Chatham Justement Brown WidderOn March 5, 2014, Drs. Lou Justement (Microbiology), Beth Brown (Epidemiology and Microbiology) and John Chatham (Pathology) travelled to Washington D.C., in between snow storms, to participate in the 2014 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Capitol Hill Day visit. They were accompanied by Joel M. Widder from the Oldaker Group who served as the group liaison.

The FASEB Capitol Hill Day is an annual event during which members of the FASEB Board and Science Policy Committee go to Capitol Hill to meet with their legislators to request increased support for the NIH and NSF. Drs. Justement, Brown and Chatham met with staff from Senators Shelby and Sessions offices as well as Representative Sewell’s office. They also had an opportunity to meet directly with Representative Bachus to discuss the important role that UAB plays in the economic growth of Alabama and how its activities foster improved health for the state. Representative Bachus was very supportive as were all of the legislators that they spoke with.

A summary of the FASEB Capitol Hill Day visit for 2014 prepared by Jennifer Zeitzer of FASEB can be viewed here.

Activities such as these are important to raise awareness of the effects that decreased support for NIH and NSF have on the future of biomedical research in the US. If anyone has an interest in speaking out on behalf of biomedical research, they should contact Drs. Justement, Brown or Chatham for advice. Additionally, most professional societies have active public affairs offices that are willing to arrange visits to Capitol Hill. Remember, you can take the initiative to contact your legislators at any time by email or phone, and be sure to respond to requests to contact your legislator sent out by FASEB or other societies. The more often Congressional legislators hear from the scientific community, the more likely they will be to appreciate the importance of the NIH and NSF.

Congratulations to Dr. David Chaplin whose paper “Abnormal Development of Peripheral Lymphoid Organs in Mice Deficient in Lymphotoxin” has been selected for inclusion in the Pillars of Immunology, a feature of The Journal of Immunology.

The paper, originally published in Science, April 1994, is regarded as a classic in the field. It has been republished with additional commentary included. Papers selected as Pillars of Immunology features give younger immunologists the opportunity to see what research has come before and how it has led to research today. Pillars articles are published in the first issue each month of The Journal of Immunology.

As part of its centennial celebrations, The American Association of Immunologists has made available the collected Pillars of Immunology commentaries in a downloadable format.

Bliss Chang.jpg.opt196x257o00s196x257Congratulations to Bliss Chang, an undergraduate student in Dr. Jamil Saad’s lab, who was named a 2014 Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in Excellence in Education Foundation.

Chang, a Biochemistry and Biology major, plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. that will allow him to enter academic medicine and teach at a leading medical research university. His work in the Saad lab involves further elucidating the structural basis for Fas-mediated apoptosis and investigating the role of a point mutation in the Fas protein that may reveal the mechanism of inhibition for the Fas pathway.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields.
Shane Kelly, a graduate student in Dr. David Bedwell’s lab, shows the art in his cells with three fluorescent confocal micrographs of cheek cells that he entered in the UAB School of Medicine Art Show. Kelly’s works of art are currently on display in the UAB Edge of Chaos.

Read more at “A self-portrait in cells: Grad student gets cheeky with art show entries.” (UAB The Mix, Thursday, March 13, 2014)
Weinmann2009Dr. Amy Weinmann joined the microbiology department in February 2014.Growing up in Minnesota, Amy Weinmann attended the University of Minnesota, Morris, where she received a B.A. in biology in 1995. An undergraduate summer project at the Mayo Clinic gave her an appetite for research and set her on a path to crisscross the United States. She moved from Minnesota to California where she received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. She moved from California to Wisconsin where she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and then she moved from Wisconsin to Seattle, Washington, and joined the faculty at the University of Washington Department of Immunology. Now, ten years later, she has made her way to Alabama.

Currently, she is working on the mechanisms by which lineage-specifying transcription factors regulate cell fate decisions in development. “A major focus of the research in my lab is on the T-box and BTB-ZF transcription factor families, which are required to promote cellular transitions in numerous developmental systems, ranging from early embryogenesis to immune cell fate. We are also interested in defining the mechanisms by which epigenetic patterns are established in a cell-type and activation-state specific manner. Collectively, our mechanistic studies will provide new insight into many human diseases that are associated with dysregulation of these pathways, including a major emphasis on blood cancers, autoimmunity, and birth defects.”

During this time of economic challenges, Weinmann takes her job as mentor seriously. She says that it is easy to get discouraged when funding is so limited, but a person must not accept the word can’t. “Science is do-able,” she says. “Passion comes from within. Nobody can take your passion away from you.” She enjoys watching students learn how to drive their own science. “Early on, it’s much more hands-on, but eventually it starts to flip and by the end, the student knows way more than I do. It’s a proud moment when they’re on their own.”

In her spare time, Weinmann follows professional sports (especially the Minnesota Vikings), and she herself can spike a mean volleyball, having played volleyball in high school and college. She says, “the mental discipline of sports fits well with science. It’s always a work in progress; you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished, but at the same time strive to do better and learn more.”

Mengxi JiangDr. Mengxi Jiang joined the microbiology department in January 2014.Growing up in Shanghai, China, Mengxi Jiang attended Fudan University where she received her undergraduate degree in 2001. Later that year, she moved to the United States and began research in bacteriology at the University of Michigan. When she received her Ph.D., she took a different direction and accepted a postdoctoral position at University of Michigan in the area of virology. “While working toward my Ph.D., I became more interested in the interplay of the host and pathogen. This led me into the field of virology,” says Jiang.

In 2012, Jiang became a research investigator at the University of Michigan, where she worked two years on the host-pathogen interactions of a human DNA tumor virus, BK polyomavirus (BKPyV). Now, as assistant professor in the microbiology department at UAB, she continues to search for a better understanding of the BKPyV life cycle to aid in the design of novel, more efficient anti-viral strategies.

“BKPyV infection is ubiquitous in the human population and occurs during early childhood,” says Jiang. “Primary infection with BKPyV is followed by dissemination to the kidney and urinary tract, in particular to kidney tubule epithelial cells and urinary tract epithelial cells, where the virus establishes a lifelong persistent infection. This infection remains asymptomatic in immunocompetent individuals, but under conditions of immunosuppression, BKPyV can undergo reactivation resulting in viral shedding in the urine and may eventually lead to severe diseases such as polyomavirus-associated nephropathy (PVAN) in renal transplant patients and hemorrhagic cystitis in bone marrow transplant recipients.”

Jiang says that no specific antiviral drugs for BKPyV infection are currently available, although the incidence of BKPyVrelated disease has greatly increased in the last few years. The immune components that are involved in controlling BKV persistence and reactivation are not well defined. As a new assistant professor, Jiang is looking to fill several positions in her lab. She enjoys sharing her excitement for research with students just entering the field. “It is important for students to learn how to do science, to think critically, and to establish their independence,” says Jiang.