Emerging Scholars for 2014-15 Announced


The 2014-2015 Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards and Civitan McNulty Scientist were announced at the Fall Civitan Board reception on November 6, 2014 in the Civitan International Research Center Atrium.

Receiving Emerging Scholar awards were: Andrew Arrant, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neurology; Vladimir Grubisic, M.D., Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neurobiology; and Natasha Pacheco, Graduate Student Trainee, Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology. Haley Johnson, Graduate Student Trainee, Department of Psychology, is the 2014 recipient of the Whit Mallory Research Fellow Award.

Receiving UAB Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards for 2014-2015 are (r-l) Natasha Pacheco, Andrew Arrant, Haley Johnson, and Vladimir Grusbisic. Receiving UAB Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards for 2014-2015 are (r-l) Natasha Pacheco, Andrew Arrant, Haley Johnson, and Vladimir Grubisic. Andrew Arrant’s research focuses on Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), a devastating neurodegenerative disorder with an age of onset ranging from infancy to early adulthood, resulting in vision loss, seizures, early-onset dementia, and early death. Potential gene therapies to target this disorder are being studied through this project. Andrew is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Erik Roberson.

Vladimir Grubisic is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Vladimir Parpura. He is investigating the role of the enteric nervous system (ENS), often regarded as “the second brain” due to its size, complexity and autonomy, in gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances in mouse models of Rett and Pitt-Hopkins syndromes. GI disturbances are the most common non-neurological symptoms in RTT and PTHS patients. This research could yield new models to study RTT/PTHS-related GI disturbances, and allow the development of new therapeutic vistas to improve the quality of life of patients affected with these disorders.

Natasha Pacheco’s primary project in the laboratory focuses on abnormal astrocyte development in Rett syndrome. Working with Dr. Michelle Olsen, Natasha’s project will provide insight on the role of astrocytes in normal brain development and may illuminate how the loss of MeCP2 function in astrocytes contributes to abnormal brain development in Rett syndrome.

Haley Johnson’s research project title is “Understanding and Preventing Motor Vehicle Crashes around Social and Non-social Hazards Among Adolescent Drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Compared to nearly three-fourths of the general population, only 24% of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) consider themselves independent drivers. The proposed study seeks to better understand the behavioral impairments that may increase rates of unintentional injury in this vulnerable population of drivers; more specifically, to evaluate the perception of social and non-social driving hazards in ASD drivers in a simulated, driving environment. Haley is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Despina Stavrinos.

Each Emerging Scholar and Whit Mallory Research Fellow receives a $25,000 award provided through support from Civitan International. This program provides direct funding to advanced graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in their research efforts to address the causes and treatments of developmental disabilities.

Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards Program

The Civitan International Research Center is requesting proposals for clinical or basic science research aimed at enhancing our current understanding of typical and atypical brain development, autism spectrum disorders, Down and Rett syndromes, developmental disabilities, impaired cognitive development, and the effects of environmental toxins on the development of the brain. The $25,000 award may be used as a stipend supplement or for direct projects costs.

Proposals should consist of a single PDF document containing a two page description of the planned research; a letter of endorsement from the mentor; and CV from the applicant.

Download a pdf version of the program announcement.

2013 Civitan Distinguished Scientist

In recognition of outstanding research, leadership and service in furthering the study and treatment of Intellectual Developmental Disabilities, David Sweatt, Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Director of the McKnight Brain Institute, was presented the 2013 Civitan International Research Center Distinguished Scientist Award.

photo of Dr. David Sweatt 2013 Civitan Scientist
Left to right: Harald Sontheimer, CIRC Director and David Sweatt, 2013 Civitan Distinguished Scientist

Whit Mallory Fellowship in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

Whit Mallory Fellowship in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities 2013 – 2014

Sarah Gillott, Graduate Student in the Department of Psychology, was named the first Whit Mallory Fellow in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. Utilizing robot-based tools for social skills interventions this project aims to examine the effect of these technologies in the development of emotional cognition and social skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Sarah works in the laboratory of Dr. Maria Hopkins, Assistant Professor in Psychology, and a 2005 Civitan Emerging Scholar.

This competitive fellowship, in the amount of $25,000, will be presented annually to a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in basic or clinical studies whose project represents a distinct advancement to a deeper understanding of the complex constellation of neurodegenerative diseases.

disabilities 2013

Left to right: Harald Sontheimer, CIRC Director and Sarah Gillott, 2013 Whit Mallory Fellow