News

Roberson and West take the reins of CNET

Erik Roberson, M.D., Ph.D., and Andrew West, Ph.D., have been named co-directors of the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The duo succeeds David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., who became chair of the Department of Neurology in 2012.

Standaert established CNET in 2007, and it has since grown to include 50 scientists, postdoctoral researchers, students and staff. CNET promotes the discovery of novel treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, teaches scientists and clinicians about these diseases, and facilitates the application of these discoveries to the clinical care of patients.

Roberson and West are associate professors in the UAB Department of Neurology. Roberson’s primary focus is Alzheimer’s disease. West works in Parkinson’s disease.

“Scientists at CNET have led the way in recent advances in our knowledge and understanding of these diseases,” Standaert said. “We are on the cusp of exciting developments in these areas, and Drs. West and Roberson are uniquely qualified to take CNET to the next level.”

CNET is a major participant in the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance, a partnership of UAB, Southern Research Institute and the Birmingham Business Alliance that is designed to speed the translation of UAB discoveries into clinic-ready treatments.

CNET’s focus includes neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and other less common neurodegenerative disorders that occur more frequently with advancing age.

CNET was made possible by visionary donors committed to discovering new drugs that may slow, halt and ultimately reverse the effects of neurodegenerative diseases. UAB continues to aggressively recruit top scientists to expand and accelerate research.

Author: Bob Shepard - UAB Media Relations



Gel reduced daily tremors in Parkinson’s disease

 An experimental treatment for Parkinson’s disease reduced by nearly two hours on average the period each day when medication failed to control patients’ slowness and shaking, according to results from a double-blind, phase III clinical trial published in December 2013, in Lancet Neurology

The study compared AbbVie’s levodopa-carbidopa intestinal gel against the same medication in pill form in patients with advanced disease. 

The University of Alabama at Birmingham was among the sites for the study, with David G. Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Neurology, an author. Led by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, preliminary results from the study were first presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April 2012. 

Parkinson’s disease results from the loss of brain cells that make dopamine, which helps to control movement. As dopamine levels fall, patients experience tremors, muscle stiffness and loss of balance. A commonly prescribed treatment, the levodopa-carbidopa combination works as the body converts levodopa into dopamine and carbidopa escorts levodopa to the right part of the brain. The problem is that patients face hours of uncontrolled slowness, freezing and tremors each day — called “off-time” — as the treatment gets into place or wears off.

One reason for the break in treatment coverage is that it comes in a pill, and pills sit in the stomach for up to six hours waiting for it to empty into the small intestine. It is only there that levodopa encounters the proteins capable of transporting it into the bloodstream en route to the brain. Thus, researchers envisioned a system that steadily delivers levodopa gel directly into the small intestine through a surgically placed tube, and with the help of a pump worn on the belt.

“The results are very exciting, considering that other recently approved drugs on the market reduce off-time by, at most, just over an hour,” said Standaert. “In the study, the gel treatment helped patients who had run out of alternatives with current medications. We believe it may be an important new option for patients with severe Parkinson’s, with benefits comparable to more invasive techniques like deep brain stimulation.”

Patients using the gel system saw an average reduction in daily off-time of 1.91 hours, and an increase in “on-time” without troublesome dyskinesia of 1.86 hours compared with the pill form. Nearly all subjects experienced at least one side effect, although most were short-lived and moderate. 

This study was sponsored by AbbVie, with Standaert and other authors receiving compensation from AbbVie for serving as consultants.


(Courtsey of Bob Shepard)

UAB Medicine launches new physician learning site

UAB Medicine, in collaboration with BroadcastMed, Inc., has launched MD Learning Channel, an online resource that enables medical professionals worldwide to tap into the knowledge and expertise of University of Alabama at Birmingham physicians.

The website, learnmd.uabmedicine.org, offers free Web-based learning and continuing medical education for physicians and other medical professionals. It includes video presentations from UAB School of Medicine faculty physicians discussing new research findings, new procedures and changes and developments in diagnosis or treatment of disease. The site primarily focuses on cancer, neurosciences, pulmonary medicine, women and infants services and cardiovascular medicine and will expand to include additional medical specialties in the future.

