Program DirectorCaroline Harada, M.D. Assistant Professor,  Mailing address: Attn: Peter Bosworth CH 19 201 1530 3RD AVENUE S BIRMINGHAM AL 35294-2041  Telephone: (205) 934-9261 Fax: (205) 934-7354

Fellowships Available Post Graduate Fellowships in Geriatric Medicine The Southeast Center for Excellence in Geriatric Medicine is a collaborative venture of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Emory University in Atlanta under the direction of JTed Johnson, M.D. (Emory) and Richard M. Allman, M.D. (UAB). The Center is funded by a grant from The John A. Hartford Foundation and by matching institutional funds from Emory, Wesley Woods, and UAB. The Center provides advanced training for physicians preparing for careers in Geriatric Medicine. The Center capitalized on the proximity, mutual areas of research expertise, and other synergistic collaborations that enhance the capabilities of both programs to serve the educational needs of young physicians interested in careers in academic Geriatric Medicine, and to provide them with the expetise, mentorship, and environment they need for success. In addition to providing training and support for senior Geriatric Medicine felllows and junior faculty, the Center seeks to foster inter-institutional research programs that capitalize on already existing mutual interests and expertise. Program Fellows enroll in the accredited Geriatric Medicine training program at Emory or UAB. Individually customized training curricula will allow fellows to select the most appropriate course of clinical, academic, and research training experiences within the essential framework required for board certification.  Fellowship duties include:  all aspects of clinical geriatrics training, to prepare trainees to take the Geriatric Sub-Specialty Board Qualification.

Postdocs in UAB News

  • King crabs threaten Antarctic ecosystem due to warming ocean
    Predators’ arrival could radically alter marine life

    The king crab Paralomis birsteini, photographed on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay, Antarctica, at a depth of 1100 m.King crabs may soon become high-level predators in Antarctic marine ecosystems where they have not played a role in tens of millions of years, according to a new study on which University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers worked in conjunction with the Florida Institute of Technology and other institutions.

    “No Barrier to Emergence of Bathyal King Crabs on the Antarctic Shelf,” published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ties the reappearance of these crabs to global warming.

    This study is a continuation of previous work in the field of Antarctic marine ecology done by James McClintock, Ph.D., paper co-author and professor in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, along with his colleagues.

    “The rising temperature of the ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula — one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet — should make it possible for king crab populations to move to the shallow continental shelf from their current deep-sea habitat within the next several decades,” said lead author Richard Aronson, Ph.D., professor and head of Florida Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences.

    Researchers found no barriers, such as salinity levels, types of sediments on the seafloor or food resources, to prevent the predatory crustaceans from arriving if the water became warm enough. That arrival would have a huge impact.

    “Because other creatures on the continental shelf have evolved without shell-crushing predators, if the crabs moved in they could radically restructure the ecosystem,” Aronson said.

    Nathaniel B. Palmer in the ice off Marguerite Bay.The study provides initial data and does not by itself prove that crab populations will expand into shallower waters.

    “The only way to test the hypothesis that the crabs are expanding their depth-range is to track their movements through long-term monitoring,” McClintock said.

    In the 2010 to 2011 Antarctic summer, in research funded by the National Science Foundation, the team used an underwater camera sled to document a reproductive population of the crabs for the first time on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula. That area is only a few hundred meters deeper than the continental shelf where the delicate ecosystem flourishes.

    “The mounting anticipation as the researchers watched the transmissions from the seafloor culminated in a mixture of both satisfaction and unease upon the seeing the first image of a king crab on the Antarctic slope,” said Margaret Amsler, a research assistant and co-author from UAB.

    “The overall effect of the migration of king crabs to shallower waters,” said postdoctoral scientist and study co-author Kathryn Smith of Florida Institute of Technology, “would be to make the unique Antarctic ecosystem much more like ecosystems in other areas of the globe, a process ecologists call biotic homogenization.”

    SeaSled towed vehicle being deployed from the Palmer off Marguerite Bay.Such changes, the researchers concluded, would fundamentally alter the Antarctic seafloor ecosystem and diminish the diversity of marine ecosystems globally.

    The data used in the paper were collected during an expedition to Antarctica run jointly by NSF, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and the Swedish Research Council. The expedition included scientists from Florida Tech, UAB, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

    Journalists may access the embargoed paper through EurekAlert. They should register with and request access to PNAS materials. Already registered journalists may request access to PNAS at

    A video version of this news story available by contacting Dena Headlee at or (703) 292-7739.

