One of the things that makes medical care at major academic medical centers like UAB special is the scientific discovery that unfolds daily that helps us understand biological mechanisms in ways that lead to better care for people suffering injury or disease. Patients might never see the inside of a laboratory, but they can rest assured that the care they receive is informed by world-class research taking place right here on our campus.
In the past few weeks, Orlando Gutierrez, M.D., an assistant professor in Nephrology, Anath Shalev, M.D., director of our Comprehensive Diabetes Center and David Sweatt, Ph.D., chair of Neurobiology, have each published high-profile research that highlight the School of Medicine’s scientific prominence.
Several years ago Dr. Shalev proved she was ahead of her time, and her peers, when she showed that a protein called TXNIP is responsible for the death of beta cells in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The finding shifted the paradigm in diabetes research; scientists who once told her she was wasting her time are now studying TXNIP. In her most recent publication, in Nature Medicine, Dr. Shalev showed that TXNIP also plays a role in decreasing insulin production, a surprising finding. Armed with this research, Dr. Shalev is working with UAB’s Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance and Southern Research Institute to translate the science into a new class of diabetes drugs.
In Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Sweat and first author Jeremy Day, Ph.D., a post-doctoral scholar, provided the first detailed explanation of how the brain forms “reward memories” from environmental cues related to pleasure, like how the aroma from a bakery reminds us of a mouthful of warm, buttery bread. The results show that new reward memories fire circuits in the brain that are different from the circuits that fire to form the recall euphoria of cocaine, which contradicts the conventional theory that addiction hijacks normal reward pathways. It also suggests that new medications can be created to fight addictions without sacrificing pleasure. Watch a video interview with Dr. Day and read more here.
Dr. Gutierrez’s research adds to our understanding about the association between kidney disease and heart disease and sheds more light on biological differences between races that affect disease rates. In a study published in JAMA, Dr. Gutierrez, using data from the UAB-led REGARDS study, showed that African-Americans have higher levels of urinary albumin secretion than whites, and that a high albumin-to-creatinine ratio in African-Americans, but not in whites, is associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease. The next step is to determine if using the albumin-creatinine ratio provides better diagnosis and outcomes from cardiovascular disease among African-Americans.
Publishing research not only contributes to science, it also provides more evidence on which physicians can base their decisions, and that means better care for patients.