Mentor:  Kai Jiao, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Genetics, Division of Research, 720 20th Street S., KAUL 768, Birmingham, AL 35294-0024, (205) 996-4198,

A postdoctoral position is available to study functions of Tgf-beta/Bmp signaling pathways during cardiogenesis using mouse as the model system. The major focus of the lab is to characterize several unique congenital heart disease mouse models using complementary genetic, molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches. Research in the lab is supported by newly funded by grants from American Heart Association and NIH.

Application Requirements: Recently obtained Ph.D. or equivalent degree, with experience in molecular genetics and cellular biology. Experience in embryology and/or histology is a plus. E-mail CV and list of references to: Kai Jiao, M.D., Ph.D. Email:

Postdocs in UAB News

  • Allison elected fellow of the American Heart Association
    UAB’s David Allison, Ph.D., has been named to a prestigious fellowship with the American Heart Association for his work in nutrition and obesity.

    David B. Allison, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health and Quetelet Endowed Professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has been elected as a fellow of the American Heart Association, Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.

    Election as a fellow of AHA recognizes an individual’s scientific and professional accomplishments and volunteer leadership and service. Fellowship is open to scientists, physicians, clinical professionals and academicians with a major and productive interest in nutrition, physical activity, obesity or diabetes.

    Allison, who is also the associate dean for science in SOPH and the director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center and Office of Energetics, received his Ph.D. from Hofstra University in 1990. He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a second postdoctoral fellowship at the NIH-funded New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital Center. He joined the UAB faculty in 2001.

    He has written more than 500 scientific publications and edited five books. He has won several awards, including the 2002 Lilly Scientific Achievement Award from The Obesity Society, the 2002 Andre Mayer Award from the International Association for the Study of Obesity, and the National Science Foundation Administered 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

    He was elected as a fellow of the American Statistical Association in 2007, the American Psychological Association in 2008, the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2009, the NY Academy of Medicine in 2014 and the Gerontological Society of America in 2014, and was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars in 2013. He holds several NIH grants, including one of the Common Fund’s NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award titled “Energetics, Disparities & Lifespan: A unified hypothesis.”

  • U.S. biomedical postdoctoral fellow numbers decline, UAB researcher finds
    “A major issue facing biomedical research,” says Fran Lund, chair of UAB microbiology.

    The number of U.S. biomedical postdoctoral fellows has fallen for three years in a row, an unprecedented decline that University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Louis Justement, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and Brown University call “an end to the era of expansion.”

    For 31 years since 1979, the number of biomedical postdocs had increased nearly every year, except for single-year dips in 1982, 1995 and 1999, according to analysis of data from the National Science Foundation Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. But in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — the most recent data available — that trend reversed. The number of biomedical postdocs fell each of those three years, with consecutively larger drops each year and an overall three-year decline of 5.5 percent, to a total of 38,719.

    “… unless we find some way to improve career prospects for early-career scientists, we risk losing the talent that will be essential for our future progress in the biologic and medical sciences,” Justement, first author Howard Garrison, Ph.D., and Susan Gerbi, Ph.D., wrote in a recent FASEB Journal paper. They conclude that a continued decline in the number of postdocs could diminish the quality and quantity of research because postdocs, along with graduate students, are the majority of the biomedical research workforce. Garrison is director of public affairs at FASEB, Justement is a UAB professor of microbiology, and Gerbi is a professor of biochemistry at Brown.

    “This is a major issue facing biomedical research,” commented Frances Lund, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology. “It’s good to see that we have faculty at UAB who are working to influence science policy by providing data to support what is entirely obvious to those working in science but may not be evident to those responsible for setting the science budgets.”

    The authors say possible causes of the drop could include a decrease in qualified applicants, though data do not seem to support that; technical changes in employment titles from postdoc to something else; diminished demands for postdocs; or shifting patterns in the number of doctorate-holders willing to take postdoc positions. They note that the inflation-adjusted NIH budget lost 19 percent of its purchasing power from 2003 to 2012, and the number of RO1-like NIH grants fell by 11 percent in that same period.

    “… it may be that the declining purchasing power of grants and the rising cost of postdoctoral stipends and benefits reached critical threshold after 2010,” they wrote. “Postdocs are the most vulnerable part of the workforce, hired for short-duration, temporary positions. Therefore, as research budgets come under increased pressure, it would be expected that this group would be affected most.”

    Also, they say, Ph.D. recipients may be deciding to forgo a postdoctoral position for different career options, in the face of a tight academic labor market and uncertain prospects for success. The loss of talented research personnel threatens biomedical research.

    “A continued loss of postdocs without an alternative source of talented research personnel will slow our rate of progress,” they concluded. “We need to develop a steady-state model for the biomedical research workforce while maintaining the vitality and excellence of the enterprise.”

    UAB has also seen a decline in postdocs.

