Neurobiology News

Sontheimer Selected for SfN Special Lecture

Congratulations are in order for Dr. Harald Sontheimer who  has been selected by the SfN Program Committee to present a Special Lecture at the 43rd annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.  His presentation titled “Glioma:  A Neurocentric Look at Cancer” will be featured in Theme B:Neural Excitability, Synapses, and Glia: Cellular Mechanisms. 

Dr. Sontheimer is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology.

For additional information visit:

Lester Elected to MOL Board

Dr. Robin A. J. Lester has been appointed to the MOL - Molecular Pharmacology Editorial Board.  He will serve a three year term.  Board members are nominated and elected to serve after invitation.

Molecular Pharmacology publishes key findings derived from the application of innovative structural biology, biochemistry, biophysics, physiology, genetics, and molecular biology to basic pharmacological problems that provide novel insights that are relevant to the broad fields of pharmacology and toxicology.

Neurobiology Joins Arts and Sciences

Friday, March 08, 2013

Neurobiology becomes joint department to expand, enrich opportunities    

By Clinton Colmenare

Students in Alabama interested in the neurosciences can now benefit from the combination of two powerful forces.

neurobiology_joint_dept_sThe School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) now share the faculty, resources and expertise of the Department of Neurobiology, which formerly was only in the School of Medicine.

The joint department formalizes a collaboration that began in 2009 when UAB created an undergraduate program in neuroscience. Students are admitted through the College and take coursework from School of Medicine faculty.

Now UAB is positioned to grow the program, says Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The curriculum will become more robust, with cross instruction and team-based courses,” Palazzo said. “When multiple scholars from different backgrounds are providing instruction in the same class it provides a richer experience for the students.”

The neuroscience program is the only one in Alabama, and the aim is to provide students the kind of education they could only receive at an elite private university, said David Sweatt, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging and chair of the Department of Neurobiology.

The joint department formalizes a collaboration that began in 2009 when UAB created an undergraduate program in neuroscience. Students are admitted through the College and take coursework from School of Medicine faculty.


“We wanted to look for ways to provide opportunities for students at an affordable price,” Sweatt said. “Our students are phenomenally good. We leveraged outstanding researchers and partnered with undergraduates to provide the kind of college experience most students could only get from Harvard or Stanford, so kids who want to stay in Alabama for their education can stay in Alabama.”

The UAB program gives students experience to do hands-on research funded by the National Institutes of Health, Sweatt said. The Department of Neurobiology receives about $25 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health. “The curriculum is demanding, on par with any in the country, and it makes them successful for the next stage of their career.”

There currently are 78 neuroscience majors; their average grade point average is 3.86 and all of them receive academic scholarships. Minimum requirements are a 30 on the ACT exam and a high school GPA of 3.75, but interest is growing from around the country, according to Carl McFarland, Ph.D., professor of Psychology and co-director of the program with Anne Theibert, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology.

Ray L. Watts, M.D., president of UAB and a renowned neurologist, said neuroscience is an expanding career field, and growing neuroscience is part of UAB’s larger mission of increasing opportunities for students who demonstrate academic excellence in the sciences.


Ray L. Watts, M.D., president of UAB and a renowned neurologist, said neuroscience is an expanding career field, and growing neuroscience is part of UAB’s larger mission of increasing opportunities for students who demonstrate academic excellence in the sciences.

“We have a wealth of excellence in the basic sciences at UAB, and we see it as our mission to expand educational opportunities and nurture students who will help solve the world’s scientific and medical dilemmas,” Watts said. “We hope to expand these types of collaborations in the future.”

The neuroscience program provides students the educational foundation to excel in medical school, dental school or graduate school programs that fuel careers in academia and industry. It also provides UAB faculty new opportunities to become more competitive for research funding and to demonstrate academic leadership in immunology, cancer biology, structural biology, pharmaceutical chemistry and other basic science areas, said Sweatt, who also directs the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at UAB.

Complicated disorders from Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s disease to mental health disorders are rooted in neuroscience.

“Science really understands the body well but the organ we understand least well is the brain,” said David Schwebel, professor of psychology and associate dean for Research in the College. “Neuroscience is clearly one of the more important aspects of science for the next few decades, and one of the grand challenges is to better understand the brain, how it functions.”

“To address the challenges of approaching diseases, interdisciplinary work is going to be more important,” Palazzo said. “Collaboration among different disciplines is necessary to address those challenges.

The program plans to grow enrollment slowly while maintaining its high admission standards, Sweatt and Palazzo said.


Clinton Colmenares

Clinton Colmenares

Contact: (205) 996-7593








McKnight Foundation Press Release

McKnight Brain Research Foundation Announces Support
For Proposed National Brain Study

The McKnight Brain Research Foundation* and its four McKnight Brain Institutes voice strong support for President Barack Obama's plan for a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain by way of a National Study.  According to a report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers in May 2012, total costs of all diseases of the brain in the United States will reach $515 billion and expected to be 19% of the total national health expenditures in 2012.  People with diseases of the brain also have a shortened life expectancy and their quality of life is diminished.

Cognitive decline and dementia associated with aging are major components of the brain diseases in the aging population and the costs of this group alone are projected to be $47.3 billion in 2012 in the United States. The decline in cognitive aging abilities resulting from the aging process is of universal concern.  Older adults make up the fastest growing age group worldwide.  At the present time, there are 700 million people over the age of 60 and it is projected to be two billion by 2050. 

Since its inception in 1999, the McKnight Brain Research Foundation and the host institutions of the four McKnight Brain Institutes have invested over $70 million in support of research in cognitive aging and memory loss associated with the aging process. The foundation promotes research of the brain with the goal of preventing or delaying age-related memory loss, and strives to develop therapeutic interventions.

The McKnight Brain Research Foundation has established Brain Institutes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Arizona, the University of Florida and the University of Miami Miller  School of Medicine.  The research scientists in each of the McKnight Brain Institutes investigate the fundamental mechanisms that underlie the neurobiology of memory and combine their findings with clinical relevance to the problems of age related memory loss.

“The McKnight Brain Research Foundation and its four McKnight Brain Institutes are very excited to merge our complementary goals and objectives with the National Brain study”, said Dr. Robert Wah, trustee of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation.  “We pledge individual and collective dedication to any collaborative research which has the potential of preventing, retarding, or ameliorating cognitive decline associated with the aging process”.

“Aging-associated disorders of cognition exact a heavy toll on families, medical care organizations, and needless to say the patients themselves”, said UAB Evelyn F. McKnight Institute Director Dr. David Sweatt.  “The need for investment in understanding disorders of the brain has never been greater than it is right now”

*The McKnight Brain Research Foundation® ( is a tax exempt organization organized exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes.

Jarvis Johnson = Merck Scholar

Jarvis Johnson has been named a 2013 Merck Scholar sponsored by UNCF.  He is a biology major performing research on epilepsy in Dr. Farah Lubin's lab.  He hopes to one day become a physician who practices clinical research by combing both science and medicine.

Please congratulate Jarvis on this wonderful accomplishment!


Ray L. Watts, M.D., Named Seventh President

Ms. UAB 2012...Deepa Etikala

Deepa Etikala was named Ms. UAB 2012 at the Homecoming game on October 6. She is an outstanding member of the UAB Neuroscience Program and a member of the University Honors Program. It was  Deepa’s outstanding credentials and charming personality that helped her receive the majority of the votes.   

For the complete story go to:

Sweatt on NPR

Dr. Sweatt was featured on NPR's Talk of the Nation "What your Genes Can Tell You About Your Memory." Congratulations to Dr. Sweatt for recognition of his important work in this important way.