News Archive

  • By Stefan Tuomanen


    Justement 300 x 200Our profile this month introduces one of the best educators in Immunology: Dr. Louis Justement, Ph.D. Dr. Justement trained at Ohio State University in the Department of Microbiology, specializing in Immunology, and at the National Jewish Medical Research Center, in Denver, where his research focused on understanding the cellular and molecular processes that regulate aspects of B cell biology. This naturally this made moving to UAB very attractive due to its preeminence in B cell research. At UAB since 1996, he has taught Immunology at all levels with his newest goal being the formation of a unique program focused on undergraduates who can now major in Immunology. He says, “a lot of focus is put into Immunology education at the graduate and professional level but not really at the undergraduate level.  This is one of only 5 programs of its kind and it addresses the challenge that undergraduates face when trying to comprehend the complexity of the immune system.” Deeply passionate about education, Dr. Justement believes that it is his job as a mentor to bolster students’ conviction and confidence to be proactive in their career development.

    Dr. Justement is Director of the GBS Immunology Graduate Theme and the Director of the new Undergraduate Immunology Program (UIP). As Director of the UIP, is working closely with his colleague Dr. Heather Bruns to create courses that present an overview of the immune system at the front end and then dive into more specific aspects of the innate and adaptive immune responses that reveal how the system keeps you healthy and at the same time, how it causes serious disease and even death.

     “One thing I feel very strongly about, is to help trainees feel as prepared as possible to make the right decisions and to have the confidence and knowledge to make career decisions. It is incumbent upon us as mentors to help them realize they need to be proactive about their future careers. This new major is beneficial for students entering into health professions, students who want to be competitive in research, as well as students considering scientific/pharmaceutical sales or teaching.” 

    The UIP is being engineered to have a strong sense of community and collaboration among the students, echoing the culture of UAB and the Department of Microbiology. Furthermore, Dr. Justement stresses that the program is geared towards those students who aspire to be the leaders of tomorrow in medicine and science. The comprehensive scope of the UIP provides resources, opportunities, and guidance for any student who wants to be competitive in the health professions: be it medicine, research, or education. Importantly, Dr. Justement’s experience in graduate and post-graduate education gives him a thorough understanding of the road ahead for undergraduate students in the health sciences. The UIP therefore is ideally suited to give students the knowledge, abilities, and support to successfully determine the direction they want their career to take.

    In addition to his focus on education, Dr. Justement runs a research lab focused on understanding the cellular and molecular processes that regulate B cell activation and differentiation. His laboratory currently focuses on studying receptors and adaptor proteins that trigger intracellular signals to activate B cells and promote their differentiation into plasma cells that make antibodies. Recent studies using transgenic mice have revealed that HSH2, an adaptor protein, plays a critical role in regulating terminal differentiation of B cells into antibody secreting plasma cells.  Related studies on the transmembrane receptor CD19 have demonstrated that specific residues in its cytoplasmic domain are critical for regulating the qualitative nature of the antibody response.  Creating small molecules that interact with signaling pathways that HSH2 and CD19 regulate, which in turn drive B cell differentiation, could be useful in enhancing responses to vaccines or blocking autoimmune diseases.

    On the national level, Dr. Justement has been very active in the science policy arena. He is currently Vice President for Science Policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which is a Federation of 29 professional societies representing over 130,000 scientists. In his role as Vice President, Dr. Justement oversees the Science Policy Committee, which deals with a wide range of policy issues in science including, human research, the use of animals in research, data use and management, as well as training and career development.

