Rita Cowell, Ph.D. Awarded 5-Yr Grant

Rita-Cowell-161x200Dr. Rita Cowell, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurobiology, has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to investigate how certain neurons and brain regions are affected in Huntington Disease (HD). HD is a devastating neurological disorder involving progressive deterioration of psychiatric and motor function over a period of years, leading to death. While the genetic basis for HD is known, there are no effective therapies available. With this funding from NINDS, Dr. Cowell’s lab will investigate cellular pathways that control the function and survival of specific neurons in the brain in animal models of HD, with the goal of identifying novel targets for the treatment of patients. Other work from the Cowell lab suggests that these same cellular pathways are disrupted in schizophrenia, and her lab will be trying to determine whether the psychiatric symptoms that HD patients suffer from (like psychosis and depression) can be explained by the changes in the functioning of these pathways. Local co-investigators/consultants on the grant include Dr. Peter Detloff (Genetics), Dr. Lynn Dobrunz (Neurobiology), and Dr. Mathieu Lesort (Psychiatry). An article describing the research that formed the basis for the grant is currently in press at the Journal of Neuroscience.

Dr. Cowell completed her bachelor of science in Biology at the University of Illinois in 1997 and her PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Michigan in 2002. In September 2006, she joined the lab of Dr. James Meador-Woodruff at UAB as an Assistant Professor after finishing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. In June 2008, she was granted her own lab space on the newly renovated 7th floor of the Sparks Building. Dr. Cowell is happy to be part of such a vibrant and collaborative neuroscience community.

Psychiatry Resident Helps Birmingham’s Youth

Kappa-League-2There is little need to remind people of the negative statistics haunting the youth of Birmingham—we are nationally ranked as a most dangerous city, in a state with a high school graduation rate well below the national average.  It would be easy for many young people to fall into the cycle of dropping out of high school and going down the wrong path in life.  Dr. Theo Morgan, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Resident, decided that Birmingham’s youth deserved a better chance at success.  Along with local physician, Dr. Hernando Carter, Dr. Morgan formed The Kappa League Leadership and Development Program, a mentoring and training program or young men in high school.  The program originates from The Guide Right Program, an initiative of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. dating back to 1920.

Each chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi is challenged with creating a program tailored to the needs of the local area.  Recognizing that high school social organizations and clubs are extremely popular in the Birmingham Area School system, the Birmingham Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. chose to build upon this enthusiasm for participation in these clubs by modeling aspects of the Kappa League Program around a social club while providing mentoring in key areas.  The Kappa League Program has five areas of emphasis or phases: Phase I, Self Identity; Phase II, Training; Phase III, Competition; Phase IV, Social; and Phase V, Health Education.

The young men meet monthly for two hours.  The first hour is designated “Phase Meeting” where modules are in place for enrichment.  The young men just completed a three month module in professional development where they were exposed to proper professional dress, résumé building, and interviewing skills.  The module culminated in a mock interview where the young men were given a chance to utilize their new skills.  Other modules this year will deal with sexual education and awareness, the role of a leader, and drugs in our communities.

The second hour of the meeting is “club time”.  The club is modeled to run like a professional organization.  The young men are exposed to and expected to utilize Roberts Rules of Order.  They plan and develop an agenda for each meeting, as well as a calendar for the year.  They must plan and execute an event in each of the following areas: Community Service, Fund-raising, and Social.  They are also required to attend bi-weekly study hall and ACT preparatory courses.

Dr. Morgan, along with Dr. Carter, simply want to help these young men be good at whatever they choose to do.  “Whether they choose to go to college or to learn a trade, we just want them to work hard and not allow anything to hold them back.  I have enjoyed working with these young men to ensure they never feel the burden of the statistics facing Birmingham youth.”

The Kappa League is geared toward young men in the 9th-12th grades in Birmingham area high schools.  If you have any questions about the program or would like to support their efforts please contact Dr. Morgan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness Through Volunteering

Salvation-Army-with-Credit-217x300It’s been almost six months since Christmas and many of us might find it difficult to even remember what we were able to accomplish during the rush of the holiday season.  On May 17, 2010, the Consumers of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Engel Adult Day Treatment Program received a nice reminder of what they accomplished, when they were awarded the 2009 – 2010 Volunteer Group of the Year by the Salvation Army.  This award is in recognition of each Consumer’s outstanding service and commitment to help others.

For the last nine years, Consumers and staff have participated in the annual Angel Tree Christmas activity in Birmingham.  It began as an opportunity for the Consumers to provide a service to their community and over the years, it has also become an avenue to educate others regarding mental illness.

With popular Christmas carols playing in the background, each Consumer worked side-by-side with other community volunteers to quickly transform the empty warehouse into Santa’s Workshop.  No matter what the assignment, the Consumers were always eager to lend a helping hand.  From the first days of sweeping floors and assembling boxes to the last days of organizing and filling the requests of each ”Angel”, the Consumers were there to ensure that Christmas would be a joyful time for all.

Each year, the comments made by the Consumers have a common theme, “I feel good knowing that I’ve been able to help other people”.  This experience has encouraged several of the Consumers to volunteer their time to other community projects.  As one Consumer said, “every time I go out and volunteer, I’m doing my part to reduce the stigma of mental illness”.

Gulf Spill Can Have Emotional Impact on Children, Says UAB Expert

Vivian-Friedman-on-the-Oil-Spill-300x167Gail Short with UAB’s Media Relations interviews Dr. Vivian Friedman about the emotional effects the gulf oil spill has on children.  To read the full article and watch the interview with Dr. Friedman, visit:  UAB Media Relations

Dr. Francisca Mgbodile Wins Physician of the Year Award

Mgbodile-Accepting-AwardThe Department of Psychiatry would like to congratulate Dr. Francisca Mgbodile on winning the Physician of the Year award at the 2010 Alabama Black Achievers Gala in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Mgbodile is an attending pediatric psychiatrist at UAB and at Children’s Hospital of Alabama, co-director of pediatric psychiatry, consultation liaison for UAB and at the Children’s Hospital along with being the President and founder of the Maria Regina Foundation. Please join us in congratulating her in this wonderful achievement. Her hard work and dedication to patient care has truly made a difference in our community and with others.