Psychiatry’s Dr. Xiaohua Li Appointed Vice Chair for Research

Li-XiaohuaPsychiatry Chairman, Dr. James Meador-Woodruff, is pleased to announce the appointment of Xiaohua Li, M.D., Ph.D. as Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Psychiatry.  Dr. Li is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Behavioral Neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry, a role in which she has distinguished herself as a departmental research leader.  She will continue her role as Division Director while assuming new responsibilities in her role as Vice Chair for research.   Please join the department in welcoming Dr. Li to this new role and congratulating her on this accomplishment!

The Department Welcomes Dr. Jacinda C. Hammel

Jacinda-Hammel-2-177x200The Department of Psychiatry welcomes Jacinda C. Hammel, Ph.D. as Assistant Professor and program co-director for the AIMHS Center for Excellence. Her research focuses on mental health services and her clinical foci include outpatient therapy with adults. She is a member of the UAB Psychology and Internship Training Consortium and will be providing psychotherapy supervision for psychiatry residents.

Dr. Hammel received her first undergraduate degree in Business and Accounting in 1994. In 2001 she received her second Bachelor of Science degree (cum Laude) in psychology from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Her graduate work was completed at Auburn University in 2004 (MS) and 2006 (PhD), where she worked with Dr. F. Dudley McGlynn studying anxiety disorders. Her specific interests were that of “autonomic activity in  generalized anxiety disorder: Sympathetic and parasympathetic activity during worry exposure and decatastrophizing.” Thereafter, she completed her dissertation entitled “Meta-worry and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” As a clinical psychology intern at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Carolina, Dr. Hammel provided therapeutic, assessment and consultation services in a medical setting. Some of those services included mental health, infectious disease, inpatient psychiatry, rehabilitation and medical consultation. She also has extensive teaching and training experience in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, suicide and self-injury prevention, social psychology, behavior therapy, abnormal psychology and lifespan development.

Dr. Hammel’s clinical experience includes private practice and working with the Youth Services Institute of the University of Alabama and the State of Alabama Department of Youth Services. Her duties included working with incarcerated adolescent females, program/policy  development, design and oversight of research, and supervision of clinical staff. Dr. Hammel is currently a co-investigator with the program. She is a member of professional organizations
including the American Psychological Association and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Please join us in welcoming Dr. Hammel to the Department.

Gary Drummond, Jr. Memorial Research Award Created

The Gary Drummond, Jr. Memorial Research Award was created in October 2008 from the generous memoriam support of the community. Dr. Gautam Bijur received the award to fund the pilot stage of his investigation into the treatment of schizophrenia with Omega-3 fatty acids.

It has been suggested that the neurological abnormality for schizophrenia may occur during development in-utero. Evidence for this concept comes from numerous studies showing that environmental factors such as prenatal malnutrition or infections, and perinatal complications result in higher incidence of schizophrenia. The notion that prenatal malnutrition contributes to schizophrenia is particularly interesting because it suggests that the lack of certain essential nutrients may contribute to the disease, or conversely, that supplementation of these nutrients to mothers prior to and during pregnancy may reduce the risk that their children will develop schizophrenia. Also, administration of nutrient supplements to high risk children may protect against the development of schizophrenia, or at least improve some of the symptoms of the disease.

left to right; Dr. Gautam Bijur, Johanna Gandy, Keri Mans and Brittany Holt

One class of nutrient supplements that have garnered some attention by researchers is the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (FAs); especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). EPA is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and it has been proposed that its therapeutic efficacy in some types of brain trauma may be due to its ability to reduce neuroinflammation. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain and is  the primary component of neuronal membranes. Neuronal membrane integrity is essential for conductance of nerve impulses and ultimately the proper release and uptake of neurotransmitters. It is suggested, that DHA and EPA may bolster neuronal signaling and neuronal plasticity. Numerous studies have examined how DHA and EPA protect against brain injury and neuronal death, but no studies to date have actually looked at prenatal supplementation of FAs within the context of schizophrenia. The overarching  goal of Dr. Bijur’s study is to explain how these two FAs, DHA-EPA, affect brain signaling. Low-cost nutritional supplements like DHA-EPA as preventative treatments for schizophrenia are increasingly getting scientific interest and funding because they have the potential to substantially reduce the cost burden of this chronic illness. However, almost nothing is known about how prenatal administration of DHA-EPA affects brain neuronal physiology and signaling. These studies will provide new preliminary data that can lead to a potential therapeutic application for DHA-EPA.

Dr. Bijur and the Department of Psychiatry would like to thank the members of the community who honored Mr. Gary Drummond, Jr. with your memorial gifts to the department.

Clinical Scientist Receives Doris Duke Award

rmccullumsmithDr. Robert McCullumsmith was awarded the 2009 Doris Duke Clinical Scientist Development Award. This 3 year award provides grants to junior physician-scientists to facilitate their transition to independent clinical research careers. . The Doris Duke Foundation provides grants for biomedical research to facilitate the discovery of disease processes and new treatments. Dr. McCullumsmith was nominated by UAB to compete nationally in the Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurosurgery category, is among thirteen other recipients receiving this award across all disease categories, and is only the third clinical scientist from UAB to ever receive this award.