  • Starting strong in science
    UAB freshman Priya Shah is already a veteran in the lab. In her senior year of high school, she began a tissue-engineering project with UAB researcher Joel Berry, Ph.D., that has led to national honors — and could eventually affect patients worldwide.
    Written by Matt Windsor

    Team science: Shah is working with Joel Berry (left) and Jillian Richter (right) to create a benchtop model of atherosclerosis that could accelerate drug development. Sections of one of the team’s latest bioreactors are visible in the foreground.Priya Shah was looking for a science project. She found much more — an award-winning study, one-on-one mentoring from a veteran researcher and a leading role in a project that could eventually affect millions — all before graduating from high school.

    Shah, now a freshman at UAB and a member of the UAB Honors College’s Science and Technology Honors program, has spent the past year and a half developing a cutting-edge idea in the lab of Joel Berry, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (a joint department of the schools of Engineering and Medicine). Working with Jillian Richter, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, the team is creating a revolutionary bioreactor — a little black box designed to accelerate the drug development process for treating atherosclerosis, the most common cause of heart disease.

    It’s a rare opportunity for any eager young scientist — one made possible by UAB’s world-class research enterprise, mentoring culture and investment in specialized programs focused on student research. “The opportunities you get here to be part of a research team and to get direct mentoring experience as early as your freshman year are pretty unusual across the country,” said Diane Tucker, Ph.D., director of the SciTech Honors program and a professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology.

    Fearlessness and serendipity

    Last spring, Shah was getting ready for her senior year at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA). That meant she needed an independent, mentored research project — a graduation requirement for members of ASFA’s math and science track. She knew she wanted to do something in biomedical engineering, but “I also knew from previous experiences that it’s not easy to find someone to take you on,” Shah said. Undaunted, she started looking through the faculty pages on UAB’s Biomedical Engineering department site.

    Berry’s work with vascular stents caught her eye, and she sent him an email. After an initial meeting, Shah asked if he would be willing to mentor her. “He said ‘sure,’ which was shocking,” Shah said with a laugh. “I wasn’t expecting it to go so smoothly.” Berry, who is also associate director of the SciTech Honors program, has extensive experience working with promising young people who are fascinated by science. Impressed with Shah’s intelligence, maturity and “fearlessness” in talking with researchers, he had the perfect project in mind.

    Berry’s research “centers around devices implanted to replace diseased or damaged tissue in the cardiovascular system — vascular stents and tissue-engineered blood vessels,” he explained. He is also working on tissue-engineered models of breast cancer. “These models are developed from established cell lines, but will eventually be developed from cells extracted from individual patients,” Berry said. The cells are grown in a three-dimensional culture and can be kept alive for weeks at a time by a perfusion system, allowing for patient-specific testing to identify the most effective tumor treatments, he says. The engineered breast cancer research is funded by a grant from the Department of Defense. Berry will seek funding from the National Institutes of Health based on Shah’s work with the atherosclerosis project.

    A black box to tackle atherosclerosis

    Berry, who came to UAB from Wake Forest University five years ago, had an idea that combined his two research interests. He wanted to develop a tissue-engineered blood vessel — not a pristine vessel, but one filled with fatty, cholesterol-laden plaques. These are the hallmarks of atherosclerosis, “the No. 1 killer of adults in the Western world,” Berry said. An accurate benchtop model of atherosclerosis, derived from human cells, would give scientists searching for new treatments an ideal testing ground compared with the animal models currently used.

    Image of the perfusion bioreactor system used to culture engineered vascular tissue for the atherosclerosis project. A sample of the engineered tissue is seen at center.

    But Berry, occupied with his other research, hadn’t had time to develop the idea. Richter, also a biomedical engineering graduate of Wake Forest University and postdoctoral fellow at UAB, began investigating the idea with a unique imaging method known as bioluminescence. After Berry and Richter spent some time with Shah, they both realized she was up to the challenge. Shah quickly learned the process of growing cells, how to transfect them with luminescent viruses, which are used to monitor inflammation in the model arteries, and how to image them with a special camera. She also molded the tubes for the centerpiece of the project, the bioreactor: a shoebox-sized device containing three perpendicular, hollow tubes to give the cells a structure to grow on.

    Through repeated experiments, Shah and Richter figured out the best ways to induce and measure inflammation in their model system. “You don’t always have to have positive results, but you hope,” Shah said. When she let herself into the lab on a Saturday in December 2014 and saw that their final proof-of-concept experiment was a success, “I was very excited,” she said. “I texted a picture to Jillian and to all my friends. I met my family for lunch and said, ‘Guys, it worked!’”

