T32 Program Mentors

Core Mentors

Marcas M. Bamman, PhD
Dept. Cell, Developmental, & Integrative Biology/Medicine/Neurology

Dr. Bamman’s research focuses on mechanisms of human skeletal muscle mass regulation and neuromuscular function in aging and disease, complemented by clinical trials leveraging exercise as regenerative medicine/rehabilitation. He is Director of the UAB Center for Exercise Medicine; Principal Investigator/Program Director of the NIH National Rehabilitation Research Resource to Enhance Clinical Trials (REACT, P2CHD086851); Director of the Coordinating Center for the NIH National Medical Rehabilitation Research Resource (MR3) Network; and Founding Director of the 73-site National Exercise Clinical Trials Network (NExTNet) – all of which are designed to foster and increase the scientific rigor and impact of clinical trials to address major knowledge gaps such as disease-specific dose-response effectiveness, exercise-drug/device interactions, genetic and phenotypic determinants of response heterogeneity, etc. He is currently the overall PI or site PI of four, multi-site randomized exercise trials focused on: (i) molecular transducers of exercise-induced health benefits (NIH Common Fund MoTrPAC trial, U01AR071133); total joint arthroplasty rehabilitation (NIH R01HD084124, NCT02628795); (ii) aging with mobility impairment (NIH R01AG046920, NCT02308228); (iii) Parkinson’s disease (Foundation supported); and (iv) epigenetic determinants of exercise responsiveness (Department of Defense MURI trial). All of his human studies are biologically driven – centered on cellular/ molecular analyses of biospecimens and primary stem cells coupled with thorough in vivo phenotyping in healthy (19 to 80+ y/o) and diseased – to better understand mechanisms of exercise-induced improvements in neuromuscular function and muscle mass/quality in the face of atrophy and dysfunction.

S. Lou Bridges, Jr., MD, PhD
Dept. Medicine/Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology

Dr. Bridges’ research focuses on genetic and non-genetic influences on RA susceptibility and severity in African-Americans; biomarkers of treatment response; and autoantibodies to citrullinated peptides in RA. He also has research interests ingout, and in improving functional status of arthritis patients after joint replacement. He serves as Director of the Biorepository for a PCORI-funded project, and for a large pragmatic trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the herpes zoster vaccine in patients on anti-TNF therapy. He is site PI of the Rheumatoid Arthritis Synovial Tissue Network (REASON) Study, a network of investigators who lead efforts to train rheumatologists to perform ultrasound guided RA synovial biopsies for translational studies. 

Thomas Buford, PhD
Dept. Medicine/Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care

Dr. Buford’s research focus is in preserving the health and independence of older adults through interdisciplinary research broadly related to the prevention of age-related physical disability. He serves as Principle Investigator or co-PI for numerous clinical research studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, and is a co-investigator on the LIFE study, a Phase 3, randomized clinical trial which revealed that long-term, structured physical activity can reduce the incidence of mobility disability among mobility-limited older adults.


Cynthia J. Brown, PT, MD, MSPH
Dept. Medicine/Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care

Dr. Brown’s research focuses on developing safe mobility practices both in the hospital and the community, as a focus on fall prevention has led to negative consequences especially in the hospital setting. Specifically, patients are encouraged to remain in bed rather than risk a fall. 


David A. Brown, MS, PhD, PT 
Dept. Physical Therapy

Dr. Brown seeks to understand the neuromusculoskeletal control during active movement in persons with individuals post-stroke. In particular, studies seek to understand the control mechanisms underlying locomotor behavior in persons with post-stroke hemiplegia. 


Louis J. Dell’Italia, MD
Dept. Medicine/Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Dell'Italia's research program focuses on the mechanisms of remodeling of the heart in heart failure defined by three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging, changes in cardiomyocyte morphology and extracellular matrix, and the regulatory role of the cardiac renin-angiotensin system.  


Mona Fouad, MPH, MD
Dept. Medicine/Preventive Medicine

Dr. Fouad’s research focus is in minority health and health disparities. Dr. Fouad has played a prominent leadership role in training minority researchers and leaders in the national effort to eliminate health disparities. 


