Inquiro Volumne 9 |2015 cover image

Author: Hriday Bhambhvani

The lack of objective clinical tests in psychiatry, relative to other areas of medicine, has been a persistent challenge for the field. Despite considerable progress in characterizing the pathophysiology of many neuropsychiatric illnesses, markers that reliably differentiate psychiatric health from illness in individual patients remain elusive. Recently, however, the seemingly disparate field of computer science has begun to be recognized as a potential source of answers. Its increasingly sophisticated approaches to characterizing and predicting human behavior are already widely used in industry—as in computerized job screens and essay scoring, for example—but their applications to diagnosis and prognosis in psychiatry are only now beginning to be explored.

Author: David Chasteen-Boyd

Introduction to prime numbers

Think back to elementary school during which you learned about a seemingly useless mathematical relic called prime numbers. Your teacher told you in class one day that they are special numbers, divisible only by themselves and one. You also learned about prime factorization, or factor trees, in which you kept dividing a number until it could be divided no further. Then you were given a worksheet, which you scrambled to finish so you could go to recess, and promptly forgot about prime numbers until it was time to take that standardized test at the end of the school year.

Author: Charles Keith

Stressed. Constantly worrying. Fidgeting. Obsessing. These are just a few of the many constant symptoms affecting millions of people around the world. In the United States, approximately 40 million adults (aged 18 or older) are affected by some sort of anxiety disorder1. This equates to approximately 18% of the American population.

Neutrinos are emitted when protons are converted into neutrons during beta radioactive decay

Author: Emily Jennings

Throughout school and in any physics class, students are told that nothing travels faster than the speed of light. However, that statement might no longer be true because of the neutrino—the particle that may be able to transcend dimensions that light cannot. The concept of the neutrino is significant to our understanding of the universe because the neutrino can be used to determine how fast the universe is expanding, as well as its ultimate destiny1.

Proposed mechanism of DNA methylation and demethylation.

Author: Daniel Gilliam

The remarkable ability of cells in the brain to store and process information has fascinated scientists for centuries. To accomplish this feat, neurons must have mechanisms to generate both transient and persistent changes in response to incoming information. One mechanism proposed to mediate both long and short term changes in neurons is epigenetics.

Author: Emily Haley

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Forrest Satterfield, a junior biomedical engineering major here at UAB who has a passion for innovation and problem solving. During his time at UAB, Forrest has established himself as an entrepreneur by founding and leading Satterfield Technologies, the first startup company of the UAB Collat School of Business's Innovation Lab.

First patented exoskeleton design (left) and Cornell’s “Man Amplifier” (right).

Author: Alexander Chang

When a condition affects mobility, a person will often use a technological invention to improve their quality of life and regain a portion of their lost mobility. One of the most common forms of technological aid is prosthetics. The earliest use of prosthetics can be seen in ancient Egypt around 950–710 B.C. where two prosthetic toes were discovered at the necropolis of Thebes-West1.Even to this day, prosthetics are used as assistive devices; however, other conditions that affect mobility have led to the invention and use of modern biomedical technologies. Spinal cord injury, arthritis, back disorders, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular disorders, fibromyalgia, and other physiological problems also affect a person’s ability to move, something that cannot always be adjusted with prosthetics alone2.

Author: Marina Triplett

To what lengths is a scientist willing to go to become successful? For anyone who has ever had experience with scientific research, it becomes evident that science is a commitment that requires a novel approach to problem solving, long hours in the lab, and some amount of good fortune. However, these factors alone do not guarantee that a scientist’s research will “make it” in the competitive environment of academia. In the dog-eat-dog world of science, time is key. Today’s scientists must acquire funding, perform the necessary experiments, and publish their work before their competitors, lest their careers perish. This concept is not necessarily novel. History has shown that the first to publish receives the recognition—it’s the same reason why Charles Darwin is a household name and Alfred Russell Wallace has been overshadowed, despite both developing similar theories of evolution around the same time. To succeed in science, a scientist must be both competitive and willing to make his or her research a priority.

