Contact:

Mentor:  Keshav K. Singh, PhD, Joy and Bill Harbert Endowed Chair, Professor of Genetics, Pathology and Environmental Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, KAUL 620, 1530 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-00024, mito@uab.edu


POST DOC POSITIONS: MITOCHONDRIA, OXPHOS AND CANCER  

Postdoctoral positions are available in the Department of Genetics, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Free Radical Biology at University of Alabama, Birmingham. Our group has a longstanding interest in understanding role of oxidative stress, mitochondria-to-nucleus retrograde cross talk, mitochondria-induced nuclear genomic instability and mitochondrial genetics in tumorigenesis and other human diseases.

We have excellent academic environment and research facilities at the Department of Genetics, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Free Radical Biology. UAB is a major research university and academic health center that offers a highly interactive scientific environment with state-of-the-art research and core facilities and multidisciplinary work environment. The Department of Genetics fosters collaboration with other basic science as well as clinical departments and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The candidate is expected to be self-motivated, resourceful and should have a recently obtained Ph. D. degree. Those with interest and experience in mitochondrial biology, biogenesis, oxidative phosphorylation and genetics, epigenetics such as DNA methylation and transgenic mouse and cell culture models of cancer and/or human diseases are strongly encouraged to apply.

The candidate must have experience in mitochondrial techniques, OXPHOS enzymatic assays, cell culture, and standard molecular and epigenetic techniques including cloning, real time PCR, transfection, Southern, Northern and Western analysis and immunoprecipitation. The candidate with experience in tumorigenesis assay such as soft agar, matrigel invasion and mouse xenograft are also preferred. The successful candidate is expected to design and perform experiments and interpret data independently.

Interested applicants should email (in pdf format) a cover letter with the description of research interests and experience, curriculum vitae, and contact information of three references tomito@uab.edu. The cover letter should be addressed to: 

Keshav K. Singh, Ph.D., Joy and Bill Harbert Endowed Chair, Professor of Genetics, Pathology and Environmental Health, Department of Genetics, School of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, KAUL 620, 1530 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0024  

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action Employer with a strong commitment to ethnic and cultural diversity among its faculty, students and staff. Applications from women and ethnic minorities are encouraged.

Postdocs in UAB News

  • Floyd named president-elect of National Neurotrauma Society

    UAB’s Candace Floyd is set to take a top leadership post with the National Neurotrauma Society.

    Candace Floyd, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at BirminghamDepartment of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, is the president-elect of the National Neurotrauma Society. The president-elect will assume the duties of president in June 2016 for a one-year term. Floyd previously served terms as vice president and secretary/treasurer.

    The National Neurotrauma Society seeks to accelerate research that will provide answers for clinicians and ultimately improve the treatments available to patients. It is open to scientists interested in neurotrauma research and promotes excellence in the field by providing opportunities for scientists, establishing standards in both basic and clinical research, encouraging and supporting research, and promoting liaisons with other organizations that influence the care and cure of neurotrauma victims.

    Floyd is the holder of the Women’s Committee of Spain Rehabilitation Center Endowed Chair in Rehabilitation Neuroscience Research and the director of Research for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The central focus of her research is to develop new treatments for spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury.

    She earned her doctorate from the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University and did postdoctoral training in traumatic central nervous system injury research at the University of California, Davis. She joined UAB in 2006.

    She serves as grant reviewer for the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her research is currently supported by the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and private organizations including the National Football League.

  • A researcher in motion, chasing trials and trails
    Epidemiologist Olivia Affuso studies new ways to prevent obesity and chronic disease through physical activity. She also volunteers with two groups that use running to help women and girls achieve fitness and personal goals.

    As a member of UAB’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center and Center for Exercise Medicine, Olivia Affuso, Ph.D., has a clear goal: preventing obesity and chronic disease through physical activity. During many of her evenings and weekends, she helps women and girls put these ideas into practice.

    Affuso, an associate professor of epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health, has developed a patent-pending, photography-based method that could change the way obesity interventions are measured. She is also a board member of the Birmingham Council of Girls on the Run, an international organization that uses running “to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident,” Affuso said.

    Girls on the Run Birmingham has served more than 1,000 girls in third through fifth grades at schools around the Birmingham area since 2011. The program, which combines group runs and lessons on everything from bullying to teamwork, “is for every girl,” Affuso said. “We use running as a creative, fun activity to help the girls learn to establish goals and healthy habits.”

