Building Hope with Maria Regina Foundation

The Maria Regina Foundation (MRF) is a non-profit organization that delivers health services to the most vulnerable and poorest segments of Africa and Alabama.  They also provide educational opportunities to children and adolescents.

To better understand the goal of the MRF, its founder Dr. Francisca MgBodile, Assistant Professor Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, describes its history:
I was born and raised in a remote village of Abor in the eastern part of Nigeria.  I moved to the United States as an adult, after completing medical school in Africa. My life improved upon coming to the United States, but I never forgot my experiences in Africa.  From my own life, I knew all about the importance of a good education.  Also, I knew about the poor health situation in Abor and the whole continent of Africa.  Visits to my village in the past years have increasingly opened my eyes to the great need for more help. During a trip in 2008, I visited local schools and health clinics. The children in the villages are eager to learn, even though their parents are struggling to send them to school for a bright future. Poverty, ill health, and lack of basic medical care are some of the struggles families deal with each day.  Personally, I feel that part of the solution is helping individuals.  However, I sincerely believe that it is better to launch a community based approach to ensure self-sufficiency and to foster independence.  Empowering people toward independence makes more sense and is more sustainable than tackling problems individually.  My family has been helping individuals since 2003, when we started “Mission Africa.”  We have provided scholarships to grade school children, medications to elderly villagers who came to our house, and clothing and food to poor families for Christmas.  From these beginnings, one person at a time, I have developed a network of people sharing my desire to assist in a more comprehensive and community-based manner.  Thus, the Maria Regina Foundation was formed in December 2008.

With the brief yet poignant history of the MRF, Dr. Mgbodile established a solid mission that is dedicated to mobilizing resources to empower poor communities in Africa.  Education and improved access to health care services are critical in empowering people to escape the cycle of poverty and become independent.

Last year 2009, marked the foundation’s first project, raising funds and other resources toward improving education and access to basic medical care.  Funds raised by the foundation were used to provide, among other things, three weeks of free medical clinics in four villages in Enugu state of Nigeria: Abor, Ukana, Awhum, and Nsude.  Services were provided using already existing church buildings, schools, and village squares.  Activities featured include free medical screening, treatment of minor illnesses, and referrals for people experiencing more serious medical problems.  Local doctors, nurses, medical students, and other non-profit organizations volunteered in providing those services.

The foundation’s first education project will include summer and fall education programs for children in grades K-6.  The foundation’s focus will be on increasing children’s mastery of basic reading, writing, and math skills; raising student academic expectations and self-esteem; and empowering parents to develop effective mentoring relationships with their children.

For children and adolescents in grades 7-12, the focus will be on providing remedial instructions for students performing below grade level.  This will help prepare these learners to take the West African Examination Certificate (WAEC) and increase the odds that they will pass it.

These projects highlight the foundation’s ultimate mission:
“We strive to serve communities by creating schools and bolstering existing ones. We provide basic medical and mental health services to less privileged undeserved communities.”

For more information please feel free to contact Dr. Francisca MgBodile at: Phone: 205-908-5874 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Dr. Mgbodile (center) with children at their school
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The pharmacy at one of the outdoor clinics
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Dr. Mgbodile (left) handing out medicine to the villagers at the outdoor clinic

Transitional Psychiatry Clinic Wins Award

The “Transitional Psychiatry Clinic” (TPC) won third place in the impact category of the UAB Health System 2010 Innovation Awards.  This is a considerable achievement recognized by the UAB Health System CEO Council.  Congratulations to Dr. Cheryl McCullumsmith for this outstanding accomplishment which is a tribute to her hard work and creativity.  Her exceptional leadership of this program is greatly appreciated.  For more information about the innovation awards and the TPC visit the UAB Health System Web Site

Identifying Proteins and Genes in the Brain to Battle Bipolar Disorder

Dr-Jope-Li-208x200Bipolar disorder is a severe type of mood disorder with uncontrollable mood swings between mania and depression.  The illness afflicts approximately 2% of the population and is debilitating and life-threatening if untreated.  However, the mechanisms affecting brains of bipolar disorder patients are unknown, which largely limits the treatment options for these patients.  Therefore, mechanistic insights gained by identifying proteins and genes in brain that contribute to both manic and depressive symptoms are critical for deciphering the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder and developing new therapeutic interventions.

