UAB Magazine Online Features
What Dickens Tells Us at 200
By Matt Windsor
It has been exactly 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens, the Victorian novelist who wrote a bookshelf of classics, including Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. For the past 100 years, Dickens has been terrifying schoolchildren across the United States—at least as much for the sheer girth of his books as for the hair-raising adventures of Pip and his other hardscrabble characters.
Few Americans graduate from high school without some exposure to Dickens. Count Danny Siegel, Ph.D., UAB associate professor of English, among them, however. “I never read Dickens in high school,” he says. After he graduated, however, Siegel picked up a copy of Great Expectations, and he hasn’t been able to put Dickens down since.
“What sets Dickens apart for me is his love for idiosyncrasy, for oddness,” Siegel says. “A lot of writers try to create some kind of universal story with characters and incidents everyone can relate to. With Dickens, it’s often the opposite; he loves quirks, gestures, voices—the things that make people different from one another.
“When you’re reading a Dickens novel, the world starts to seem much less predictable and more interesting than it did before. Everything is very strange in a Dickens novel: People are strange, families are strange, cities are strange, evil is strange, even goodness is strange, which is hard to pull off. Ebenezer Scrooge is a weird guy, but Bob Cratchit is much weirder.”
By Erin Thacker
There is, at this very moment, a time capsule within your body that holds the secrets to the great deeds of your ancestors. Make that a great many time capsules, which also have some very important day jobs—namely, keeping you alive, and possibly killing you as well.
These are the mitochondria, the “powerhouses of the cell” that get their 15 minutes of fame during elementary school lessons on basic biology. Mitochondria provide the majority of the energy in most aerobic cells by using oxygen to extract the energy in food and produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, our body’s main energy source. But the mitochondria are much more than cellular power stations. These ubiquitous organelles are also involved in many other critical cellular processes, including growth, replication, movement, aging, and programmed cell death.
The process of producing ATP has the side effect of generating “reactive oxygen species,” or oxidants, the most infamous of which are the free radicals. These are molecules that, lacking a full complement of electrons, steal them from other molecules. This turns the victimized molecules into free radicals themselves, perpetuating a vicious cycle that can cause cellular damage or even cell death. As mitochondria age, they seem to produce more free radicals and less ATP, which some scientists argue contributes to the winding-down process that leads to our deaths.
UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Singh also is the founder of the national Mitochondria Research and Medicine Society, the first organization of its kind, as well as the research journal Mitochondrion.Mitochondrial dysfunction also plays a role in many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke, explains Keshav Singh, Ph.D., Joy and Bill Harbert Endowed Chair in Cancer Genetics and director of the Cancer Genetics Program in the
Singh is one of a growing number of UAB scientists exploring the boundaries of mitochondrial medicine. Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pathology and director of the Center for Free Radical Biology at UAB, says that mitochondrial research has “been a playground to develop some of the hottest ideas” in biology. In the past few decades, “we learned more about the evolution of the human race from mitochondrial genetics than we did in a couple of hundred years of archaeology.”
UAB Researcher Advances Security on Computing’s Frontier
By Matt Windsor
Imagine you are a security guard, charged with protecting a diamond necklace. Unfortunately, the necklace has been broken into a few million pieces—and they’re scattered from Seattle to Singapore and everywhere in between.
That’s the essence of the problem facing UAB computer security expert Ragib Hasan, Ph.D. Hasan is searching for ways to safeguard the far-flung packets of data created when companies entrust their information to “the cloud.” He is also preparing students for a new wave of technological change by getting them up to speed on one of the hottest topics in tech.
Apple and Google have invested heavily in cloud computing in recent years, offering users the chance to store their music and other files on computer servers rather than on their personal machines. The advantage: instant access to songs, documents, and other data from any device, whether it’s a cell phone, the office laptop, or a home computer.
SImulated Patients Help Med Students Learn People Skills
By Matt Windsor
Bill Moates is sick for a reason. Several times a year, he adopts an alias, carefully rehearses his symptoms, and tries to convince medical students that there is something wrong with him. Tonight, as the students start to visit his exam room, he has a story to tell.
Moates isn’t looking to score some medication or a free night in the hospital. In fact, he’s fulfilling an essential role in the doctor-training enterprise at the UAB School of Medicine. He is a member of the public enacting the part of a standardized patient, commonly known as an SP, in order to help medical students learn the physical and emotional skills they’ll need to care for real patients.
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On this August evening, Moates is preparing for a five-hour shift as UAB senior medical students take their Objective Structured Clinical Exam (OSCE). “I’m having a ball,” he says with a grin. The medical students are not so relaxed. A passing grade on the OSCE is required for graduation, and the tension on the third floor of Volker Hall is palpable.
While the rest of the building is given over to lecture halls, research labs, and offices, the third floor looks a lot like a private medical practice—with some special features. There are 20 exam rooms on the floor, branching off two long corridors. Outside each room is a computer terminal and a chair, and sitting in the chairs are 20 medical students, staring straight ahead with expressions of nervous concentration.
A voice comes over the loudspeakers: “Please enter your rooms now.” In unison, the students stand up, knock on the closed doors of their exam rooms, and get to work.