    “Looking at numbers from over the past nine years, we have seen a decline of approximately 20 percent in the total number of Ph.D. postdocs here at UAB,” said Lisa Schwiebert, the UAB associate dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, and a professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology. “As discussed in Dr. Justement’s paper, this is likely the result of several concurrent forces, including but not limited to a decrease in NIH funding, coupled with increased awareness of career options that don’t require a postdoc. Despite this trend, we continue to actively recruit postdocs, as they represent a critical part of the research program here at UAB. We work diligently to provide them with opportunities to broaden their professional skills and development, so that they are able to pursue the career of their choice.”

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UAB Research News

  • UAB Nursing’s Moneyham elected to two-year term on NLN Board of Governors
    Moneyham was elected to the position in October and will continue in her role as president-elect of the Alabama League for Nursing.

    University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Linda Moneyham, Ph.D., was recently elected as a governor-at-large to the National League for Nursing Board of Governors. 

    Moneyham was elected, and her two-year term began, at the NLN’s 2015 Education Summit in Las Vegas in early October. She is also president-elect of the Alabama League for Nursing and has previously served on the Board of Directors for the Georgia League for Nursing. 

    The NLN is the premier organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education, offering faculty development, networking opportunities, testing services, nursing research grants and public policy initiatives to its more than 40,000 individual, and more than 1,200 institutional, members, which comprise nursing education programs across the spectrum of higher education and health care organizations.

  • Strategic investments will boost UAB research and economic development
    UAB Research Administration carefully invests to keep investigators competitive in an era of tight grant funding.

    (Left) Richard Marchase, Ph.D., vice president for Research and Economic Development, and Kent Keyser, Ph.D., assistant vice president for ResearchThe University of Alabama at Birmingham is an economic engine for metro Birmingham, and research is a key driver. This impact can be measured by both the hundreds of millions of grant and contract dollars flowing to UAB and the potential to leverage the resulting discoveries and innovations into commercialization.

    To keep UAB’s research engine in tune and boost its performance, the UAB Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, or OVPRED, strives toward three paramount goals, says Vice President Richard Marchase, Ph.D.:

    • Facilitate the best grant applications, via a new electronic portal to Research Administration.
    • Maximize research capacity
    • Enhance the economic development that is based on UAB research and scholarship

    Major changes to improve each of these goals are underway in OVPRED, as UAB’s strategic planning process continues. These changes take place in an increasingly competitive environment for federal grant dollars, where the inflation-adjusted National Institutes of Health budget from 2003 to 2012 has lost 19 percent of its purchasing power. Research universities must more and more act like the private sector in their quest for efficiency, streamlined procedures, great customer relations and new business development. Many steps are being taken toward each of the three goals.

    UAB offices involved in IRAP include:
    • Office of Sponsored Programs
    • Institutional Review Board for Human Use
    • Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
    • Material Transfer Office
    • Conflict of Interest Review Board
    • Animal Resources Program.

    “Thanks to our gifted and dedicated research faculty, staff and students, our federal research funding has increased in spite of overall declines nationwide in recent years,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Dr. Marchase and his team have developed and continue to implement a thoughtful and aggressive strategic vision that will capitalize on our positive momentum and lead to even more impactful results across our research enterprise.”  

    The new electronic portal to Research Administration

    The major stream of UAB research dollars — including $225 million of NIH funding in fiscal 2015 — is awarded through successful grant applications. Yet the administrative burdens in proposal, protocol and report preparation are major hurdles that impede research efforts.

    UAB is building a single electronic entrance to its research administration offices — an interconnected group of 12 software modules called the Integrated Research Administration Portal, or IRAP. Through these, researchers can look for funding opportunities, connect with the variety of offices involved in grants and research, and have the ability to look up all records connected with a grant application. Common supporting records and documents can be shared across the modules, eliminating the need for redundant forms. Researchers can learn where a pending application is in the process. Administrators can better find and fix bottlenecks that impede workflow and lengthen turnaround times.

    Effect of IRAP on processing turnaround times, 2014-15:
    • Receiving Material Transfer Agreements, 35 percent reduction (about 17 days)
    • Initial protocols by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, 30 percent reduction (about 20 days)

    UAB has opened seven of the 12 planned IRAP modules, Marchase says. As IRAP increases accountability in the research administration procedures, the research support units are emphasizing a customer-service mindset toward their customers — the UAB investigators.

    Maximizing research capacity — industry support

    Jason Nichols, O.D., MPH, Ph.D., assistant vice president for Industry Research DevelopmentMost of UAB’s research support comes from federal agencies that have strict rules and little entrepreneurial flavor. A far different revenue stream stems from contracts with industry, which offer flexibility and room for entrepreneurship.

    To better connect with that revenue stream, UAB opened an Office of Industry Engagement this fall.

    “The trend in academia is to form a separate office to deal with industry, to get efficiency and speed,” said Assistant Vice President for Industry Research Development Jason Nichols, O.D., MPH, Ph.D., who came to UAB in August from the University of Houston, where he ran clinical trials and did vision science research. “We want to be industry-friendly, both internally and externally.”

    Nichols’ office is examining existing practices with industry contracts: How do we do things; where are our efficiencies; where are our inefficiencies? The office also engages industry, to identify and strengthen key relationships, and to foster new relationships.

    “We are a single point of contact,” Nichols said. “We can help investigators and offer advice on contracts. In a research agreement, you can negotiate for anything. They require a more entrepreneurial spirit.”