  • Saad3March Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jamil Saad, PhD
    By: Stefan Tuomanen 

    We are delighted to feature Dr. Jamil Saad. In March, we spoke with Dr. Saad about his work using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) in projects as broad as probing the mechanisms of HIV pathogenicity as well as finding molecular determinants of apoptosis.Dr. Saad has been a part of our department since 2007, coming to UAB after completing his Ph.D. at Emory University in 2002 and his postdoctoral training at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute lab of Michael Summers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. A trained bioinorganic chemist, Dr. Saad now uses structural and biophysical techniques such as NMR to understand how HIV interacts with host cells. Understanding this interaction is critical to developing new and effective HIV drugs that disrupt what the virus does inside the cell. There are three main phases to the HIV replication cycle: initial entry, replication, and budding/assembly. The assembly process is the least understood and, naturally, is also the process Dr. Saad is most interested in mapping. What makes the assembly process particularly difficult to investigate is that “these actions are transient and often involve so many variables that you can’t realistically look at each mechanism individually,” Dr. Saad said. He and his team have identified a key piece of the assembly process and are making strides to replicate it. This project involves looking at how a system of around 2000 copies of a protein, called Gag, that form the structural core of HIV come together to form a lattice to mediate the recruitment of the envelope protein so that it becomes an infectious virus. These molecules have to come together all at the same time, which with 2000 moving parts, makes for a very complex molecular machine to reproduce in vitro. Dr. Saad is using his NMR and structural biology expertise to solve this basic problem in virology and believes a successful in vitromodel is only a couple of years away.   

    Dr. Saad also works closely with UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center on a project investigating Fas-mediated apoptosis and its role in carcinogenesis. Since cancer cells have lost their ability to undergo apoptosis, understanding how this happens could suggest how to prevent such a loss in the first place. Dr. Saad provides the structural biological expertise in order to investigate how a number of apoptosis pathways interact at the molecular level to trigger cell death and, when knocked out, how this leads to cancer. According to Dr. Saad, the biggest question that needs answering on this frontier is to see if he can help develop small molecule inhibitors that stimulate the apoptosis pathway by blocking interactions that tend to inhibit apoptosis. His line of thinking is that if we can learn how the apoptosis pathway is deactivated, then not only would we gain insight into a common type of carcinogenesis, but more importantly we could potentially re-introduce normal cell death into cancer cells.

    Dr. Saad is also a committed mentor and educator who is passionate about the development of incoming and upcoming researchers. He spoke very fondly of what he saw in UAB when he was beginning his career, saying it offered an “environment any would seek to have an exciting start to their career… [I] saw so much interdisciplinary collaboration.” He believes UAB microbiology is just as strong in that front today. As a mentor, Dr. Saad champions a comprehensive scientific approach: focusing on reading important literature, analyzing data, designing experiments, and communicating findings.

  • By Stefan Tuomanen

    Bruns articleWelcome to the first Faculty Spotlight of 2019. We have a unique profile this month for one of the newest members of UAB, Associate Professor and Education Coordinator Dr. Heather Bruns.

  • Written by Stefan Tuomanen

    Leon articleThis month we have the pleasure of featuring Assistant Professor Beatriz León-Ruiz in our faculty spotlight. Dr. León-Ruiz has been an influential member of UAB Microbiology since 2012, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then joining the faculty a year later. Since then, she has made numerous advances in understanding the roles dendritic cells play in directing the T Helper 2 (Th2)-driven immune response; in particular differentiating the behavior of these cells in infants compared to adults.

  • Written by Stefan Tuomanen

    Orihuela articleThe department of Microbiology is proud to announce Dr. Carlos J. Orihuela’s promotion to full professor as of October 1st.

    Dr. Orihuela enthusiastically joined UAB in 2015 as a tenured associate professor whose research is focused on the many host-pathogen interactions associated with invasive Streptococcus pneumoniae infections. Drawn to UAB as a result of a career-long respect for the University’s innumerable contributions to this area of study, Dr. Orihuela has thus far been highly successful in both his scientific and educational endeavors.

  • Scoffield articleMeet Jessica Scoffield, Ph.D., a microbiologist that studies the role of commensal bacteria in polymicrobial pulmonary and oral infections. Dr. Scoffield's research has led to the discovery of novel mechanisms used by commensal bacteria that interfere with the pathogenesis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a multidrug resistant pathogen that causes deadly lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. 