Stuart J. Frank, MA, MD
Dept. Medicine/Endcrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism

Dr. Frank’s research focuses on actions of growth hormone (GH), an important metabolic and growth promoting hormone, and prolactin (PRL), a lactogenic hormone. In particular, I am interested in various aspects of GH receptor (GHR) and prolactin receptor (PRLR) structure and signal transduction and development of relevant antagonists. 


Barbara A. Gower, PhD
Dept. Nutrition Sciences

Dr. Gower’s research focus is on evaluation of body composition and metabolic health, with an emphasis on assessing insulin sensitivity and beta-cell function. Gower addresses the physiologic basis for ethnic disparities in risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity. Other funded research addresses the impact of carbohydrate restriction on cancer progression and metabolic health. 


Peter H. King, MD
Dept. Neurology

Dr. King’s research encompasses disease, growth factor mRNAs such as VEGF and IL-8 are stabilized by cellular factors and upregulated to promote tumor cell growth and angiogenesis. In contrast, ALS linked to mutations of superoxide dismutase leads to motor neuron degeneration and VEGF mRNA destabilization. These two models provide excellent platforms to study the impact of posttranscriptional RNA regulation on human disease. 


Amie Brown McLain, MD
Dept. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Chair of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, Dr.McLain’s research and clinical focus is spinal cord injuries and other neurological disabilities, assessing and improving health outcomes in individuals with disabilities. 


Lori L. McMahon, PhD
Dept. Cell, Developmental & Integrative Biology

Dr. McMahon has been investigating various mechanisms that modulate synaptic function and plasticity at hippocampal synapses in rodent models. She is an expert synaptic physiologist and her lab uses electrophysiological approaches in acute brain slices, including extracellular dendritic field potential recordings, population spike recordings, and whole-cell voltage and current clamp recordings, to measure cell excitability, synaptic transmission and plasticity. She has experience investigating synaptic transmission in all hippocampal subfields, many areas of cortex, and dorsal striatum. Her lab also has extensive expertise in protein measurement using Western blot, immunohistochemical staining and confocal imaging, hippocampal behavioral assays, stereotaxic surgery for drug administration, to complement the synaptic physiology. 


Robert Motl, PT, PhD
Dept. Physical Therapy

Dr. Motl has systematically developed a research agenda that focuses on physical activity and its measurement, predictors, and consequences in persons with neurological diseases, particularly multiple sclerosis (MS), and has has generated a body of research on the validity of common physical activity measures in persons with MS.

Sumanth Prabhu, MD
Dept. Medicine/Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Prabhu’s research is focused on the role of inflammation, immune cells, and stem cells in HF, and the translation of new therapeutic approaches to alleviate inflammation and promote cardiac repair. 


James H, Rimmer, MA, PhD
Dept. Occupational Therapy

Dr. Rimmer’s research interests explore the use of new and emergent technologies in developing biobehavioral and environmental strategies to promote beneficial physical activity and healthful weight management in adults with physical disabilities. 


Erik D. Roberson, MD, PhD
Dept. Neurology

Dr. Roberson’s research aims to combine pursuit of the molecular mechanisms AD and FTD disorders with a search for new therapeutic strategies. Clinically, leading a mostly tau-based studies, including ongoing studies of three different tau-directed therapies and a tau PET imaging agent, as well as our registries for patients with tauopathy. 


Kenneth G. Saag, MD, MSc
Dept. Medicine/Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology

Dr. Saag is an outcomes researcher with particular expertise in rheumatoid arthritis, pharmacoepidemiology osteoporosis, and population-based investigations, working with large databases, survey research and quality indicator development. He also has interests in pragmatic clinical trials, and comparative effectiveness research in musculoskeletal disorders such as RA and gout. Dr. Saag is Director of the UAB Center of Research Translation in Gout and Hyperuricemia, Co-Director of the UAB Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Center, and an Associate Director of the Comprehensive Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, Bone and Autoimmunity Center. Additionally, he serves as PI of the AHRQ-funded UAB Deep South Center for Education and Research in Therapeutics (CERTs), UAB Health Services, Outcomes, and Effectiveness Research T32 Training Program and the UAB K12 in Patient Centered Outcomes Research. 


