Mentor:  Dr. Yang Yang, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular & Cellular Pathology, Wallace Tumor Institute,

We are currently seeking a postdoctoral fellow to study myeloma related bone disease. The candidates must be self-motivated. A strong background in bone and cancer biology is required. Experience with animal experiments is desirable. Please send your CV and a brief statement of your career goals and research interests to Dr. Yang Yang at

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

  • UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine awards first pilot grants
    The UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine has awarded its first pilot grants to teams of researchers from the two institutions to pursue projects in cancer and cardiac disease.

    The UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine has bestowed its first research grants as part of the collaboration between the University of Alabama at Birmingham and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. The three pilot grants, each of $100,000 for up to two years, have been given to collaborative teams of one researcher from UAB and one from HudsonAlpha to pursue research projects in cancer and cardiac disease.

    “We created the UAB-HudsonAlpha grants to stimulate collaborative research efforts between faculty at UAB and HudsonAlpha, with the goal of developing new research programs that will enhance the leadership of UAB and HudsonAlpha in the area of genomic medicine,” said Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Genetics in the UAB School of Medicine and co-director of the center. “These three were chosen from a highly competitive group of more than 20 proposals. We are excited to be able to fund these projects and will continue to work hard to catalyze many more collaborative efforts going forward.”

    “HudsonAlpha and UAB are two of the top genetics and genomics research institutions in the nation, and the ability to collaborate on these types of projects enhances our capabilities in this area and also advances the mission of the Center for Genomic Medicine, to transform patient care through genomics,” said Richard M. Myers, Ph.D., president and scientific director of HudsonAlpha and co-director of the center.

    In the first project, Anita Hjelmeland, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, and Sara Cooper, Ph.D., faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, will generate genetically modified and inhibitor treated brain tumor initiating cells. Hjelmeland and Cooper will analyze the transcriptome and metabolome of these cells to identify pathways that are important for the regulation of glioblastoma growth. The results will be important for developing better treatment strategies for glioblastoma patients and will have important basic science and preclinical implications.

    The second pilot project is a collaboration between Gregg Rokosh, Ph.D., associate professor at the UAB Division of Cardiovascular Disease, and Devin Absher, Ph.D., faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. Rokosh and Absher will use defined genetic and pharmacologic models to provide decisive evidence for the involvement of factors associated with cardiac myocyte cell cycle withdrawal and the transition to hypertrophic growth and maturation. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, portions of the heart thicken, which impacts the ability of the heart muscle to function. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a significant cause of sudden cardiac death.

    The third funded project will be led by Sunil Sudarshan, M.D., associate professor at the UAB Department of Urology, and Absher. The researchers will identify epigenetic targets of oncometabolite-driven kidney cancers to understand the role of metabolism in renal carcinogenesis, and ultimately to develop novel therapies aimed at improving outcomes.

    The UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine was established in 2014 to promote basic, clinical and translational research in the application of genomic approaches to solving questions related to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. The center combines the breadth and depth of clinical knowledge and expertise at UAB with the access to genetic and genomic technologies and expertise at HudsonAlpha.

    The UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine was established in 2014 to promote basic, clinical and translational research in the application of genomic approaches to solving questions related to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. The center combines the breadth and depth of clinical knowledge and expertise at UAB with the access to genetic and genomic technologies and expertise at HudsonAlpha.

    Its primary mission is to conduct research in genomic medicine and facilitate translation of research findings into clinical practice. In support of this mission, the Center brings together multidisciplinary teams from both institutions, composed of physicians, clinicians, biotechnologists, geneticists, bioinformaticists and other specialists who engage in collaborative research focused on genomic discoveries that will enhance and inform patient care.

    As part of its core mission, the Center also offers a series of educational programs and resources in genomic medicine designed specifically for scientists, clinicians and researchers. In addition, the Center provides a range of expertise and resources to clinicians and others interested in research and the integration of genomics into medical practice. Supported by UAB’s expertise in clinical genomic medicine and the advanced genomic capabilities of HudsonAlpha, the Center’s collaborative research initiatives are on the forefront of genomic discoveries with the potential to transform patient care and treatment in the 21st century.

  • UAB faculty receives two NSF grants for cybersecurity research
    A UAB Computer and Information Sciences professor will continue improving security and usability of authentication systems through new funding.

    Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., has been awarded two grants in 2015 from the National Science Foundation to continue his research in computer and network security.

    The grants total $1 million overall, with UAB’s share comprising approximately $500,000.

    The first of the two grants, a collaboration with Syracuse University, will help Saxena develop a secure and easy-to-use mechanism for user authentication in current-generation smartphones. Because they are in near constant use, mobile phones can be much more difficult to secure than traditional devices such as desktops or laptops. Saxena’s research will look into a way to constantly protect the smartphone. The project seeks to leverage several collaborating wearable devices, for example a smartwatch or smartglass, and their different sensors to build a strong behavioral biometric authentication mechanism that can recognize the legitimate user of the smartphone transparently and continuously.

    The second grant, a collaboration with the University of California, Irvine, will assist Saxena’s team in furthering his research into improving the security and usability of two-factor password authentication systems. Saxena aims to design and implement two-factor authentication systems that improve upon previous, weaker systems by ensuring they protect against online attacks, as well as phishing attacks and offline attacks. Importantly, in doing this, Saxena’s design will not minimize the usability component of the authentication system and thus remain amenable to real-world deployment. This project has been supported by UAB Information Technology.

    Saxena, the director of the Security and Privacy In Emerging computing and networking Systems (SPIES) lab and associate professor of computer and information sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at UAB, is focused on a field of research that includes mobile and wireless security, and usable security. He has received several prior grants from NSF as well as from many industrial tech giants including Google, Comcast and Cisco.

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