UAB Magazine Online Features
Medicine in Motion
A Spin Through UAB’s New Cyclotron
By Matt Windsor
Imagine you want to find tiny outposts of cancer, track the growth of Alzheimer’s plaques, or detect early signs of heart disease—things that you just can’t do with a traditional MRI or CT scan. One way would be to attach a homing device to a normal body compound, like glucose, insert it into a patient, and see where it goes. That’s positron emission tomography (PET) imaging in a nutshell.
The first step is making the homing devices. In the PET world, they’re known as tracers, and to produce them you’ll need a cyclotron. Cyclotrons make tiny particles go very fast. Using paired magnets, they accelerate protons and other particles to more than a million miles per hour, then shoot them in a beam at a target just outside the machine.
The goal is to convert a stable element into another, unstable element—that is, to make a radioisotope. The more power you have, the more isotopes you can make, and the more body processes you can image. UAB’s 24-million electron-volt cyclotron, which was installed in April 2013 as the centerpiece of the new Advanced Imaging Facility in the Wallace Tumor Institute, is the most powerful cyclotron at any U.S. academic medical center.
Young Breast Cancer Survivors Find Support and Strength
By Nancy Mann Jackson
After two mastectomies and reconstruction surgery, La'Rhonda Scott struggled with returning to a normal life until she discovered the Young Breast Cancer Survivorship Network.
La’Rhonda Scott was diagnosed with breast cancer at 31 years old. The single mother underwent two mastectomies and reconstruction surgery, along with the accompanying emotional turmoil, while attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy for her three-year-old son.
Scott celebrated when she was declared cancer-free, but struggled with how to move forward with a “normal” life—how to dress with one breast, how to discuss what she’d been through with dates and her son, and how to process the ordeal personally.
Theresa “TJ” Bradley was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 45, “in the prime of my career,” she says. Once her treatments were completed, Bradley worried about how her illness would be perceived at work and whether it would affect her future career opportunities. While she wanted to start getting back to normal, “I did not feel normal,” she says. “I felt fatigued. My wig was hot and itchy. My body was different. My looks were different. My sleep was irregular, further adding to the chronic fatigue. I had survived my cancer and treatment, but now I had to learn to survive the ‘new normal.’”Young breast cancer survivors—those who are diagnosed before entering menopause—may share the health and body image concerns of survivors at all age groups, but they also face unique challenges, says Karen Meneses, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research at the UAB School of Nursing, who was named to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women in 2013.
“These women are starting careers or continuing careers, and they may have lots of questions about what to disclose at work about their health,” Meneses explains. “Some wonder how the disease will affect their ability to have children. Others have young children and must think about how to handle their diagnosis with their children.” Having breast cancer also represents a financial burden for many young survivors, Meneses adds.
UAB Alumni Serve As Alabama’s Top Teachers
By Javacia Harris Bowser
Alabama Teacher of the Year is much more than a title on a plaque. It’s a reward that carries great responsibility for the winning educators, who become the voice of teachers across the state. Here, three UAB School of Education alumni who have received the prestigious honor describe their time as education advocates.
Changing the Conversation
Since May 2013, when Alison Grizzle, Ed.D., became Alabama Teacher of the Year, she has met with students, fellow teachers, colleges, chambers of commerce, and school officials statewide, speaking at events focusing on everything from leadership to curriculum standards. It’s a demanding schedule for the math teacher at Birmingham’s Jackson-Olin High School, who earned her master’s in education at UAB in 1999. But it’s worth it if she can help change the national conversation about education, Grizzle says.
“There’s been a move over the last few years to paint teachers as part of the problem,” she says. “That’s not helping us recruit the youngest and brightest to the field. If we want our schools to remain competitive globally, we need the best in the classroom. We need people fighting to be teachers.”
Grizzle also would like to see measures of teacher performance that don’t simply rely on test scores. That would help avoid what Grizzle calls “painful” messages. Labeling a school as “failing” because it doesn’t reach particular benchmarks can discourage students and faculty when the school actually is improving, she notes. She also worries about the impact of such messages on the educational aspirations of students in poverty.
“I hear how American schools are failing, but we focus on educating all children,” Grizzle says. “Some countries we praise for education don’t provide it for everyone, so we’re comparing apples to oranges.
"If we want our schools to remain competitive globally, we need the best in the classroom. We need people fighting to be teachers.”
“All students can learn, but we don’t always create avenues so that all students can be successful,” she adds. One of her objectives as Teacher of the Year is to speak for disadvantaged students who are often underrepresented in conversations about education, she says.
First Steps for a New Generation of Cancer Leaders
By Gail Allyn Short
UAB School of Public Health student, who was winding up his master’s degree in epidemiology, heard a professor talking about an intriguing UAB training program that provides cancer research experiences for graduate students in the schools of Medicine, Public Health, Dentistry, and Nursing.Michael Behring, M.S.P.H., had never considered a career as a cancer researcher. But one day, the
Behring says he was looking for just such a challenge. “I wanted to find a high goal and make a worthwhile contribution,” he says. Behring signed up for the UAB Cancer Research Experiences for Students (CaRES) program, a paid summer research training internship, and was hired by UAB epidemiologist Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D., his master’s program adviser, who was studying the genetic and molecular epidemiology of multiple myeloma. Under her mentorship, Behring recruited and interviewed patients, helped conduct data analysis, interacted with oncologists and epidemiologists, and performed administrative tasks associated with the research.
Now a doctoral student in epidemiology, Behring says the experience has helped him decide to become a cancer epidemiologist. “The program gave me a roadmap to figure out how to do cancer research and what it takes to participate in it,” he says. “It has given me good connections with different people and affirmed what I like about cancer research. Programs like this are one reason I stayed at UAB.”