Neurobiology News

The Art of Giving
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Nathaniel Harnett: Catching the neuroscience bugSeptember 09, 2015

By Jeff Hansen

Nate Harnett plays the tuba, euphonium and trombone, and he went to Ithaca College for its music conservatory. Music was going to be the future for this jazz and marching band performer. Then he went to a neuroscience class.

“It was a lecture on how the action potential works, how this smallest bit of energy can create all our perceptions of the world,” Harnett said. “I instantly caught the neuroscience bug. It’s funny how one lecture can change your life.”

Nate Harnett on the lecture that changed his lifeHarnett was raised in the Binghamton, New York, Southern Tier region just north of Pennsylvania, by a single mom who finished her college degree as he began his college years. After a major in psychology and one summer training at the University of Maryland in cognitive motor neuroscience, Harnett came to UAB, attracted by the breadth and wealth of neuroscience research. He is entering his third year of graduate school in the
UAB Department of Psychology’s behavioral neuroscience program. He is interested in emotional neuroscience, and his research mentor is David Knight, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology.

Harnett’s career coach is Luca Pozzo-Miller, Ph.D., professor in the
UAB Department of Neurobiology, whose interests include synaptic plasticity.

“The chance to talk with someone who is not in your program or on your thesis committee is a great grounding force,” Harnett said. The Argentinian scientist has told Harnett about his own life path, and how life can be a series of fortunate accidents.

Harnett has an African-American heritage, and also one grandmother who emigrated from Italy. When he was invited to join the
UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program as an advanced student by co-directors Lori McMahon, Ph.D., and Farah Lubin, Ph.D., who are both Department of Neurobiology faculty members, he thought, “That’s a wonderful idea.”

At the NEURAL Conference this summer, Harnett gave a presentation about stressful life events and racial differences in the neural response to threat. In the NeuroLab Bench for incoming UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars, he taught MATLAB (a programming environment for numerical computation and visualization), functional magnetic resonance imaging and brain anatomy.

Harnett says he appreciated how Roger Nicoll, Ph.D., shared his struggles when he spoke to the NEURAL Conference.

“Despite his grades, he never stopped,” Harnett said of Nicoll. “He had a goal, and he never stopped.”


September 09, 2015

By Jeff Hansen

After six years at UAB, Mika Guzman Karlsson is beginning to feel that Birmingham is home. Born in Sweden, growing up in La Paz, Bolivia, until age 13, and then moving to Southern California gave him an episodic childhood and the ability to speak his mother’s Swedish and his Bolivian father’s Spanish, as well as English.

Guzman Karlsson embraced the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program when he was one of the established neuroscience students recruited to create a community to mentor the first class of new Roadmap Scholars who arrived at UAB this summer. As an undergrad at the University of California, Los Angeles, Guzman Karlsson had helped recruit and retain underrepresented students to biomedical sciences.

Mika Guzman Karlsson on starting a SACNAS chapter at UABGuzman Karlsson has finished the first two years of his M.D. degree at UAB and is working on his Ph.D. with J. David Sweatt, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Neurobiology. His career coach is David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Neurology. “We discuss specific career paths for physician-scientists,” Guzman Karlsson said.

At the NeuroLab Bench courses for the incoming first-year Roadmap Scholars, which met several weeks this summer for two to five hours a day, Guzman Karlsson taught extraction, isolation and manipulation of DNA and RNA, cell culture model systems, and bioinformatics.

“It was an opportunity to participate in teaching and develop my teaching skills,” Guzman Karlsson said. “I also got to know and connect with the younger students.

“A big emphasis of Roadmap Scholars is having a mentoring team,” Guzman Karlsson said, which consists of a formal faculty career coach who is different from a student’s research mentor, but also includes informal mentoring relationships with other Roadmap scholars. “You learn what the resources are, whom to ask for help and how to ask for help.”

At UAB, Guzman Karlsson has started a chapter of the nationwide Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). He has now been succeeded as president of the UAB chapter by Natasha Pacheco, another UAB Roadmap Scholar.

Guzman Karlsson had the task of introducing Roger Nicoll, Ph.D., at the NEURAL Conference this summer, giving the usual information about the speaker’s education, positions and accomplishments.

“I read the list, but I didn’t know the things that went on between the lines,” Guzman Karlsson said of Nicoll’s struggle with dyslexia. “I felt very fortunate to have him share the obstacles that he had to overcome and still has to overcome.”
Angela Nietz: Learning — and teachingSeptember 09, 2015

By Jeff Hansen

Angie Nietz’s interest in neuroscience was triggered by a course in biopsychology at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, about the biological mechanisms that underlie behavior. She followed by going to the
UAB Summer Program in Neuroscience (SPIN), which she found in an online list of summer opportunities for undergraduates looking to get experience in full-time neurobiology research. Now Nietz is a third-year UAB graduate student.