    Finding your own happy pace

    During each Girls on the Run season, in spring and fall, Affuso and the group’s other board members “adopt” the teams at participating schools. Each team is led by volunteer teachers and coaches from the school; in spring 2015, there were 17 teams at 14 sites. Affuso usually volunteers for the long-distance treks, bringing a small token of appreciation for the coaches and a healthy snack for the students. “For the past few seasons, I’ve worked with a team in Sylacauga, and with the Boys and Girls Club team in Montevallo,” she said. “I am willing to drive wherever I am needed to support the girls.” At the end of each season, the teams gather for a 5-kilometer race. This spring, nearly 260 girls from the program completed their goal at Veterans Park in Hoover, along with friends and others from their communities.

    Girls on the Run isn’t about competition, Affuso said: “Everyone is encouraged to go at her own happy pace.” When she runs on her own, Affuso pushes harder. Since taking up the sport as a master’s student at Georgia State University, she has steadily increased her mileage, completing her first marathon in 1999. In March 2014, she attempted her first 100-mile race, Alabama’s Lake Martin 100. Bad weather forced the vast majority of participants to drop out; Affuso made it 62 miles before stopping. However, she conquered the 100-mile challenge this past September at a race in Michigan, finishing in 29 hours and 17 minutes. Her goal is to complete a 50-kilometer trail race in all 50 states.

    Curves and computation

    In her lab, Affuso is tackling another daunting challenge. In this case, the hurdles are technical — is it possible to use simple photos to accurately estimate a person’s body composition? Studies examining obesity interventions generally use body mass index (BMI) to determine whether participants are successful at losing weight. To measure BMI, all you need is a participant’s height and weight and a calculator. But this simple formula is also imprecise. People with lots of muscles may appear overweight, for instance, and those who are tall can appear normal or even underweight, when they actually have too much body fat. A much more accurate way to measure body composition is the DXA (pronounced dex-a) scan, but these expensive machines are not portable and aren’t widely available for clinical or field research.

    Affuso had an idea for a better approach. Previous studies had shown that trained DXA technicians could accurately guess a person’s body composition before they were ever measured by the machine. Affuso wanted to see if she could mimic that judgment using digital photographs and some advanced computer algorithms. Her initial project was funded by Max Michael, M.D., dean of the School of Public Health, in the school’s annual Back of the Envelope Awards competition. After a successful pilot test with that funding, Affuso is now in the fourth year of a five-year, $2.5 million NIH study to test the idea at scale. The Photobody study is enrolling 2,000 men and women, ages 6–70. To help the computer detect body contours, men have to wear spandex shorts, and women wear shorts and a close-fitting top. Eventually, Affuso hopes to have the system work with minimal everyday clothes. (Learn more about the work in this UAB Magazine feature.)

    “We know the process works,” Affuso said. “Now we’re breaking it down to questions like, How well does it work with women in a certain age group, or with different racial/ethnic groups?”

    The power of nudges

    Affuso recently launched a new technology-based study exploring movement and motivation. She is recruiting both college-age women ages 19–30 and girls ages 8–11 in order to study their responses to new wearable activity trackers, like the popular Fitbit bands. (Her study is using the MovBand, primarily because of its objective measurement of physical activity and long battery life, she says.) Affuso wants to know whether participants will actually use the devices in their daily lives. Then she plans to see whether the immediate feedback the trackers give on activity can help the women and girls stay more active. “What we want to do is reduce the amount of time they’re being sedentary,” Affuso said. “Even if someone exercises 30 minutes per day, if they spend the rest of the time being sedentary, they’re likely to have negative health effects.”

    Affuso plans to create challenges that indirectly get participants to move regularly, “without saying explicitly, ‘You need to walk more’ or ‘You need to go for a run,’” she said. “It’s using the behavioral economics model of nudging.”

    Community in motion

    At the end of the workday, Affuso hits the trails — often in the company of runners from one of many groups in Birmingham. Since 2011, she has been involved with the national organization Black Girls Run, which encourages black women to run by building a safe, supportive community. She was one of the founding ambassadors of the group’s Birmingham affiliate, which was the first in Alabama. “We started with 10 people, and now we have more than 4,600 women on our Facebook page,” Affuso said. “We have at least seven opportunities to run during the week here in Birmingham,” she added, and there are also groups running in Anniston, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville and Montgomery. “The success of this group relies heavily on the tireless volunteers and dedicated runners,” Affuso said.