    Building blocks of success

    Shah’s efforts have already attracted plenty of attention. She took home a first prize in the Central Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair (hosted at UAB), followed by a Best in Show award at the statewide Alabama Science and Engineering Fair. Shah also earned a place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held in Pittsburgh in May, along with students from more than 75 countries. Discussing her work in front of renowned experts “was exciting and terrifying at the same time,” Shah recalled.

    Shah was accepted into schools around the country; but UAB’s Biomedical Engineering and Honors programs, and the connections she had made on campus, clinched the deal for her hometown school. “I had two wonderful mentors, and I’ve been exposed to UAB for the past few years — it made a lot of sense for me,” she said.

    “She’s demonstrated an aptitude for science, and all of the personal attributes you need to succeed in science — independence of thought and behavior, and curiosity,” Berry said. Shah will continue to develop these attributes in the SciTech program, Tucker adds. “We work with the students throughout their time at UAB, so we can systematically introduce skills and ways of thinking and approaching problems,” Tucker said. That includes specialized training in everything from lab skills and oral presentations to submitting actual formatted NIH proposals for their research. The students also work together to develop communication and leadership skills “that will allow them to be part of teams that are solving complex problems,” Tucker said.

    “Prospective students come and talk to our current students, see what we have to offer, including substantial study abroad and service learning options, and they can visualize themselves being successful here,” Tucker added. “They sense this is a place where they will thrive.”

    Investing in ideas — and people

    As she settles in for her freshman year, Shah will continue to work on the atherosclerosis project in Berry’s lab. The team now includes two other undergraduate biomedical engineering students (and SciTech program members): Nathan Wells and Ethan Downs. “We’re continuing to gather data that we think puts us in a good position to secure grant funding,” Berry said.

    The project has also benefited from a $5,000 investment from the Invention to Innovation (i2i) initiative. This joint collaboration between the School of Engineering and the UAB Collat School of Business, led by business professor Molly Wasko, Ph.D., is designed to support just such high-potential projects. “The benchtop model of atherosclerosis is a great example of the creative work we’re trying to support here at the Collat School of Business through programs such as i2i,” Wasko said. “We believe that students can change the world when given the chance to work collaboratively with discovery scientists and business partners to accelerate science from campus to the community.” The funds have allowed the team to purchase a digital flowmeter and a pressure transducer, which will allow them to verify that their model is producing realistic blood flow and pressures.

    “This is a collaboration between multiple departments and schools at UAB — to develop an exciting project, but also to nurture an extremely bright and promising young scientist,” Berry said.

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UAB Research News

  • Community Engagement Institute links community leaders and academic researchers
    UAB’s Community Engagement Institute brings academic researchers and community leaders together to brainstorm ways to improve Birmingham, the region and the world.
    Written by Christina Crowe

    Keynote speaker Sampson Davis, M.D., tours the poster session.The second annual Community Engagement Institute enjoyed an overflow crowd for the daylong education and training event designed to benefit both community and academic partners.

    The event, held Oct. 2 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, was organized by the University of Alabama at BirminghamCenter for Clinical and Translational Science’s One Great Community Council and the UAB Center for the Study of Community Health’s Jefferson County Community Participation Board.

    Author and physician Sampson Davis, M.D., addressed the more than 250 individuals in attendance about the importance of family and community support in cultivating personal success. Davis returned to his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, after graduating from medical school where he and two of his high school friends — who also became doctors — started an organization called The Three Doctors. Their goal is to spread the word of health, education and youth mentoring, and become “the Michael Jordan of education,” so that learning becomes a glamorized trend throughout all communities.

    In the afternoon, Al Richmond, MSW, executive director, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, shared some of what he has learned in his more than 25 years in a career that uniquely blends social work and public health to address racial and ethnic health disparities.

    “This event is setting the stage for enhanced community engagement, for learning about what people can do in their own communities, as well as displaying the diversity of resources available at UAB,” Richmond said.

    This year’s CEI event was free to the public, and attendance more than doubled from last year. Attendees represented members of more than 100 Greater Birmingham faith-based organizations, universities, government and nonprofit agencies, local and state health department representatives, community organizers, city and county officials, and representatives from the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The CEI’s breakout sessions touched on three topics: activism, advocacy and community organizing; structural racism and community health; and ways to fully involve communities in collaborative research.

    The CEI’s breakout sessions touched on three topics: activism, advocacy and community organizing; structural racism and community health; and ways to fully involve communities in collaborative research.

