UAB Magazine Online Features
Unraveling a Cellular Mystery
By Matt Windsor
Once dismissed as the cellular equivalent of tonsils, primary cilia are now known to be invaluable antennae that help cells sense their environment. UAB's Bradley Yoder has helped connect primary cilia with a host of human ailments, from kidney disease to obesity and even cancer. At top, primary cilia (colored green and red) protrude from renal epithelial cells grown in culture.
In cell biology, as in love, you often don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. For more than a century, scientists have known that most cells in the human body come equipped with an odd projection on their outer surfaces called the primary cilium. Unlike the wavy, hairlike cilia you may remember from biology class—the ones that sweep mucus out of the airways—the primary cilia are rigid and didn’t seem to have any useful function. They were written off as vestigial, like tonsils or the appendix.
But 10 years ago, a handful of cell biologists including UAB’s Bradley Yoder, Ph.D., began to unravel the secrets of this obscure organelle. Starting in green algae and only lately moving up to humans, they made a startling discovery: If a cell loses its cilium, bad things begin to happen. Their investigations have revealed that, far from being an artifact, the primary cilium is actually an important communications device—and a major player in human growth and development, kidney disease, obesity, wound healing, and even cancer.
“Human patients with ciliary defects are often blind, they can’t smell, and they have difficulty hearing,” says Yoder. “It turns out that the cilia are loaded with receptors and channels that allow a cell to sense its environment and communicate with that environment.”
Cilia in the embryo help determine the overall body plan, including the key directive to put the heart just to the left of the centerline. (One genetic defect in the cilia causes people to be born with a completely reversed body plan, says Yoder: “Everything’s on the wrong side.”) Cilia on the rods and cones of the eye gather and respond to light. Cilia in the nose sense and react to odors. Primary cilia are involved in so many sensory functions, Yoder says, that they have earned the name “the antennae of the cell.”
Tending a Student-Led Investment Fund in Tough Times
By Caperton Gillett
For a group of students in the UAB School of Business, the colors green and gold evoke something besides school spirit. That’s the result of some wise moves by the Green and Gold Fund, UAB’s student-managed investment portfolio, which continues to rise even in the midst of a recession.
“We’ve got a lot of cash right now, which is fun, because there are a lot of long-term opportunities—if you’re particular about what you purchase,” says Stephen Garrett, a finance student who is the chief investment officer on the fund. Garrett describes his role as “part of a team that manages a chunk of money around here.” In other words, he monitors the fund’s portfolio and works with the analysts and managers to maximize performance while keeping risk to a minimum.
Finance faculty started the fund in 2005 to provide students with career experience in the fast-paced world of investments long before graduation. In 2008, the fund won first place against 50 other undergraduate growth-style portfolios at the RISE (Redefining Investment Strategy Education) forum and national collegiate competition. Both CNBC and BusinessWeek magazine have spotlighted the team’s success.
Rolling Clinic Delivers Care to Patients in Need
By Caperton Gillett
Monica Newton helps bring medical care to uninsured residents of Selma and Dallas County as part of the innovative Family Doc in a Bus program.
Monica Newton, D.O., doesn’t quite make house calls. But her Family Doc in a Bus program might be the next best thing. Twice a month for a year, she climbed into an RV and hit the road to bring medical care to uninsured residents of Selma and Dallas County.
Newton, an assistant professor of family medicine in the UAB School of Medicine’s Selma Family Medicine Residency Program, says the idea for the program came to her through her office window. “I would see an RV parked in the lot at the Dallas County Health Department across the street,” she recalls. “I kept thinking about what we could do as a residency program to reach out and connect with our community in need.”
Supported by partners throughout the city, county, and state, the residency program purchased and equipped a 33-foot RV trailer to serve as a mobile family-practice clinic. Outfitted with three exam rooms and a lab, Family Doc in a Bus opened in August 2008 and saw its first patient the following month. Since then, the rolling clinic has made more than 20 trips and treated more than 350 patients through more than 600 patient visits, offering a wide range of care from cancer screenings and ophthalmology services to treatment for diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Research Fair Spotlights Student Discoveries
By Claire L. Burgess
Harry Miree captured the sounds of more than 50 copy machines for his latest project. To see how he turned those sounds into a cohesive tune click here.
You don’t have to have a doctorate—or even a college degree—to work on groundbreaking research at UAB. At a time when most freshmen are still trying to find the dining hall, Ashleigh Allgood was digging up fresh insights as part of a horticultural therapy research project. Junior Nathan Renneboog followed his interest in epidemiology into outer space. And senior Jennifer Ghandhi traveled to Florence, Italy, to present her research on happiness and health.
Those projects and many more were featured at the second annual UAB Expo. According to Christopher Reaves, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Office for Undergraduate Research and the event’s creator, the Expo does more than give students the opportunity to showcase their research and field work. Undergraduates can network with faculty members and other students as they explain their projects, respond to questions, and garner feedback, Reaves says. The whole experience helps deepen the understanding of their work and gives them valuable public-speaking experience, he explains, which is a mainstay of graduate education and professional life.