  • Andrews 3 x 2The microbiology department held a three day writing seminar for UAB students and postdoctoral employees on May 14-16, 2018. The purpose of which was to teach graduate students and post‐docs how to effectively communicate science to a lay audience. The department invited Dr. Nicki LeBrasseur, the senior director of scientific communications at DNA Communications to instruct the on and off campus portions of the course. The students were tasked with writing a press release on an assigned paper and were given feedback. Rachel Andrews (Wolshendorf’s lab) participated in the workshop and her article featured below reviews “The roles of SaPI1 proteins gp7 (CpmA) and gp6 (CpmB) in capsid size determination and helper phage interference.” by Damle PK et al.

  • SISThe UAB School of Medicine held the 7th Annual Southeastern Immunology Symposium (SIS) on June 16 and 17 at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel and Medical Forum. This year's meeting was organized by Dr. Fran Lund.  The primary goal of the meeting is to bring together researchers throughout the South and Southeastern US who are learning to harness the power of the immune system in order to protect us from infections and cancer as well as a host of other chronic autoimmune, allergic and inflammatory diseases. Click hereto view the photo gallery. Photo credit: Dustin Massey 

  • FranFrances Lund, Ph.D., has been invited to the Fourth International Vatican Conference, “Unite To Cure: How Science, Technology and 21st Century Medicine Will Impact Culture and Society,” which meets in Vatican City this week. Read more...

  • ramos johnson barnum streamA $2 million investment is the latest step forward for the biomedical startup CNine Biosolutions LLC, which is headed by former University of Alabama at Birmingham postdoctoral fellow Theresa Schein, Ph.D., and retired UAB microbiology professor Scott Barnum, Ph.D. This funding comes from a Denver angel investor group.

  • WellsThe UAB Department of Microbiology hosted the inaugural David E. Wells Memorial Symposium on December 14, 2017. The event kicked off with talks by five selected graduate students in the Department of Microbiology who competed for the David E. Wells Scholarship. The students (pictured below from left to right) are Tyler Stewart (Novak/Renfrow labs), Michael Schultz (Lund lab), Anukul Shenoy (Orihuela lab), Danielle Chisolm (Weinmann Lab) and Johua Justice (Thompson lab). The student presentations were followed by the keynote presentation entitled "Genomic control mechanisms that establish T-cell identity", which was presented by Dr. Ellen Rothenberg, Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology at California Institute of Technology. This was the first symposium held in memory of Dr. David E. Wells, a former graduate student in the UAB Department of Microbiology. Family members of Dr. Wells were in attendance for this special event including Dr. Kathy Hancock, who was married to Dr. Wells. Dr. Hancock presented Joshua Justice with the David E. Wells Scholarship at the close of the symposium.

  • Joshua JusticeJosh Justice in Dr. Sunnie Thompson's lab won “The Ellen Fanning Memorial Award for generating discussion" at the ASM meeting on Viral Manipulation of Nuclear Processes in Charleston, SC on December 3-6.

  • fran lundInflammation becomes a surprising common feature, not only in chronic immune disease, but also in chronic neurological disease.

  • dokland

    Terje Dokland, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at BirminghamDepartment of Microbiology, has been named an American Society for Microbiology Distinguished Lecturer for 2017-2019. Dokland, a UAB associate professor, studies the structural biology of viral assembly and bacterial pathogenicity, using tools like cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography.

    Beginning July 1, he will join a group of scientifically diverse lecturers who speak at American Society for Microbiology Branch meetings throughout the United States. Frances Lund, Ph.D., UAB chair of Microbiology, called Dokland’s appointment “a national honor.”

  • Briles.AAASUsing international genomic studies backed by proof-of-concept cell experiments, researchers have identified two genes that contribute to the chronic kidney disease glomerulonephritis.

    This provides new genetic clues to understanding IgA nephropathy, an autoimmune kidney disease that commonly causes kidney failure. The findings are relevant to IgA nephropathy and other diseases with similar underlying molecular defects, such as inflammatory bowel disease, certain types of blood disease and cancer.

