UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Research
UAB Alumnus Revolutionizes Tuberculosis Research
By Meghan Davis
Bill Jacobs cracked one of the great problems in infectious disease research using a mathematician's heart, a molecular biologist's training, and a helpful handful of dirt.
Jacobs, a professor of immunology, microbiology, and genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, earned one of the top honors in American science when he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. He won the honor, in part, for identifying new ways to target tuberculosis, which is still one of the world's great public health threats. But Jacobs, who earned his Ph.D. in molecular cell biology at UAB in 1985, says it all might not have happened apart from a fateful letter to Birmingham.
While studying math at Edinboro State College near Erie, Pennsylvania (actress Sharon Stone was a classmate), Jacobs took a microbiology course that sparked his interest. He applied to several microbiology graduate programs, but few even bothered to answer his inquiry letters. Then Roy Curtiss, Ph.D., founder of UAB's molecular cell biology graduate program, invited him to Birmingham for an interview and tour.
"I told Roy that I didn't know much biology," Jacobs says. "And he told me, 'There is no sin in being ignorant. The sin is to remain ignorant.' I decided that from that day forward, I wasn't going to be ashamed to ask questions in seminars."
Jacobs says he still uses Curtiss's quote to encourage his own students.
New Research Unit Expands Access to Cutting-Edge Treatments at UAB
By Matt Windsor
In one six-month stretch last year, Lynn and Suzy Holt got enough bad news to last a lifetime. Suzy found out she had breast cancer in June 2012, just after Lynn had left a longtime job as a food distributor to start his own business. Then, as Suzy was in the middle of treatment in early October, Lynn was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain tumor. "I was a stage 4," he says, which means the tumor was spreading quickly. "My doctor said, 'You need to go to UAB. This needs to be handled by the experts.'"
Lynn, who describes himself as a "real online kind of guy," had done his research and knew what he was up against. Glioblastoma multiforme is the deadliest type of brain cancer, with an average survival rate of less than 15 months from diagnosis. "I wanted every hope I could get," he says.
Unique Team Inspires Spinal Cord Studies
By Jeff Hansen
At age 17, Candace Floyd, Ph.D., worked as an emergency medical technician and a hospital volunteer. She saw wreck victims and shaken babies who had suffered central nervous system trauma, and she resolved to help them.
Roman Reed of California was paralyzed when a tackler crushed his vertebrae in a 1994 college football game. After his injury, Roman and others convinced the California legislature to pass "Roman's Law," an added fine on traffic tickets that would fund spinal cord injury research. In 11 years, the Roman Reed Foundation has awarded $12.5 million to researchers in spinal cord injury and regenerative medicine.
In Alabama, Chatom native and nursing student T.J. Atchison was determined to bolster spinal cord injury research after becoming paralyzed in a 2010 car wreck.
These three young people, from different parts of the country, are now helping to push the boundaries of the field and set the stage for potential new treatments at UAB.
"There is nothing we can do to repair the damaged tissue, or regenerate it," says Floyd, now a UAB associate professor who studies both brain and spinal cord injuries. "It's a travesty. I vowed that I was going to fix that."
Beckman Scholars Jumpstart Research Careers
By Matt Windsor
Tim Fernandez has been fighting killers throughout his college career. As a UAB freshman, Fernandez began tracing the cell signaling pathways that allow the HIV virus to replicate. He eventually moved on to cancer, targeting the interactions of the cell death receptor known as Fas and the protein Calmodulin, which play a major role in cancer. By his senior year, Fernandez’s research journey produced more than a dozen conference presentations, four papers in professional journals, an acceptance letter from the UAB School of Medicine—and more than $19,000 in funding.
Local Heroes Help Turn Dental Problems into Solutions
By Dale Short
Some vexing health questions can be answered with a new machine or dazzling technical insight. Others require a simpler tool: time.
“How can you tell whether a tooth needs filling immediately or not?” says UAB alumna Kaye Shaw, D.M.D., who practices family dentistry in the town of Fairhope on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. “The research might involve observing a tooth closely for anywhere from six months to two years.”
Shaw is helping to answer dental conundrums just like that one. She is one of many UAB dental alumni who are collaborating on a massive research project made possible by the largest grant in the university’s history. The program, known as the National Dental Practice-Based Network, is a seven-year, $66.8-million program connecting the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research—a part of the National Institutes of Health—with a network of local dentists in six regions from Portland, Oregon, to Gainesville, Florida.
“We hope to improve the nation’s oral health by improving the knowledge base for clinical decision-making and moving the latest evidence into routine care,” says principal investigator Gregg Gilbert, D.D.S., M.B.A., professor and chair of the UAB Department of General Dental Sciences. The network, Gilbert explains, is “a unique investigative union of real-world practicing dentists and academic scientists.” Practicing dentists suggest problems—and provide data and observations; UAB researchers investigate solutions and communicate these back to the practitioners. Research topics already in the works include everything from “Persistent Pain and Root Canal Therapy” to “Assessing Outcomes of Cracked Teeth.”