A protein called glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) has been suspected to be a risk factor contributing to bipolar disorder since the therapeutically effective mood stabilizer lithium can stop its function in the brain.  As a joint effort, research teams led by Drs. Xiaohua Li and Richard Jope in the UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology have conducted research in understanding the role of GSK3 in the therapeutics of bipolar disorder.  They have found that the inhibitory serine phosphorylation of GSK3 is a major regulatory mechanism controlling GSK3 by several bipolar disorder treatments, including lithium, other mood stabilizers, some antipsychotics, and antidepressants.

In their most recent study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, a high impact journal in psychiatric research, they tested a hypothesis that insufficient serine phosphorylation of GSK3 poses a risk for developing symptoms characteristic of bipolar disorder.  Indeed, serine-phosphorylation of GSK3 in animal brains was reduced when hyperactivity was induced by amphetamine and when depressive behaviors were induced by stress.  When tested in an animal model in which GSK3 is genetically engineered to block the inhibitory serine-phosphorylation, they found that insufficient GSK3 serine phosphorylation increased susceptibility of animals to amphetamine-induced hyperactivity and to stress-induced depressive-like behaviors. Importantly, reduced serine-phosphorylation of GSK3 was found in blood cells from bipolar disorder patients who were either in a manic or a depressive episode, and the amplitude of GSK3 reduction correlates with severity of clinical symptoms.  Therefore, proper control of GSK3 by serine-phosphorylation is an important mechanism that regulates mood stabilization, and new drugs developed specifically against GSK3 serine phosphorylation may have important therapeutic implication in bipolar disorder.  Additionally, animals with genetically blocked GSK3 serine-phosphorylation may provide a valuable model to study bipolar disorder.

Neuropsychopharmacology, in press (2010)

Deficiency in the inhibitory serine-phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 increases sensitivity to mood disturbances

Abigail Polter1,2, Eleonore Beurel1, Sufen Yang1, Rakesha Garner1, Ling Song1, Courtney A. Miller2, J. David Sweatt2, Lori McMahon2,3, Alfred A. Bartolucci4, Xiaohua Li1,2*§, and Richard S. Jope1*§ *These authors contributed equally to this project

1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, 2Department of Neurobiology, 3Department of Physiology and Biophysics, 4Department of Biostatistics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA

Annual Research Symposium Exhibits the Strength of UAB Psychiatry

The UAB Department of Psychiatry held its Fourth Annual Research Symposium on April 13, 2010.  The event included poster presentations from our faculty, graduate students, and residents followed by three oral presentations.  Two Department of Psychiatry faculty members presented: Dr. Jacinda Hammel, Implementing Evidence Based Practices and Dr. Karen Gamble, Night Owls and Early Birds: Circadian Regulation and Mental Health.  A special presentation, Medial Prefrontal Cortex in PTSD: The Role on Contextual Processing, was given by our distinguished guest, Dr. Israel Liberzon.  Dr. Liberzon is the Theophile Raphael Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Michigan.

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UAB Research Highlighted at NARSAD Symposium

The UAB Department of Psychiatry and the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center hosted NARSAD’s Healthy Minds Across America symposium Saturday, April 10th.  The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) supports research into prevention and treatment of mental illnesses.  The event was designed to educate the public about the research being done at the national and local levels on the topics of schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, autism, PTSD, and addiction.  UAB was one of over 45 institutions across the nation that hosted a symposium.  Presentations were given by: Adrienne Lahti, M.D.; Dr. F. Cleveland Kinney, M.D.; and Karen Gamble, Ph.D.  Dr. Lahti’s presentation was titled: “Does brain imaging help us understand the mechanism of action of antipsychotic drugs?”; Dr. Kinney’s talk was titled: “Alzheimer’s Disease: An update on management and treatment”; and Dr. Gamble’s presentation was titled: “Night owls and early birds: Circadian regulation and mood disorders.”  Below are pictures taken at the event.  If you would like to learn more about NARSAD and the work they do please visit their web site: www.narsad.org

 

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Moderator, Dr. Xiaohua Li, discusses one of her research posters with attendees
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Presenter, Dr. Adrienne Lahti, talking with guests at the event
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The events expert panel taking questions from the audience