UAB Sculptor Builds a Masterpiece
UAB Uses Nutrition Science to Fight AIDS in AfricaBy Tara Hulen
As medical mysteries go, this one is particularly heartbreaking. Several years ago, UAB clinicians began a large-scale program to bring lifesaving antiretroviral therapy to Zambia. But to their surprise, the same wonder drugs that revolutionized AIDS treatment in the United States produced untoward side effects in Africa.
Scientists at UAB’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ), which administers the program, were perplexed. “In the first 90 days, an unexpectedly large number of patients die after the drugs are started,” says Douglas Heimburger, M.D., a researcher and professor in nutrition sciences and medicine at UAB. “But if they can get through the first 90 days, the patients’ mortality rates are very similar to patients on similar therapies in the United States.”
UAB Neuroscientists Stretch the Boundaries of the Mind
By Bob Shepard
Image courtesy of J. Palop
The brain, as we saw in last week's story, is "plastic" in the sense that it can reshape itself after injury. But the power of plasticity doesn't stop there, says David Sweatt, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Neurobiology, director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, and Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging. According to Sweatt, the brain is also able to strengthen the connections between neurons—and even make new neurons.
Neurons, Sweatt explains, are the fundamental information-processing units of the brain. But they do not work in isolation; instead, each neuron communicates with thousands of its neighbors through specialized connections called synapses. “It turns out that perhaps half of the synapses in the adult nervous system have a robust capacity to change the strength of the connections between neurons,” Sweatt says. “That is an important part of how the brain works, how we store information, and how we adapt to environmental stimuli.”
It is also an important part of memory, says Sweatt—in fact, he argues, synapses are the keys to memory. And once scientists understand how the adult brain strengthens certain synapses, they can begin to manipulate the process—finding ways to slow down or delay the inevitable memory loss associated with aging.