Bliss Chang Named 2014 Goldwater Scholar

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.

Micro Student Enters SOM Art Show

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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)

Welcome Dr. Amy Weinmann

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.”

Welcome Dr. Mengxi Jiang

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.

Kearney named distinguished professor in microbiology

201312993280 head shot s06On February 7, 2014, the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees appointed John F. Kearney, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the UAB School of Medicine Department of Microbiology. This is one of the University’s highest honors bestowed on faculty by the Board.

Kearney’s work has brought worldwide recognition to UAB. He is an internationally recognized expert in monoclonal antibodies and their source: immune cells known as B cells that produce the antibodies necessary to fight off infections and other immune threats.

Kearney came to UAB as a postdoctoral fellow in 1974 and joined the microbiology faculty in 1977. In addition to his primary faculty appointment in the microbiology department, Kearney holds several other appointments at UAB including senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and UAB Center for Disease Preparedness, as well as a professor in the Division of Developmental and Clinical Immunology.

PostDocs Score Big at Research Day

Six microbiology department postdoctoral scholars received awards on February 17, 2014, at the annual Postdoctoral Research Day. “I don’t believe that we have had this many winners from one department previously,” says Sharon Johnston, program manager in the UAB Office of Postdoctoral Education.

Postdoctoral Research Day, hosted by the UAB Postdoctoral Association (PDA) and the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE), allows trainees an opportunity to practice their presentation skills, compete for monetary awards, and network with faculty and other postdocs. Trainees present their work in a situation similar to a conference, and receive constructive feedback to help them improve their presentation technique.

                                           The 2014 microbiology winners are:
                                       Davide Botta (Lund lab), 2nd Place, Session One  
                                       Valeria Lulla (Frolov lab), 3rd Place, Session Five  
                                       Colin Reily (Novak lab), 1st Place, Session Five  
                                       Alexander Speer (Niederweis lab), 2nd Place, Session Two  
                                       Jim Sun (Niederweis lab), 1st Place, Session Two  
                                       Venkata Yeramilli (Kearney lab), 2nd Place, Session Five  

These outstanding trainees were among 53 entrants from UAB and SRI (Southern Research Institute). Each submitted a 300-word abstract and presented a 12-minute talk about their research project. Research Day was divided into six sessions with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards for each session. Presentations were judged by UAB faculty and SRI scientists.