Rosa Serra, PhD
Dept. Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology

Dr. Serra’s research focus is the role and mechanism of embryonic and post-natal skeletal development and to apply this knowledge to the understanding and treatment of human degenerative skeletal disorders.  


Anath Shalev, MD
Dept. Medicine/Endrocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism

Dr. Shalev’s laboratory pioneered the role of thioredoxin-interacting protein (TXNIP) in pancreatic beta cell biology, diabetic complications and as a novel therapeutic target for diabetes and continues to work on the molecular biology of TXNIP signaling and beta cell apoptosis. 


David G. Standaert, MD, PhD
Dept. Neurology
Dr. Standaert’s laboratory is engaged in a variety of studies relevant to neurodegenerative diseases; including evaluation of novel therapeutics in animal model systems, genetic and genomic studies, and human clinical trials. 


Content Mentors 

Inmaculada B. Aban, MS, PhD
Dept. Biostatistics

Dr. Aban’s areas of interest in statistical methods research are in the clinical trials, dose-finding designs, analyses of count data, survival analysis, analysis and modeling of spatio-temporal data from structural magnetic resonance imaging, developing methods of inference for heavy tailed distribution, and developing methods for goodness of fit and model diagnostics. 


Devin Absher, PhD
Dept. Genetics, HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology

Dr. Absher's lab uses high-throughput technologies to study the genetics and traits of common diseases, including rheumatic diseases. He is a frequent collaborator with CAMBAC investigators: genome-wide association study in RA; genetic and epigenetic analyses of lupus; genome-wide methylation study in myeloma; epigenetic determinants of lipid response; integrative genomics of CHD. 


H. Olivia Affuso, PhD
Dept. Epidemiology

Dr. Affuso’s research in exercise medicine focuses on prevention of obesity and cardiometabolic disease. In addition, she developed a novel photographic method for measuring human body composition that aims to overcome obesity measurement in an aging population. 

Karlene K Ball, PhD
Dept. Psychology

Dr. Ball’s research seeks to determine the bases for increased crash risk among older drivers. This contribution resulted from my expertise in the fields of vision, physical, and cognitive function, and how age-related changes in these abilities impact everyday life. 

Scott W. Ballinger, MS, PhD
Dept. Pathology/Molecular and Cellular Pathology

Dr. Ballinger has broad experience in the fields of cardiovascular and mitochondrial biology, especially regarding the influence of mitochondrial genetics, damage and dysfunction as it relates to disease development and susceptibility. He also has extensive experience in the fields of environmental cardiology with emphasis on mitochondrial genetics, function and damage. 

Susan L. Bellis, PhD
Dept. Cell, Developmental & Integrative Biology

Dr. Ballinger also has broad experience in the fields of cardiovascular and mitochondrial biology, especially regarding the influence of mitochondrial genetics, damage and dysfunction as it relates to disease development and susceptibility. He also has extensive experience in the fields of environmental cardiology with emphasis on mitochondrial genetics, function and damage. 

William R. Carroll, MD
Dept. Otolaryngology

Disparities research related to head and neck cancers is one of his primary interests in recent years. Collaborative work with individuals in the School of Public Health and the School of Medicine with head and neck cancers, patterns of tobacco use among African American men. 

Lynn Dobrunz, PhD
Dept. Neurobiology

Dr. Dobrunz has extensive expertise and more than 15 years of experience in using state-of-the art electrophysiological techniques to study the properties and function of synapses and circuits in hippocampus and cortex, and is one of the leaders in the field of research on presynaptic short-term plasticity and synaptic dynamics.