“UAB physicians and scientists are at the forefront of medicine, scientific research and discovery and advancement of treatments and patient-focused care,” said Physician Marketing Manager Whitney McDonald. “This site provides an easy, convenient way for UAB to help disseminate its incredible wealth of expertise to medical professionals around the world.”

McDonald says the site’s on-demand service enables physicians and medical professionals to learn as their schedule permits.

“By making the information readily available, we hope to further the mission, vision and successes of the UAB Medicine team, while sharing techniques, procedures and evidence-based care in use here to help others care for their patients,” said McDonald. “We hope that the MD Learning Channel will serve as a platform to foster many growth and development opportunities for health-care providers.”

UAB Medicine has added continuing medical education credit to cancer, neurosciences, Pulmonary and Women & Infants video libraries presentations on the MD Learning Channel. The addition of CMEs further enhances the site by allowing medical professionals free Web-based learning opportunities at the click of a mouse.

There is no charge to individuals who participate in the online evaluation and claim CME credit. Nurses can also claim credits toward their continuing education unit totals.

Stroke mortality is down, but the reason remains a mystery

 

By Nicole Wyatt

 A national group of leading scientists, including one University of Alabama at Birmingham expert, says that for more than 100 years fewer people have been dying of stroke, yet it is still unclear why this decline remains constant.

The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have published a scientific statement, Factors Influencing the Decline in Stroke Mortality, which has also been affirmed by the American Academy of Neurology as an educational tool for neurologists. The statement is published in the AHA journal Stroke.

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and was previously recognized as the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Stroke Association. However, stroke has now fallen to the fourth leading cause of death due to decreases in people dying from it. This has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to acknowledge the decline, and a similar decline in heart disease, as one of the 10 great achievements in public health of the 20th century.

Statement co-author George Howard, Dr.P.H., professor in the Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health, explains that, even with these dramatic decreases, there is still more to be done.

“Stroke has been declining since 1900, and this could be a result of changes leading to fewer people having a stroke or because people are less likely to die after they have a stroke,” Howard said. “Nobody really knows why, but several things seem to be contributing to fewer deaths from stroke.”

Perhaps the biggest contributor to the decline, Howard says, are changes leading to lower blood pressure levels, which is the biggest of the stroke risk factors. Other contributors may include reductions in smoking, better treatment of cholesterol, and how people are cared for after having a stroke.

“We don’t know how much all of the sources are contributing,” Howard said. “Certainly, we want it to keep going down; but if we don’t understand why the numbers are decreasing, we can’t work toward that trend.”

Howard says that, in the last 11 years, stroke deaths have declined by 30 percent.

“It’s a big deal, so you could argue that our battle is won,” he said. “But I think we still have a lot to be accomplished in this area.”

Andrei Alexandrov, M.D., professor of Neurology and director of the UAB Comprehensive Stroke Center, was not affiliated with the statement, but says it brings welcome news.

“This likely is attributable not only to better arterial blood pressure control over recent years, but also to a greater number of neurological specialists focused on stroke care across many hospitals in the United States and abroad,” Alexandrov said. “Better early stroke recognition and specialized care can also reduce the risk of dying from stroke.”

Alexandrov pointed out one finding of the statement — the lower death rate among adults younger than 65 years of age — deserves further attention since a large proportion of stroke victims in the southeastern U.S. are young.

“More efforts are needed to reduce mortality and prevent first-ever stroke incidence, as well as to reverse disability following stroke by improving patient access to hospitals providing clot-busting therapy,” Alexandrov stated. 

Howard agrees that, while stroke prevention and care have played a large part in the decline of stroke mortality, more research needs to be done in stroke prevention.

“This brings up an interesting question: Should more research resources go toward areas where we’ve seen success, or should they go where differences haven’t been made yet?” Howard said. “I’d say there’s an argument for both.”