Author: Josh Purvis

The debate over the source of human consciousness has persisted for thousands of years, dating back to Plato and Aristotle. While we have made huge advancements in neuroscience in recent years, our own subjective experience of the world remains one of the biggest mysteries in the universe. Today’s theories don’t resemble Plato’s or Rene Descartes’ conceptions of the mind and soul as entities separate from the physical body, because it has become clear that consciousness depends on the brain. Still, it remains difficult to say what exactly constitutes consciousness, and we are far from understanding the neural mechanisms by which it is produced. One pitfall has been the search, ultimately unsuccessful despite the considerable efforts of many scientists, for a single “consciousness center” in the brain. The failure to find such a locus has led many contemporary scientists to maintain that consciousness is an integrated process involving many, if not all, areas of the brain. One such proposal is called the Integrated Information Theory (IIT), which was advanced by Tononi and Edelmanas a “theoretical framework for understanding consciousness.” The objective of this framework is to precisely define consciousness, then to characterize it using mathematics and use this information to account for current knowledge of the brain2.

Author: Jessica Maya

Science is an international subject: it transcends languages and cultures alike. In the United States alone, groundbreaking research is being done in every scientific field, from cancer to aging to biomedical engineering. Many young scientists come from around the world to perform research under the guidance of mentors in America. A recent study shows that foreign students account forthe majority of enrollments in U.S. graduate programs in many of the STEM fields1. At UAB alone, there are more than 665 international students in both the undergraduate and graduate programs2. Because of this, it is imperative to hear from these voices to see where our strengths are as a leading nation in the STEM fields, as well as to acknowledge our weaknesses. Three international graduate students were interviewed about their experiences at UAB and in their home countries.

Dr. Steven Austad is, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Author: Susmita Murthy

Every successful scientific researcher was always interested in science, right? Not Dr. Steven Austad, one of UAB’s foremost experts in biological research. Dr. Austad has been involved in scientific research for over thirty-five years, yet as an undergraduate student he was not at all interested in pursuing a research career. In fact, his first bachelor’s degree is not even in a laboratory-based science major, but in English Literature! So, how did an English major become not only interested in science, but an accomplished researcher? Dr. Austad described to me how his experiences training animals in Hollywood for the film industryfirst sparked his interest in biology and animal research: “It is hard to be around animals 10, 12, 14 hours a day watching their behavior without getting very interested; why do they do this and not that? What causes them to do this and not that?” This curiosity about animal behavior led Dr. Austad to get another bachelor’s degree, this time in biology. He went on to complete his doctorate and postdoctoral training, focusing on combat behavior in animals and on group-living birds, respectively.

An eye from an ICR/f rat

Author: Supraja Sridhar

Department: Department of Chemistry, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA


Although cataracts are the most prevalent cause of blindness in the world, the only effective treatment currently available is surgical lens replacement, an invasive and expensive procedure1. The probability of developing cataracts is a function of increasing age. Thus, as an increased proportion of people live longer, the need for a less invasive, more accessible treatment, including prevention, becomes more important. Understanding the mechanism of cataract formation through the use of basic research approaches can potentially lead to alternative treatment. The ICR/f rat in this investigation is a spontaneous, hereditary model of cataract disease and is one of the few effective animal models available for the study of senile cataractogenesis. Because of mutations in chromosomes 8 and 15, all ICR/f rats will develop cataracts at approximately 75 to 80 days of age1.

Relationship of αGalA activity and αsyn protein quantity.

Emily D. Haley1-4
Tonia E.Tse1Hailin Lu5
John J. Shacka, PhD1

1. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
2. School of Medicine, Nephrology Division, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
3. Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
4. Science and Technology Honors Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
5. School of Medicine, Infectious Diseases Division, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA


Parkinson Disease (PD), the second most common neurodegenerative disease,affects 1% of Americans over the age of 65. PD pathology is characterized by dopaminergic neuron loss and accumulation of insoluble alpha-synuclein (αsyn) aggregates. Pre-clinical studies suggest that the aberrant accumulation αsyn contributes to PD pathogenesis. The autophagy lysosomal pathway (ALP) is a metabolism pathway capable of high capacity clearance of αsyn. Thus targeting the clearance of αsyn, in particular by enhancing ALP function, could be a valuable treatment option for PD. We have shown previously that brains of mice deficient in the lysosomal enzyme alpha-Galactosidase A (αGalA) exhibit the pathological accumulation of αsyn concomitant with ALP dysfunction. These findings led us to hypothesize that increasing αGalA activity would enhance αsyn clearance. To test this hypothesis, we examined if increasing αGalA activity using recombinant αGalA (Fabrazyme, Genzyme Corp.) accelerates the clearance of conditionally over-expressed αsyn in M17 human neuroblastoma cells. Fabrazyme treatment increased the level and activity of αGalA in M17 cells and promoted the clearance of over-expressed αsyn. These data suggest the utility of αGalA activity as a therapeutic target for promoting the clearance of αsyn in a preclinical model of PD.

Download the full article (PDF): Investigating the Regulation of Alpha-Synuclein Clearance by Alpha-Galactosidase-A in Parkinson Disease

Genes, gene products and functions of important proteins that cause non-syndromic RP

Author: Itia Dowdell

Science and Technology Honors Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
School of Health Professions Honors Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA


Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a heterogeneous set of inherited retinal diseases that affects 1 in 3,000–7,000 people worldwide.Typical onset is from 10–30 years old and most forms are progressive, often leading to blindness. Defects in more than 200 genes have been identifiedthat cause RP. The disease is characterized as a progressive rod-cone dystrophy that presents with night blindness, loss of peripheral vision, waxy pallor of the optic disc, pigmentary changes, and a reduced visual field. There are different modes of transmission of RP: autosomal dominant (ADRP), autosomal recessive (arRP), X-linked (XLRP) and mitochondrial. The genetics behind the different forms of RP and the degree of severity vary, although some overlap, thus contributing to the difficulty of differential diagnosis. RP can manifest either as a non-syndromic disease, or as part of a syndrome, such as in Usher’s syndrome (hearing and vision loss) and Bardet Biedl syndrome (a ciliopathy). The purpose of this review is to summarize the major genetic and molecular findings, as well as the diseases, associated with RP. Due to space limitations, this review is not fully comprehensive.

Download the full article (PDF): Retinitis Pigmentosa: A Brief Review of the Genetic and Clinical Aspects of the Disease

Figure 1 | Ccl5 and Cxcl10 mRNA is reduced in poly(I:C)stimulated macrophages co-treated with TA/PVPON capsules.

Dana Pham-Hua1, 2, 3, 4
Lindsey Padgett1, 2
Bing Xue3
Veronika Kozlovskaya3
Eugenia Kharlampieva3
Hubert Tse1,2

1. Department of Microbiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
2. Comprehensive Diabetes Center, University of Alabamaat Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
3. Department of Chemistry, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
4. Science and Technology Honors Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA


Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is a chronic pro-inflammatory autoimmune disease consisting of reactive oxygen species (ROS), pro-inflammatory cytokines, and islet-infiltrating leukocytes involved in pancreatic β-cell lysis. One promising treatment for T1D is islet transplantation; however, its clinical application is constrained due to limited islet availability, adverse effects of immunosuppressants on islet function, and declining graft survival. Islet encapsulation may provide an immunoprotective barrier to help preserve islet function and prevent immune-mediated rejection after transplantation into T1D patients. Wepreviously demonstrated that a novel cytoprotective nanothin coating for islet encapsulation consisting of tannic acid (TA), an immunomodulatory antioxidant, and poly N-vinylpyrrolidone (PVPON), was efficacious in dampening diabetogenic CD4 T cell and macrophage responses involved in transplant rejection. Therefore, we hypothesized that in addition to suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokine synthesis, TA/PVPON would similarly blunt the production of pro-inflammatory chemokines involved in recruiting immune cells to the site of islet engraftment. Our results provide further support that TA/PVPON-containing encapsulated islets are effective in suppressing pro-inflammatory CCL5 and CXCL10 chemokine synthesis. The use of novel TA/PVPON nanothin coatings may potentially decrease immune-mediated responses and enhance islet allo-and xenograft acceptance to restore euglycemia in T1D patients.