Alan W. Eberhardt, PhD
Dept. Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Eberhardt’s research focuses on orthopedic and injury biomechanics, related to total joint replacements involving biomechanics and biomaterials (surface treatments, implant tribology, implant design, forensic analysis); biomechanical response of the pelvis in automotive side impacts and metastatic bone lesions; and design for people with disabilities. Dr. Eberhardt is the Director of the Experimental Biomechanics Core at UAB, which contains all the modern tools for characterizing bone and soft tissues at the macro-level (MTS systems, drop tower impactor) to the micro-level (Bose Low-force Testbench, Nano-indenter). 

Karen Gamble, PhD
Dept. Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology

Dr. Gamble's research focuses on chronobiology (circadian rhythms), regulation of which is disrupted in a number of psychiatric disorders including depression, schizophrenia, and ADHD, and is artifically dysregulated in shift-workers. 

Shawn Gilbert, MD
Dept. Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. Gilbert’s principal interest has been investigating the role of the hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) pathway and angiogenesis in the skeleton. Dr. Gilbert has developed an interest in obesity and musculoskeletal health. Additional clinical research interests include limb and spine deformity, fractures, skeletal maturation, and musculoskeletal infections. 

Matthew S. Goldberg, PhD
Dept. Neurology
Dr. Goldberg’s research focuses on studying α-synuclein and discovered mutations in α-synuclein which were identified as the first genetic mutations linked to Parkinson’s disease (PD). My laboratory extended our mechanistic investigation of mutations causally linked to PD to include the role of inflammation in PD-related neurodegeneration. 

Richard M. Myers, PhD
Dept. Genetics/HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Dr. Myers’ research is focused on human genetics and genomics. His specific areas include human population genetics; the genomic basis of vertebrate diversity; and the use of genomics tools and genetics to understand how genes interacting with the environment contribute to human disease phenotypes. 

Brent Ponce, MD
Dept. Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. Ponce’s research and clinical focus is on the biomechanics of the shoulder. He is an active participant in the Orthopaedic Research Committee and actively mentors research projects of orthopaedics residents. 

Sasanka Ramanadham, PhD
Dept. Cell, Developmental, & Integrative Biology

Dr. Ramanadham’s research focus is lipid signaling in beta-cell biology. His lab demonstrated that activation a calcium-independent phospholipase A2beta (iPLA2) contributes to betacellapoptosis. He also studies the contribution of iPLA2 derived lipids for optimal bone formation, as its deficiency leads to compromises bone integrity.

Jasvinder A. Singh, MD, MPH
Dept. Medicine/Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology

Dr. Singh’s research focus is patient-reported outcomes in various forms of rheumatic diseases, in particular osteoarthritis, joint replacement and gout. He performs studies of comparative effectiveness of treatments used in gout and joint replacement patients and communication of medication risk in minority SLE patients.

Sharon Spencer, MD
Dept. Radiation Oncology

Dr. Spencer’s research centers on the translation of novel radiotherapeutic treatments into clinical practice for brain, head and neck, and lung tumors. The combination of drugs with the refinement in radiotherapy planning and delivery exploit the additive benefit of combination therapy while seeking to reduce associated toxicity.

Steven M. Theiss, MD
Dept. Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. Theiss, Director of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, has led studies focused on the enhancement and inhibition of bone healing during spine fusion. He has shown that nicotine inhibited the sequential gene expression of cytokines critical in successful arthrodesis, even as early as several hours after the fusion procedure.


Mentors in Training

Matthew Alexander, PhD
Dept. Pediatrics

Dr. Alexander’s laboratory focuses on identifying novel epigenetic and genetic regulators of human neuromuscular diseases and generating novel zebrafish models of disease for drug screening purposes.

Amy W. Amara, PhD, MD
Dept. Neurology

Dr. Amara’s research focuses on the effects of unilateral subthalamic nucleus (STN) deep brain stimulation (DBS) on sleep in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). She also investigates biomarkers in Parkinson’s disease. Because Parkinson’s disease is a clinical diagnosis based on physical examination, there are currently no reliable markers to observe the efficacy of potentially neuroprotective or curative therapies to slow progression of disease.

