BasicScienceCoverMeet some of the School of Medicine’s most innovative basic science researchers, whose investigations offer tremendous potential to transform treatment for a wide variety of diseases. You’ll also learn about our efforts to nurture the next generation of scientists through pipeline programs that open UAB’s world-class laboratories to high school students and undergraduates, and to support the talented crop of early-career researchers on our faculty.

To support the School of Medicine's basic science researchers, please contact us

Volume 42, Number 2

Cover Feature WebBradley Yoder holds a sample jar containing the skeleton of a genetically engineered mouse with deformities that include an extra toe, part of his research into ciliopathies.In the biomedical field, basic science researchers spend their careers trying to understand the workings of the human body on a cellular level. The International Council for Science defines basic science research as “fundamental theoretical or experimental investigative research to advance knowledge without a specifically envisaged or immediately practical application.” It’s often impossible to predict if a basic science discovery may one day result in a clinical use. And yet, while pure scientific curiosity may be the primary motivation, most major breakthroughs in disease treatment start with the painstaking work of basic science researchers.

On the following pages, you’ll meet just a few of the UAB scientists whose discoveries hold tremendous potential to transform the treatment landscape for a variety of diseases, from kidney disease to cystic fibrosis and cancer.

Discovery webThe School of Medicine's NIH research funding has grown steadily over the last few years, increasing our ranking six spots since 2013 and placing us in the top 10 among public universities nationally. That success is due partly to our efforts to "grow our own" world-class researchers through our scientist training programs. As the following graphics show, the School of Medicine is cementing its reputation as both a hub of discovery and a fertile training ground for young and talented investigators.

pittman main photoThe James A. Pittman Jr., M.D., Scholars Program provides welcome funding for early-career scientists.Recruitment is only one part of building a top-tier academic research program—you must also retain the innovative scientists who are already part of your team. The James A. Pittman Jr., M.D., Scholars program was launched in 2015 to recognize the contributions of junior faculty who are in the early stages of their careers (eligible faculty must be assistant professors who have held that rank for fewer than five years). Pittman Scholars are nominated by their department chairs and receive funding to support their research or scholarly pursuits. The aim of the program is to nurture tomorrow’s best physicians and scientists, and to reward their efforts with resources that support their goals.

Named for the late James A. Pittman Jr., M.D., dean of the School of Medicine from 1973 to 1992, Pittman Scholars are chosen based on their research achievements and their potential for continued discovery in the basic or clinical sciences. Basic science, in particular, has gotten a boost from the program—eight of the 10 Pittman Scholars named so far are engaged in basic science research.

ryne ramakerRyne Ramaker decided to enroll in UAB's M.D./Ph.D. program after completing the Summer in Biomedical Science Program.During the summer of 2010, after completing his sophomore year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Ryne Ramaker spent eight weeks conducting biomedical research in Birmingham. As a participant in UAB’s Summer in Biomedical Science (SIBS) program, Ramaker did hands-on research under experienced physician-scientists and learned firsthand about the opportunities to combine both clinical and research training. Six years later, he has completed the first two years of medical school at UAB and is currently conducting Ph.D. research at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville as part of the School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).

“I had very little research training prior to my SIBS experience and knew very little about the physician-scientist career track,” he says. “With the SIBS program, I was able to dive headfirst, full-time into a project under the supervision of a well-established physician-scientist and work alongside other physician-scientists in training. I also received invaluable career advice and exposure to training opportunities I would have never received otherwise. I would not be in the MSTP today without the experiences SIBS provided.”

howard familyRobert and Casey Howard with their children, Eva, Ella, and Preston. Giving to basic science research is a demonstration of faith. Supporters of this critical part of the biomedical research pipeline know that the gradual accumulation of knowledge over years and decades is necessary to achieving breakthroughs in treatment. There are no guarantees that a particular avenue of investigation will lead to clinical application, nor how long it might take to develop an eventual treatment or therapy. Nonetheless, UAB is fortunate to have many philanthropic supporters with the long-range vision to recognize the critical importance of this fundamental research.

Families Honor Loved Ones lost to Lung Disease

Two recent gifts to the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine support research into idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a devastating disease in which tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick and stiff, or scarred, over time. As the lung tissue thickens, the lungs can’t properly move oxygen into the bloodstream, depriving the brain and other organs of oxygen.

Dev Digest 1 WebBetsy and Joe Cooper pose with a photo of their son, Alan Barnett.Gift Accelerates Brain Research

Alan Wayne Barnett suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident on June 1, 2013, at the age of 50. During the many months of hospitalization that followed, he only spoke once, his mother Betsy Cooper recalls. “I said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ And he said, ‘Shorty.’ He called me ‘Shorty.’ I said, ‘Do you know who you are?’ And he said, ‘Alan Barnett.’”

On September 26, 2013, Barnett passed away from his extensive injuries. In December 2015, Mrs. Cooper and her husband, Joe, made a gift of a charitable Individual Retirement Account (IRA) rollover to establish the Alan Wayne Barnett Endowed Support Fund for Brain Injury Research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “I want to do something so maybe the next person who has all this damage might survive,” Mrs. Cooper says.

patterson studentResearch Assistant Tamula Patterson (Cellular and Molecular Biology) assists a high school student with a research project as part of the BioTech program, 1994.Just as today’s participants in the School of Medicine’s SIBS and PARAdiGM programs gain invaluable experience doing summer research in UAB’s laboratories, as these images from the UAB Archives show, university faculty and staff have long nurtured the aspirations of young scientists through similar programs. As a January 1961 issue of the Medical Center Bulletin states, programs such as these provide the chance for young people to “view the mysteries of science and medicine close up, and perhaps to assist in the solution of some of them.”