Rett Syndrome Endowed Professorship
by Bob Shepard - February 10, 2017
The Suki Foundation, Children’s of Alabama and UAB have established an endowed professorship in Rett syndrome.
Alan Percy, M.D., Director of the Rett syndrome clinicChildren’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics have announced the creation, upon University of Alabama System Board of Trustees’ approval, of the Sarah Katherine Bateh Endowed Professorship in Rett Syndrome as a result of a unique collaboration with the family and friends of a young patient battling the neurological condition. Marie and Brian Bateh of Hoover, parents of 7-year-old Sarah Katherine “Suki” Bateh, raised $500,000 to create the first endowed professorship for Rett syndrome at UAB. These funds have been matched by Children’s and UAB to support the future holder of this new position.
Alan Percy, M.D., professor and director of UAB’s Rett syndrome clinic at Children’s, is considered one of the world’s leading experts on this unique developmental disorder that affects one in every 10,000 female births worldwide. Rett syndrome causes severe cognitive impairment, including loss of communication and motor skills, reduced growth and unusual breathing patterns. Percy is also a national leader in pediatric neurology and genetics, and highly regarded as a clinician and research scientist. Working with genetic researcher Huda Y. Zogbhi, M.D., Percy diagnosed the first confirmed case of Rett syndrome in the United States in 1983.
“Children’s and UAB have a strong mutual interest in making sure that Suki receives the very best clinical care, while at the same time advancing new knowledge to create a brighter future for all children and families affected by Rett,” said Mike Warren, Children’s CEO and President. “The Batehs’ remarkable gift helped galvanize our collaborative efforts to take this giant leap forward.”
Soon after making that career-defining first diagnosis, Percy and his associates at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston began receiving phone calls about other girls who showed similar traits. By the end of that decade, they had established a Rett clinic and were following more than 150 patients from around the country. In 1992, Percy came to Birmingham as director of the UAB’s Civitan-Sparks Clinics, which provide services to patients with developmental disorders, and director of the Division of Pediatric Neurology at UAB. He soon established a clinic to treat Children’s of Alabama patients, where today he provides care to Sarah Katherine Bateh and other Rett patients for much of the region.
“People have asked me many times how I came to Rett syndrome and I tell them, ‘I didn’t come to Rett syndrome; Rett syndrome came to me,’” he said. Children’s and UAB operate one of the few Rett clinics in the U.S. Since 2003, Percy has led an NIH-funded natural history study of Rett patients.
The Batehs founded the Suki Foundation and have hosted the popular “Raise the Roof for Rett” event and other events annually to raise funds and awareness for Rett research. The Suki Foundation was created in honor of Sarah Katherine, who was diagnosed with Rett syndrome at age 2. The foundation aims to make a difference in the lives of children diagnosed with Rett syndrome through raising funds to expand and accelerate research efforts at Children’s. Research focuses on better understanding of Rett syndrome, new treatments and, ultimately, a cure.
“We have an unprecedented and historic opportunity to fund crucial new research,” said Brian Bateh. “The gene that causes Rett syndrome has been found and a landmark study demonstrated the reversibility of Rett symptoms in mice. Rett syndrome has a known genetic link. It is being characterized as the ‘Rosetta Stone,’ a key that will help unlock treatments and cures for other disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety, and autonomic nervous system disorders. With Suki Foundation fundraising efforts, so many lives can be changed by providing support and helping to find a cure for more than just those diagnosed with Rett syndrome. So many lives could be changed with a cure.”
Thanks to the Batehs’ gift, UAB and Children’s now have resources dedicated to recruit and support additional medical talent to join Percy to advance this critical work.
For more information, visit sukifoundation.org, uab.edu or childrensal.org.
Summer Neuroscience Program
by Bob Shepard - February 06, 2017
The expanded UAB Summer Program in Neuroscience, with renewed funding from the National Science Foundation, is looking for underserved undergrads for science mentoring.
Krista Hoevemeyer, class of 2013, at a lab bench. UAB's SPIN program fosters career development for underrepresented minority college students and/or students from non-research-intensive universities.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Summer Program in Neuroscience, a program designed to promote careers in science to deserving undergraduate college students, has regained funding from the National Science Foundation. The new grant, $120,000 per year for three years, will allow for significant expansion of the program, which aims to foster career development and provide research training for underrepresented minority students and/or students from non-research-intensive universities.
“The SPIN program focuses on students with demonstrated scientific aptitude who have interest in pursuing a career in scientific research but have not been exposed to that environment,” said Gwendalyn King, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology and the SPIN program director. “SPIN is a 10-week research-intensive program in which students are mentored in UAB neuroscience labs to get a firsthand look at whether research is a good career option for them.”
The program enrolls 10 students each summer, usually juniors and seniors, who get hands-on experience in a laboratory, as well as career counseling. Students are paired with a UAB neuroscience faculty member and are also mentored by senior graduate students in the lab.
“The program is a real opportunity for learning what a career in science is all about,” said Lucas Pozzo-Miller, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and SPIN co-director. “They don’t sit and watch — they are actively involved in the lab’s work. The goal of the program is that students accomplish enough to qualify for co-author status on research papers that originate in the lab.”
SPIN was originally funded by NSF for three years beginning in 2005. Following a loss of external funding in 2008, the program continued on a reduced scale through generous contributions from UAB internal organizations, including the Department of Neurobiology, the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center, the Civitan International Research Center and the Office of the Provost.
SPIN participants such as Jinwoo Hur, class of 2013, spend ten weeks in UAB neuroscience research labs.
The reinstatement of NSF funding will allow the program to expand the number of students enrolled, provide stipends and help cover the cost of housing and meals. Since inception in 2005, SPIN has trained 106 undergraduates hailing from 29 states and two foreign countries.
Several former participants are now graduate students at UAB.
“I went to a small, liberal arts university in Minnesota for my undergraduate degree where there was little opportunity for doing research,” said Angie Nietz, now a fifth-year graduate student in the lab of Jacques Wadiche, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology. “The program gave me one of my only experiences of what it is like to do research outside of a classroom setting before entering graduate school. The research experience and excellent mentorship I received prepared me for applying to and being successful in graduate school.”
Nancy Gallus did her undergraduate work in molecular medicine at the University of Tübingen, Germany, before attending the UAB Spin program. She is now a graduate student in the laboratory of Jeremy Day, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology.
“SPIN was very important for me, as it was one of my first real research experiences,” she said. “It also helped me decide where I wanted to go for graduate school and how to apply.”
Shelly Nason, now a second-year graduate student in the lab of Kirk Habegger, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Medicine, says her Michigan liberal arts college did not offer opportunities for neuroscience research.
“SPIN was most beneficial to me in professional development, beyond the benefits of understanding what it meant to participate in actual research,” she said. “I entered the program feeling less than confident in my ability to get into graduate school, and I left with the tools and confidence that helped me receive multiple acceptance letters. I highlight the SPIN program as the best opportunity in my undergraduate studies that propelled me forward in my career as a scientist.”
Pozzo-Miller says the program has benefit even for those attendees who ultimately decide against a career in science.
“These are people who will have a voice in the future of science,” he said. “They are voters, decision-makers and potential leaders of our country, and it is incumbent on us to teach them critical thinking skills, to help them understand the importance of scientific thought, and to understand and believe in the value of science.”
“Diversity in science is extremely important, as it is in all fields,” King said. “We need investigators with different backgrounds and different experiences. This program, we hope, will foster and instill a love of science in these students.”
The deadline for applying for a position in the 2017 SPIN program in March 1. Information on applying is available online. The program runs from June 5 to Aug. 11.
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