    Nichols wants industry to view UAB as friendly to work with. That will begin with decreasing the time it takes to execute a Confidential Disclosure Agreement, the initial step to a possible contract. Responsibility for executing those agreements moved to Nichols’ office, and more input into the completion of the ensuing industry Research Agreements will follow.

    Done well, Nichols office will lead to industry contracts that result in good science for the researchers and good data for industry. “The No. 1 goal is to build the research portfolio, and let people know we are here to support one-stop shopping,” Nichols said.

    UAB contracts for industry support:
    • Fiscal year 2014, $40.4 million
    • Fiscal year 2015, $46 million
    • About 80 percent of contract funds are for clinical trials with potential benefits to patients, including 186 trials worth $34 million in fiscal year 2015

    Maximizing research capacity — funds to support core facilities

    Kent Keyser, Ph.D., assistant vice president for Research, leads two other efforts to maximize research capacity at UAB. The first involves core facilities — the centralized, shared research resources that provide access to instruments, technologies and services, and have dedicated personnel, equipment and space.

    Support for cores traditionally comes from fees charged to users and P-type grants from NIH. In the current tight funding environment, this support is shrinking, yet cores remain an essential part of UAB’s research capability and competitiveness.

    Criteria for core support:
    • How large and widespread is the user base?
    • What is the state of the technology?
    • Does the core have a reasonable business plan?
    • Is the core an important part of the UAB research portfolio?

    This spring, OVPRED issued a request for applications from existing UAB cores that needed institutional support because of revenue shortfalls. Out of 20 applications, 12 cores were chosen by a panel from four different UAB schools, and they will be funded for a total of $700,000 a year for three years. The support levels range from $30,000 to $100,000.

    Some cores were selected for revenue shortfalls like the loss of a P grant or sharp increases in reagent and material costs. Some were selected because they need developmental funds. “Both are meritorious investments,” Keyser said.

    Maximizing research capacity — new pilot interdisciplinary research centers

    Keyser’s second effort to help maximize research capacity involves UAB’s university-wide interdisciplinary research centers, such as the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. There are 20 approved centers; but evolving strategic needs also require the launch of new, pilot centers focused on emerging areas of research.

    In a pilot initiative, UAB will provide funding for the Structural Biology Center, as well as three new centers pending University of Alabama System Board of Trustees approval: the Microbiome Center; the Center for Emerging Technology Investigations, Forensics and Security; and the Disability Health and Rehabilitation Science Center. Funding for each will be $100,000 a year for three years.

    “These pilot centers are investments in our own investigators to stay competitive in an environment of intense competition for grants,” Keyser said.

    UAB pilot centers will pair with a successful, existing center to help develop:
    • A critical mass of investigators
    • A business plan road map
    • An advisory group
    • A program of enrichment seminars, symposia, workshops and possible courses.

    Enhancing economic development

    Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., executive director, Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and EntrepreneurshipA game-changing step for UAB is the creation of the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Harbert Institute is meant to support economic development at UAB and in Birmingham and the state of Alabama through campus collaborations, strategic investment, strategic development, business development, marketing and commercialization.

    The Harbert Institute was launched as the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2013, and it was renamed this year after a $5 million gift from the Joy and Bill Harbert Foundation. The funds will build space for the institute in the planned new Collat School of Business building.

    Definition of an evergreen fund

    All investment proceeds flow back into the fund for its growth and maintenance

    The future shared site for the Harbert Institute and the business school, at University Boulevard and 13th Street South, will be a nexus to spur entrepreneurship and educate future management talent for startup ventures. The foundation’s gift will also be part of an ‘evergreen’ investment to move UAB internal projects from an idea that may have commercial potential to a proof-of-concept or prototype development.

    “Our primary focus is continuing to develop ways to fully transition our campus into a place where innovation and entrepreneurship thrive,” said Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., executive director of the Harbert Institute and a senior biotechnology executive with more than 20 years of health care industry experience. “We want to continue to build strong relationships with the investigators and work harder to make Birmingham an innovation hub, anchored by UAB.”

    Each year, the institute gets about 100 ideas from UAB investigators for possible patent protection and commercial development. Each Intellectual Property Disclosure goes through a triage process with a licensing team at the Harbert Institute. If a decision is made to pursue patent protection, the team also works with the investigator to develop a commercial path — with strategies and milestones for progress — for the product or technology.

    Partners with the Harbert Institute for coordinated economic development will include:

    • Innovation Depot
    • Birmingham Business Alliance
    • Southern Research
    • Alabama Department of Commerce.

    Going forward, Nugent says the institute will:

    • Train UAB investigators how to better get research out of the lab and into companies
    • Develop new models to increase the number of spin-off opportunities, especially through small-business grants
    • Be more aggressive in deal-making and licensing, with an emphasis on closure
    • Continue to support and drive education that is related to innovation and entrepreneurship

    In coming years, the Harbert Institute — together with the entire UAB campus — can strengthen the Birmingham economy through the transformation of UAB intellectual property into new business ventures that remain in the metro area.

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