    “Very little is known about the causes of IgA nephropathy, genetic or otherwise, so our discovery represents an important step toward developing better therapies for this disease,” said lead author Krzysztof Kiryluk, M.D., the Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columba University Medical Center.
  • Briles.AAASIt doesn’t matter whether you live in Beverly Hills or a Brazilian favela — every human being is only a few inches away from disaster. From birth to death, on our arms, legs and everywhere else, each of us carries microbes that would love to get under our skin and reproduce, with potentially fatal results. A paper cut, an insect bite, an untimely rubbing of the eyes — it takes very little for bacteria, viruses and other invaders to get inside and start wreaking havoc.
  • brilesFaculty members from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Medicine have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    The AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its Science family of journals.

    Charles Amsler, Ph.D., professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, Steven Austad, Ph.D., distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Biology, and David Briles, Ph.D., professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Department of Pediatrics, are UAB’s three representatives in the 2016 class of AAAS fellows.
  • Kahan2The hygiene hypothesis proposes that a 20th century surge in allergies and asthma is because people are living in increasingly hygienic environments. Rather than the rural farm life of the agricultural 19th century, families live in urban and suburban communities, have fewer children who can exchange infections, bathe and wash their hands more frequently, and use antibiotics excessively. This all means reduced infant exposure to microbes that would have tempered excessive immune reactions, such as asthma, later in life.
  • Kahan2Faculty and staff from the School of Medicine gathered Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the promotion of 22 women faculty, 10 of whom had earned the title of full professor and 12 who attained the rank of associate professor...


  • Kahan2Shannon Kahan, a posdoc in in Dr. Allan Zajac’s lab and recent recipient of the state’s only American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellowship, knocked it out of the park during the Office of Postdoctoral Education and Postdoctoral Association celebration...
  • preeyamDr. Preeyam Patel, a recipient of the 2015 Max D. Cooper Endowed Immunology Travel Award, presented at the International Congress of Immunology in Melbourne Australia last month on how antibodies to phospholipid epitopes can inhibit the interaction of house dust mite with phosphorylcholine-specific receptors on antigen-presenting cells in the lung.
  • harry shroederUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham researchers are exploring ways to wrap pig tissue with a protective coating to ultimately fight diabetes in humans. The nano-thin bilayers of protective material are meant to deter or prevent immune rejection.

    The ultimate goal: transplant insulin-producing cell-clusters from pigs into humans to treat Type 1 diabetes.
  • harry shroederIn a study of children with brain shunts at Children’s of Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham investigational biomarker outperformed the current “gold standard” test for detecting bacterial infections in the shunts.
  • harry shroederMicro researchers involved in studies reporting a new quality-control checkpoint in developing B cells that may affect vaccine responses.

  • Janusz Kabarowski, Ph.D, is playing an important role in a metabolomics initiative.

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  • Eleven outstanding faculty members were named recipients of the 2016 Dean’s Excellence Awards, an honor recognizing exceptional contributions made by School of Medicine faculty in service, teaching, research, diversity enhancement and mentorship. 

  • pittman.scholar“Having a good mentor early in one’s career can mean the difference between success and failure in any career,” said Beatriz León-Ruiz, assistant professor of Microbiology at UAB. In 2008, her most impactful mentorship began when León-Ruiz joined the lab of Frances Lund, Ph.D., (now chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology), in New York as a postdoctoral associate at Trudeau Institute.
  • pittman.scholarRecruitment 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.
  • micro.senateCongratulations to Allan Zajac (Senator) and Jamil Saad (Alternate Senator) for their elections to 2 year terms on the Faculty Senate.
  • KABAROWSKI BARNES photo 1MALDI--matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization--imaging mass spectrometry is now available to researchers at UAB. Drs. Stephen Barnes and Janusz Kabarowski used the tissue imaging method in their recent research "Early lipid changes in acute kidney injury using SWATH lipidomics coupled with MALDI tissue imaging."
  • Picture1Drs. Peter Prevelige (20 years) and Janet Yother (25 years) are among the more than 1,000 UAB employees to be honored during the annual Service Awards Program at the DoubleTree Hotel Heritage Banquet room on March 4.