Her biopsychology class at St. Kate’s had triggered girlhood memories, she says, of the times she would ask her doctors, “How does cerebral palsy happen?” “I’ve looked into it a little bit,” Nietz said. “I even got some of my old medical records and read what the doctors said about me as a kid. They documented a lot of behaviors.”

Angie Nietz explains her passion for teachingThose records note that her parents had noticed Nietz could walk but could not sit up unaided at age 2. The diagnosis the doctors finally gave was cerebral palsy.

“It’s a blanket term that covers a wide range of motor and cognitive abnormalities,” the St. Paul native said. “I have trouble walking and have balance problems. I had a lot of surgery and physical therapy all the time while growing up.

“In physical therapy, I met a lot of kids with the same diagnosis,” Nietz said. “I wondered why some were wheelchair-bound and cognitively impaired, while I had only minor motor abnormalities.”

When she was 14, surgeons cut her femur and rotated the leg to point her foot in the correct direction. Nietz had to learn how to walk again. Classmates identified her by her gait. Much of the usual childhood physical activity was hard for her, and Nietz never learned to ride a bike. But her three older sisters and her parents never treated her walking and balance as a disability.

This summer, as an older graduate student in
UAB’s Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program, Nietz taught NeuroLab Bench topics such as slicing fixed tissue, microscopic imaging, electrophysiology and optogenetics for the incoming first-year Roadmap Scholars, and she is looking forward to helping mentor the new students.

Nietz’s research mentor is Jacques Wadiche, Ph.D., associate professor in the
UAB Department of Neurobiology, who is interested in synaptic transmission — how neurons communicate at their most basic level.

Her Roadmap Scholar career coach is Matthew Goldberg, Ph.D., associate professor in the
UAB Department of Neurology, who studies the mechanisms of neuronal degradation in Parkinson’s disease. “We talk about my career path down the road,” Nietz said.

Making Neuroscientists cry....

Roberson wins prestigious Denny-Brown award from American Neurological Association
by Bob Shepard
September 03, 2015

Erik Roberson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is the winner of the 2015 Derek Denny-Brown Young Neurological Scholar Award from the American Neurological Association.

The award, considered the ANA’s highest and most prestigious,
recognizes early- to mid-career neurologists and neuroscientists who
have made outstanding basic and clinical scientific advances toward the
prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of neurological diseases.

Roberson’s primary research focus is Alzheimer’s disease, in
particular the role of tau reduction in protection against memory loss.
Roberson and his colleagues were also the first to show that tau plays a
critical role in regulating neuronal excitability, which could have
applications in the treatment of many neurological conditions with
seizures. He has also contributed new insights into mechanisms and
therapeutic approaches to frontotemporal dementia.

Roberson graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and
completed his M.D./Ph.D. training at Baylor College of Medicine. He was
chief resident in neurology at the University of California at San
Francisco. He joined the faculty at UAB in 2008 with appointments to the
departments of Neurology and Neurobiology. He holds the Spencer Endowed
Professorship in Neuroscience. He is a co-director of the UAB Center
for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics and has recently
been appointed co-director of the McKnight Brain Institute at UAB.

“Dr. Roberson is recognized nationally and internationally for his
expertise in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders,” said David
Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of
Neurology. “I think Dr. Roberson is one of the leading neuroscientists
of his generation. He is exceptionally bright, very well trained and,
most importantly, fully committed to his goals.”
Tickets are now on Sale.

Please contact Drs. Farah Lubin and Kristina Visscher for tickets [flubin(at) or kmv(at)]

or any member of RCC []

Tickets on Sale
The Civitan International Research Center
Research Grants for Emerging Scholars
Request for Proposals

Proposal Deadline: Friday, September 18, 2015

Grant Start Date: October 1, 2015

Eligible Applicants: Pre-doctoral and Post-doctoral Trainees

Award Level: $25,000 for one year

Contact and Submit to: Vicki Hixon:

The Civitan International Research Center is requesting proposals
for clinical or basic science research aimed at enhancing our current
understanding of typical and atypical brain development, autism spectrum
disorders, Down and Rett syndromes, developmental disabilities, impaired
cognitive development, and the effects of environmental toxins on the
development of the brain. The $25,000 award may be used as a stipend supplement
or for direct projects costs.

Proposals should consist of a single PDF document containing a two
page description of the planned research; a letter of endorsement from the
mentor; and CV from the applicant.

The mission of the CIRC is to improve the well-being and the
quality of life of individuals and families affected by neurodevelopmental
disabilities; to provide interdisciplinary clinical and research training in
neurodevelopmental disabilities; to utilize this knowledge to develop and
provide high quality exemplary services and programs; and to exchange
information in a timely way with consumers, practitioners, scientists, and