    The members of Black Girls Run also help to support the Girls on the Run participants by serving as running buddies during the annual 5K race, or becoming “SoleMates” — raising money by asking people to sponsor them for a race. “It can be any running event,” Affuso said. For her SoleMate challenge, she chose the Leadville Marathon in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, which involves climbing “to over 13,000 feet of lung-crushing elevation,” she said.

    Charting a course to Birmingham

    Affuso, who is originally from Orangeburg, South Carolina, earned a master’s degree in sports nutrition at Georgia State University and a Ph.D. in nutritional epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I was very interested in the interaction between diet and physical activity in the prevention of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes,” she said. “While at Georgia State University, I worked on projects with elite athletes as well as community-based interventions — both of which included a diet and exercise component.”

    In 1999, as she started her doctoral work in Chapel Hill, Affuso met UAB’s David Allison, Ph.D., at a conference, and the two researchers kept up with each others’ work. In 2006, after Affuso finished a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Miami, Allison invited her to give a seminar at the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center. “I had never visited Alabama and wasn’t thinking about moving here,” she said, “but once I came and saw the resources that UAB had available and the opportunity and the entrepreneurial spirit, it turned out this was a good place for me to be.”

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UAB Research News

  • Research says 'play value' gap exists between playgrounds in affluent and nonaffluent communities
    The play value of parks, playgrounds and open play spaces is higher in affluent communities than in nonaffluent communities, according to research from occupational therapy students in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions.
  • What would you do? Neuroethics sheds light on our darkest dilemmas
    When machines and brains mix, who's in charge? This is the type of problem pondered by neuroethicists such as UAB's Josh May, Ph.D., who examine questions at the crossroads of neuroscience and ethics.

    Think about this: A 59-year-old Dutch man with advanced Parkinson’s disease is experiencing debilitating tremors. His doctors implant electrodes deep in his brain, which counteract the faulty signals but cause new troubles. The man starts behaving erratically, making grandiose claims, racking up sizable debts and generally making poor decisions. His doctors adjust the stimulation settings, and even prescribe mood stabilizing drugs, but they don’t help. Eventually, he has to make a choice: Stop the stimulation and be admitted to a nursing home, or keep it and be confined to a psychiatric ward.

    This real-life dilemma, pulled from the pages of a Dutch medical journal, illustrates the ethical quandaries that arise from new mind-altering technologies such as deep-brain stimulation, says Josh May, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Philosophy.

    “The patient chose mental disorder over physical impairment,” said May. “But does a manic state limit one’s decisional capacity? Must we make sure his decision is made when he is suffering from the symptoms of Parkinson’s, free from an overactive mind prone to reckless behavior and delusions of grandiosity?”

    These are the kinds of questions you’ll find at the crossroads of neuroscience and ethics, in a new field known as neuroethics. “Neuroscience attempts to understand and manipulate the brain, which is still largely a mystery,” May said. “That makes the ethics of its research especially tricky and fascinating. And it makes the results directly relevant to ethics itself, especially perennial questions about what drives moral and immoral action, how we think about morality, and whether we’re really in control of our actions.”

    Brain scans are being used to advance longstanding arguments about ethical theories, for example. And researchers — May included — are taking advantage of the reach of the Internet to investigate ethical dilemmas in entirely new ways.

    What follows is an edited version of an email conversation with Dr. May.

    How are technologies like functional MRI being used to shape ethical debates?

    Josh MayOne famous example involves a philosopher-turned-neuroscientist at Harvard University, Josh Greene. He argues that neuroimaging can help prove utilitarianism — the ethical theory that we should always and only maximize happiness for the greatest number of people. This means that sometimes the ends justify the means, even if the means to the greater good are the most horrific acts you can imagine.

    Greene argues that our brains generate intuitions that conflict with utilitarianism, but these are the parts of our brains that involve automatic, emotionally driven processes that aren’t suited for today’s moral dilemmas, like euthanasia, global poverty, climate change, animal rights and health care reform.

    Greene wants us to trust the utilitarian intuitions we have, which he argues arise from areas of the brain developed later in evolution, that are more characteristic of our ability to think carefully and override emotional responses. For example, people tend to think it’s immoral to push a large man off of a bridge so that his body stops a train from hitting five other innocent people (assuming only his body could stop the train). Greene says, don’t trust that response! Act for the greater good and push that man! Trust the part of your brain that can override that automatic response and do the cold calculation.

    What do you think about this argument?

