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.

Engel-School-Staff-ed-401x200On April 30th, 2010 the Association for Child Psychoanalysis (ACP), Inc. recognized the Engel Therapeutic School, a segment of the UAB Department of Psychiatry, with the 2010 Award for Excellence.  Special recognition was given to the UAB Engel Therapeutic Preschool as an early intervention program.

The ACP is a national organization of child psychoanalysts. At its annual meeting each year, the organization recognizes a program committed to analytic developmental principles applied in a community setting.  The Engel Therapeutic School was recognized for the unique service it provides integrating the educational and therapeutic needs of children and adolescents from the preschool level through high school.  Students at the school come from across Jefferson and Shelby Counties, and represent a full spectrum of diversity reflected in these areas.  A requirement for this recognition is that a child psychoanalyst be involved in the program’s implementation.  Both Dr. Sam Rubin and Dr. Lee Ascherman are child psychoanalysts in consultative roles with the Engel School classrooms.  They, along with Dr. Vinita Yallamanchilli, are available to the dedicated teachers of this school to think about the unique developmental challenges these students face, and how best to help them advance in their education and treatment.

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:

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

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

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