 

Patients with Rett syndrome tend to have small hands and feet and a deceleration of the rate of head growth. Repetitive stereotyped hand movements, such as wringing and/or repeatedly putting hands into the mouth, are common. Gastrointestinal disorders and seizures are also frequently seen. Patients typically have no verbal skills, and about 50 percent of affected individuals do not walk. 

Survival into adulthood is now expected barring other illnesses or serious physical complications. Girls and women with Rett syndrome can be expected to demonstrate a full range of emotions and enjoy satisfying social, recreational and educational experiences at home and in the community.  

Rettsyndrome.org is a national organization working to accelerate research to cure Rett syndrome and empower families with information, knowledge and connectivity. Since 1998, Rettsyndrome.org has invested more than $41 million in Rett syndrome research. 

 Vladimir Parpura, M.D., Ph.D.

Since 2005, the McNulty Civitan Scientist Award has been awarded to outstanding scientists with a long term career commitment to research on developmental disabilities.  The award is given each year in honor of the McNulty family who were long-time members of the Chesapeake District of Civitan International. Tom and Mary McNulty along with their son Tommy were the driving force behind the creation of the Civitan International Research Center and the research focus of Civitan International Foundation. To date the award has provided support for a number of successful research projects and helped to develop successful clinical programs benefitting individuals with developmental disorders.  

Vladimir Parpura, M.D., Ph.D., is the 2017-2018 recipient of the coveted McNulty Civitan Scientist Award. He is a  professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

His current research includes: i) studying the modulation of calcium-dependent glutamate release from astrocytes in health and disease; ii) visualization of vesicular/receptor trafficking; iii) examination of the nature and energetics of interactions between exocytotic proteins using single molecule detection approaches; iv) development of scaffolds and dispersible materials, most notably modified carbon nanotubes, which can be used in repair after brain injury and v) bio-mimetic micro-robotics. He has been interfacing neuroscience with nanoscience/nanotechnology, synthetic biology and biomedical engineering.

Dr. Parpura holds both a medical degree, awarded from the University of Zagreb in Croatia in 1989, and a doctorate, received in Neuroscience and Zoology from Iowa State University in 1993.  He has held faculty appointments at the Department of Zoology and Genetics, Iowa State University and the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, University of California Riverside. He is presently a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology, University of Alabama Birmingham and President for the American Society for Neurochemistry. Elected as a Member of Academia Europaea (MAE) in 2012.

Congratulations to Dr. Parpura!

The Emerging Scholar Awards were established to recognize and support outstanding research projects from budding scholars whose research focuses on developmental disabilities.  Competition was tight as 18 applications were reviewed by independent reviewers.  The 2017- 2018 Emerging Scholar Awards go to Rylie Hightower and Omar Maximo.    

Rylie Hightower, BSN, RN, is a Graduate Research Assistant in the lab of Dr. Matthew Alexander in the Department of Pediatrics.  Rylie’s proposal “MiR-486 as an Epigenetic Modifier of Disease Progression in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy” studies muscular dystrophy which affects 1 in 5,000 live male births worldwide. 

Jose O. Maximo, M.A., works closely with Drs. Rajesh Kana and Sarah O’Kelley in the Department of Psychology.  He hopes to unlock some of the mysteries of Autism with his project “The Impact of PEERS Social Skills Intervention on Brain Correlates in Autism Spectrum Disorders."  In the U.S., it is estimated that 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.   

The W. John Rynearson Award was established in 2017 in honor of John Rynearson’s leadership of Civitan International.  Civitan International has been a significant sponsor of the Civitan International Research Center.  The first recipient of the W. John Rynearson Award is Mary Phillips.  Mary is a Neuroscience graduate student in the lab of Dr. Lucas Pozzo-Miller in the Department of Neurobiology. The goal of her proposal is to characterize the influence of the ventral hippocampus (vHIP) on the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).

The Whit Mallory Award was established in 2013 in memory of Whit Mallory and his dedication to research and clinical activities in the field of developmental disabilities.  Nancy Gallus has been selected as the 2017 – 2018 Whit Mallory Award recipient.  Nancy is a Neuroscience graduate student in the lab of Dr. Jeremy Day in the Department of Neurobiology.  Her research will explore the role of eRNAs as transcriptional regulators of gene expression patterns and the downstream effects on neuronal firing. 

Please join us in congratulating all the winners!