    This research is fascinating and certainly adding to our knowledge of how our moral brains work. But I do have several worries about the ethical conclusions Greene draws. For example, the brain’s automatic, emotional responses are not clearly untrustworthy, as evidence suggests they’re quite flexible and subconsciously shaped by rational thought. While Greene argues such responses aren’t equipped to resolve complex contemporary moral problems, they may provide a shared moral framework that is precisely suited to resolving moral disputes. After all, if these intuitions are so engrained in the brain, then they may provide a kind of common moral currency.

    In general, I think research on moral judgment is revealing that principles are more important to moral thinking than emotions, even for automatic responses. We certainly have biases, and emotions have their role, but morality involves complex social information and norms that we seem to tacitly navigate. Our automatic moral intuitions shouldn’t so easily be tossed aside, even if they conflict with utilitarianism, as they are guided by sophisticated information processing that is suited to rational social interaction.

    So how do you do your research, given that it crosses disciplinary boundaries?

    Philosophical research involves a lot of thinking for sure, as you have to consider arguments, objections, etc. Most of my research time is probably devoted to reading — hours upon hours of painstaking reading. Especially since my work straddles multiple disciplines, there’s always plenty to keep up on. Each article or chapter can take hours to read carefully, and I bet I read about 50 to 100 per year. While the reading is usually interesting, the writing is very poor and far from leisurely. The same goes for writing and revising my own papers. For me at least, a lot of my research ultimately involves thinking; but it’s often done while reading, writing or talking with other academics, although some of it does happen when I’m driving, cooking, watching a show, etc. I personally find it difficult to sit in silence for very long just thinking with my chin on my fist!

    I do sometimes conduct my own experiments, which requires design, ethics approval, etc. But a large part requires assessing the results, reading about other research, formulating arguments, assessing objections and writing it all up — a whole lot of thinking beyond just data gathering!

    And you’ve been doing some interesting experiments using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service?

    I’ve been using MTurk for several years now. It allows me to quickly gather responses from a diverse group of people online, instead of doing paper-and-pencil surveys around campus. Often the studies I do involve variations on the famous trolley problem, which pits promoting the greater good against violating people’s bodily rights.

    For example, I’ll present participants with a version of a hypothetical scenario and ask them to provide their moral opinion about it — Did the person act wrongly? Then I compare the responses across scenarios that vary slightly in different respects, e.g., in whether the harm was brought about actively or passively, as a means to a goal or as an unintended side effect. Statistical analysis can tell us whether the differences are significant — providing evidence about whether the variable had a causal impact on responses. This technique — standard in so-called “experimental philosophy” — can help reveal the underlying distinctions and principles we make in moral judgment. I’ve followed a growing trend suggesting that our automatic intuitions are often in conflict with the prescriptions of utilitarianism, but I suggest that these intuitions aren’t necessarily due to factors that are morally irrelevant and so shouldn’t necessarily be rejected.

    How might these issues affect everyday moral problems?

    Here’s a medical example. Many people think a doctor shouldn’t help end a terminal patient’s life as a way to halt their immense suffering. That’s illegal in most states. But we don’t have such a problem with a doctor’s administering heavy doses of morphine to treat severe pain, even if she and the patient know it will hasten death. The patient’s death is then merely a foreseen and unintended side effect. Is this a quirk about euthanasia, or do we systematically treat harming as a mere side effect as more acceptable than harming as means?

    I’m currently working on a series of studies that involve presenting participants with hypothetical cases in different contexts to see if their judgments change just based on the difference in how the harm was brought about. I hope this will inform whether the distinction is a viable one.

    I understand you’ve been introducing UAB students to neuroethics with a course first offered this past spring?

    It was a seminar, offered at the 200 and 400 levels, serving as a capstone for the Philosophy major. It was a blast! I had some excellent students, some of whom had backgrounds in neuroscience. Mike Sloane, the director of the University Honors Program, sat in as well, and he added some great insights from his discipline (psychology).

    We covered a wide range of questions, including: Can the results of a brain scan constitute self-incrimination (thus violating the Fifth Amendment)? Does subconscious neural activity determine our behavior prior to conscious awareness? Is someone responsible for a criminal act if it was the result of a brain tumor? Do psychopaths have such an impaired understanding of morality that they can’t be liable for criminal acts? Which areas of the brain are responsible for moral thought and action? Is there something wrong with making oneself a better person by altering one’s brain directly (e.g., via pills or deep brain stimulation)? Can altering one’s brain yield a fundamentally different person? How does this affect consenting to brain interventions?

    I’m hoping to cover similar topics in a future seminar, but perhaps down the line this could become a more regular offering.

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