    New this year, the CEI poster session featured more than 30 posters on a diverse array of public health topics, including domestic violence and HIV awareness and prevention programs, and other projects dedicated to tackling tough local public health issues. Event attendees were encouraged to network and receive a directory of all attendees’ names to facilitate future collaborations.

    Max Michael, M.D., dean of the UAB School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of working to foster collaborations between higher education institutions and their larger communities.

    “The momentum for this event continues to grow,” Michael said, “and reflects the desire by our Greater Birmingham community members from a broad range of organizations to have a platform to engage in meaningful conversations about how we can improve our communities’ public health.”

    “We continue to be encouraged by the response to this important event, which highlights the deep knowledge, experience and talent in our communities,” said Shauntice Allen, Ph.D., director of One Great Community. “We plan to harness the momentum the CEI generates to work toward achieving, and maintaining, improved health outcomes for our community as a whole.”

    Videos of Davis’ and Richmond’s talks, as well as photos of the event, are available on the CEI website,

  • UAB study finds possible frontline therapy for older patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma
    UAB researcher reports that brentuximab vedotin may be effective therapy for older patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma who cannot tolerate standard therapy.

    Andres ForeroA new University of Alabama at Birmingham research study reports that brentuximab vedotin is an effective and safe first course of treatment for older patients with Hodgkin lymphoma that cannot be treated with conventional combination chemotherapy.

    Results of the study, led by Andres Forero, M.D., professor in the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology, were published online last month in Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology.

    In 2014, about 9,190 patients were diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in the United States, and up to 20 percent of newly diagnosed Hodgkin Lymphoma patients are 60 years of age or older.

    While standard chemotherapy can achieve complete remissions and cures in younger patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, the majority of those 60 and older either are ineligible because of other serious medical conditions or refuse treatment in order to avoid complications related to drug toxicity.

    “The biology in older patients may differ from that of younger patients,” Forero said. “Additionally, the presence of other illnesses, particularly cardiac dysfunction, may limit administration of standard regimens. It became clear to us that, as the rate of remission is much lower for older compared to younger Hodgkin lymphoma patients, there is a clear need for less toxic treatments that allow patients 60 and older to complete their full regimen without complications or interruptions.”

    Forero, a senior scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, has a long history of developing promising therapies for lymphoma and of working with drugs like brentuximab vedotin, a therapy that targets Hodgkin lymphoma cells and delivers a potent dose of chemotherapy without harming healthy cells. In previous studies, brentuximab vedotin has been shown to achieve remissions in patients with relapsed or treatment-resistant disease.

    To examine the potential of brentuximab vedotin as a first course of treatment for older Hodgkin lymphoma patients, Forero and his team evaluated 26 patients, ages 64-92, who were ineligible for conventional chemotherapy or declined treatment after receiving information about its risks. The aim was to gather more information about the safety of brentuximab vedotin and how well it worked.

    Researchers administered 1.8 mg/kg of intravenous brentuximab vedotin treatment every three weeks for up to 16 doses. Those who benefited from the drug could continue beyond this time period until disease progression, unacceptable toxicity or study closure. Patients received a median of eight cycles, with four completing 16 and one completing 23 cycles.

    “In this population of older patients with Hodgkin lymphoma who were unfit for standard chemotherapy, we observed that brentuximab vedotin as a single agent produced a very high rate of response, including a very high rate of complete remission.”

    “In this population of older patients with Hodgkin lymphoma who were unfit for standard chemotherapy, we observed that brentuximab vedotin as a single agent produced a very high rate of response, including a very high rate of complete remission,” Forero said.

    At the time of analysis, 92 percent of patients achieved a complete or partial response to the drug that lasted about 9.1 months. Of those, 73 percent achieved a complete remission that lasted about 9.2 months. The treatment was generally well-tolerated and consistent with previous reports of brentuximab vedotin in patients with relapsed and treatment-resistant Hodgkin lymphoma. As expected, the toxicity that was observed was mild and reversible sensory neuropathy, which is decreased sensitivity in the fingers and toes. Fewer than half of the patients experienced fatigue and nausea.

    “While we observed promising responses, the next step is to evaluate this drug in combination with additional chemotherapy or immunotherapies that might allow us to prolong the response without relapse,” Forero said.

    Direct funding for this research was issued by Seattle Genetics, Inc., through the joint financial support of Seattle Genetics, Inc., and Takeda Pharmaceuticals International Co.

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