Download the full article (PDF): Tannic Acid-Containing Nanothin Coatings Dampen Innate Immune-Derived Pro-Inflammatory Chemokine Synthesis

Author: Aashka Patel

For adults, sleep is a mundane activity, and very few sleep-related concerns exist for adults asidefrom the fear of not getting enough of it. For children under the age of one, however, sleep sometimes becomes permanent. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is defined as the sudden death of an infant without an explainable cause, usually occurring during sleep1. Recently, many studies of this phenomenon have been conducted in the hopes that better preventions might be found.

Six Oliver Sacks books arranged in a collage, including An Anthropologist on Mars

Author: Amy Stewart

An important and challenging aspect of being a scientist is communicating information in a way that is both accurate and engaging, and furthermore disseminating the work to a widespread audience. Oliver Sacks is one of the few scientists who has accomplished this with his chosen subject matter, the brain: he skyrocketed to fame in 1973 with his book Awakenings and has remained a household name with his myriad of publications and various film adaptations. Framing a discussion of the scientific backgrounds of neurological conditions within the context of case studies, Sacks ingeniously weaves together humanity and science in his novels, culminating in a thoughtful and compelling read. Written at the midpoint of his authorial career, An Anthropologist on Mars marks a maturation and expansion of the overarching themes in his narratives that he began to explore ten years prior in his most well-known book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. An Anthropologist on Mars details the experiences of seven individuals with neurological disorders ranging from cerebral achromatopsia to Tourette’s syndrome to autism, supplementing descriptions of these disorders, fascinating in their own right, with stories of the manifestation of creativity borne out of these conditions.

Aisle of chips displayed in a typical grocery store

Author: Courtney Walker

Though the potential for weight gain and cardiovascular disease are commonly known results of an unhealthy diet, the general public often does not realize that their diet can also adversely affect other aspects of health—even mental health. Additionally, the extent to which the American diet affects society as a whole brings this issue to a greater public importance. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that the average American diet consists of excess sodium, saturated fat, refined grains, and calories from solid fats and added sugars1. Furthermore, the guidelines state that Americans eat less vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and oils than recommended. Almost 35% of adults in the U.S. are obese2, and it is estimated that this statistic will increase to almost 50% within 15 years3.

Kristina Tymes-Wilbekin1, 2, 3

Patrice L. Capers1
Austin Clark4, 5
Kathryn A. Kaiser1

1. Office of Energetics, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
2. PARAdiGM Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
3. Spelman College, Atlanta, GA, USA
4. Summer in Biomedical Sciences (SIBS) Undergraduate Research Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
5. University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL, USA


Background: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and, with it, the likelihood of an increasing percentage of obese adults in the coming years. This problem raises alarm because more people will be susceptible to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other weight-related illnesses. Thus far, effective interventions have proven elusive.

The reconstructed “balloons” image comparison.

Author: Jacob Laurel

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
Electrical and Computer Engineering Departmental Honors Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL, USA


A novel adaptive median filter is presented that can restore images corrupted by salt and pepper noise levels greater than 90%. The algorithm operates by adapting to the amount of available visual data in the image by iteratively increasing the size of the median kernel. The algorithm then detects the edges and reruns the adaptive median filtering process on just those edge pixels to improve edge consistency. Lastly, post-processing is done on the image using the Perona-Malik diffusion process for smoothing and an Unsharpen filter to improve contrast. The results of our algorithm show root-means-quare error improvement of the reconstruction compared to the state-of-the-art filter for image reconstruction.

Download the full article (PDF): An Adaptive Kernel-Growing Median Filter for High Noise Images

Author: Aseel Dib

Department: Department of Neurology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA

In the spring of 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity to join the lab of Dr. David Standaert and participate in research involving dystonia, a mysterious movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions and tremors. My connection to the field of movement disorders stems from much more personal roots besides my interest in the underlying mechanisms of science. During my freshman year of high school, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I remember my confusion and personal struggle to understand the debilitating disease that had taken over my father’s body. As I matured, my eagerness to be fully educated and understand the means underlying movement disorders grew along with me. My father has been participating in the Parkinson’s Research study at UAB under Dr. David Standaert for a couple of years. After each appointment, my father would return with a stack of research articles explaining the latest findings of his disease that I would enjoy reading, amazed by the different terminology and techniques that I never knew existed. When time came around to find a research mentor, I had no hesitation in delving into studying movement disorders under a more fundamental level in the Standaert lab.