Surya Bhatt, MD
Dept. Medicine/Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care Medicine

Dr. Bhatt’s research interests are in the pathophysiology of acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including phenotyping and risk stratification. He also has a strong interest in exercise physiology and pulmonary rehabilitation.


Krista R. Casazza, PhD, RD
Dept. Pediatrics

Dr. Casazza’s training and expertise lie in the intersection of nutrient delivery and utilization and the musculoskeletal system in pediatrics. She is interested in the relationship between fat and bone, and cross talk between tissues during pubertal transition. She is PI of a K99/R00 grant from NIH.


Beatriz Y. Hanaoka, MD
Dept. Medicine/Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology

Dr. Hanaoka research focuses on understand at a mechanistic level the metabolic and physiologic abnormalities of skeletal muscle in patients with RA.

Christopher P. Hurt, MS, PhD
Dept. Physical Therapy

Dr. Hurt’s research concentrates on aspects that negatively impact mobility such as reduced strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, and degraded control over dynamic stability. All of these factors act to reduce an individual’s functional mobility. Primary populations of interest are older adults and those aging with a disability.

Douglas Moellering, MS, PhD
School of Health Professions, Dept. Nutrition Sciences

Dr. Moellering’s research focuses on redox biology and induction of glutathione by oxidized lipids in aortic endothelial cells. Over the last ten years, my metabolic, Redox, and mitochondrial research has expanded into many fields including diabetes, obesity, exercise, cardiometabolic diseases, aging, insulin resistance, natural variation in mitochondrial function, and glucose metabolism.

Glenn C. Rowe, MS, PhD
Dept. Medicine/Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Rowe’s research is seeking understand the role of the PGC-­1 isoforms and the role they play in maintaining mitochondrial function in response to exercise and other stimuli in skeletal muscle.

Brian Sandroff, PhD
Dept. Physical Therapy

Dr. Sandroff has spearheaded a rigorous and systematic line of research that focuses on the effects of physical fitness, physical activity, and exercise on cognition and brain health in persons with multiple sclerosis (MS). Such a line of research is important considering that cognitive impairment is highly prevalent and disabling in those with MS. Dr. Sandroff has adopted several experimental approaches for directly informing the development of multiple well-designed and highly-promising Phase I and II randomized controlled trials. Such an approach has set the stage for another highly-promising research agenda that involves the application of systematically examining the effects of physical fitness, physical activity, and exercise on cognition/brain health in persons with other neurological disorders beyond MS that are characterized by cognitive dysfunction (i.e., stroke, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury).

Harrison C. Walker, MD
Dept. Neurology

Dr. Walker's lab investigates how deep brain stimulation works using a multimodal approach that integrates electrophysiology, neuroimaging, and behavioral measurement in patients with movement disorders. Better understanding how the therapeutic mechanism of DBS relates to clinical outcomes can be applied to optimize care.

Adam R. Wende, PhD
Dept. Molecular and Cellular Pathology/Comprehensive Diabetes Center

Dr. Wende’s research focuses on gene regulation and extends it to the intersection of environmental influences (e.g. diet and exercise) on chromatin structure and ultimately functional changes related to altered gene expression patterns.

Talene Yacoubian, PhD, MD
Dept. Neurology

Dr. Yacoubian’s research is to develop techniques for using 14-3-3 phosphorylation as a potential biomarker for PD.  Our manuscript showing the 14-3-3s can regulate LRRK2 kinase activity and thus reduce mutant LRRK2 toxicity has just been accepted for publication in Human Molecular Genetics. We have also determined that 14-3-3s regulate exosomal release of LRRK2, and have a recent R01 grant to investigate how 14-3-3s regulate alpha-synuclein release and spread. We have demonstrated a 40% reduction of 14-3-3 proteins in the temporal cortices from patients with Alzheimer’s disease. 14-3-3s have been recently shown to be important in hippocampal-based learning and memory in animal models.

Ceren Yarar-Fisher, PhD
Dept. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Dr. Yarar-Fisher’s research program seeks to research the mechanisms behind physical activity and nutritional interventions’ influence on neuro-recovery and metabolic health in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI).