The past decade has witnessed a period of immense growth in Neuroscience at UAB, as the institution has made major financial, infrastructural and scholarly commitments to neuroscience research and training. This investment resulted in the establishment of four new neuroscience-oriented Centers/Institutes at UAB, the recruitment of nationally renowned chairs to head departments in Anesthesiology, Neurobiology, Neurology, Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, and Genetics, the hiring of dynamic young and established faculty in basic and clinical neuroscience, and the expansion and relocation of a significant component of the Department of Neurobiology to the newly constructed Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building. This recent growth builds on a strong foundation of successful, well-established UAB faculty who have a long history of interdisciplinary and collaborative research in neuroscience. In 2006, the UAB School of Medicine Research Strategic Plan identified neuroscience as one of four academic disciplines to target for substantial institutional investment over the next ten years, which will lead to additional dramatic enhancement of neuroscience at UAB.
UAB Department of Neurobiology was founded in 1996. It is one of the Joint Health Science departments in the UAB Schools of Medicine and Dentistry. The Department currently has 16 primary faculty members complimented by a diverse secondary faculty. Evidence of the faculty's national and international impact in fundamental Neuroscience research includes: their substantial number of publications in high impact journals; appointments to editorial boards and editorships of leading neuroscience journals; appointments to NIH and NSF study sections and review boards; awards of over 28 million dollars in annual research grant funds; and numerous invitations to speak at national and international research symposia. Faculty members also have received numerous national and international awards recognizing excellence in research and training.
One critical step in the ongoing development of neuroscience at UAB is the establishment of a broadly-based, translationally driven Comprehensive Neuroscience Center at UAB. The mission of the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center (CNC) is to further develop and synergize interdisciplinary neuroscience research, clinical care, and education at UAB. The CNC is a major institutional undertaking modeled on the Comprehensive Cancer Center programs catalyzed by the National Cancer Institute. To achieve its mission, the CNC promotes the formation of collaborations among investigators with common interests, enhances opportunities for faculty recruitment, enables the acquisition and maintenance of collaborative grants, and oversees the administration of several core facilities and services. The CNC director, Dr. Lori McMahon, is a Neurobiology Department secondary faculty member.
The CNC builds on an $8.6 million grant from the NIH which established the Alabama Neuroscience Blueprint Center Core Facility that provides outstanding, valuable resources for the training faculty and trainees of this Program. The Blueprint Center encompasses six cores, and provide outstanding facilities for genetics, brain slice electrophysiology and behavior in genetically manipulated mice. Three other core/centers will provide additional key resources as well. The Neuroscience Core Grant Directed by Dr. John Hablitz, along with the Mental Retardation Research Center Core in the department, support neurological and developmental disabilities research programs, with tissue processing, live and fixed cell imaging, molecular biology, animal behavior, and genetics facilities available. The UAB Center for Glial Biology in Medicine, created in 2007 and directed by Dr. Harald Sontheimer, has the primary mission to study of glial cells in health and disease, to serve as a clearinghouse for information to be shared among glial scientist world-wide, and recently established two new core facilities, the Glial Cell Live Imaging Core and Glial Cell and Animal Models Core. The newly built Civitan Functional Imaging Center opened in May 2007, provides a state-of-the-art facility for training and research in human brain imaging of adults and children and houses a Seimens 3.0 Tesla Allegra head-only functional MRI Scanner.
Research and Training
In addition to its major research emphasis, the departmental faculty are actively involved in training graduate students in the Neurobiology PhD Program, and in training postdoctoral fellows in advances research techniques in their laboratories. The Neurobiology Graduate Program's mission is to train a new generation of neuroscientists who have the breadth of training in the fundamentals of modern neurobiological research ranging from molecular to systems' approaches and depth of training in specific areas so as to enable them to become leading neuroscience researchers of the future. Interested students also have the opportunity to receive advanced training in neurobiology of disease with a focus on modern molecular research approaches to clinical topics related to Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Rehabilitation Medicine, thus providing a unique perspective for fundamental neuroscience research and teaching careers at academic health science centers. The faculty participate substantially in teaching of the campus-wide graduate Neuroscience curriculum and in the interdepartmental Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology (CMDB) graduate program. Students are admitted to the department's Neurobiology Ph.D. Program through one of the three UAB interdisciplinary training programs - Neuroscience, CMDB or the combined MD/Ph.D. program.
The Department of Neurobiology is housed in custom-designed laboratories and offices in the Shelby Multidisciplinary Biomedical Research Building and in the Civitan International Research Center. These locations provide unique opportunities for collaborative research with other molecular biologists and physiologists as well as a strong group of clinical investigators involved in studying mental retardation, neurological disorders, neural injury rehabilitation and molecular psychiatry research. The Neurobiology laboratories are well-equipped, state of the art facilities including full instrumentation for patch-clamp electrophysiology, high resolution cellular imaging, FRET, cell culture, a broad range of recombinant technologies including "gene gun,"viral transfection and transgenic approaches, molecular biology, and electron, single and two-photon laser scanning confocal microscopy.
A significant and growing number of faculty members have their laboratories housed in the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, one of only four such institutes in the country. The mission of the McKnight Institute is to promote research and investigation into the fundamental mechanisms that underlie the neurobiology of memory, with emphasis on research of clinical relevance to the problems of age-related memory loss. The Institute, under the auspices of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Research Foundation, has enhanced the established research enterprise in the UAB Department of Neurobiology through approximately $1.0 million annual support. These funds are used for recruitment and establishment of new investigators, equipping their research laboratories, for pilot research projects and educational symposia, and for seminars and conferences. The Institute currently comprises the 9th, 10th, and 11th floors of the Shelby Interdisciplinary Research Building and is under the Directorship of Dr. David Sweatt, the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair in Neurobiology.
Neurobiology is a highly interdisciplinary endeavor and this is reflected in the faculty's individual laboratories. Research in the department utilizes molecular genetic tools, molecular isolation of novel nervous system proteins and development of specific antibodies, whole cell and single channel patch- and voltage-clamp recording, subcellular imaging of calcium and voltage transients, confocal and electron microscopic analysis of neuronal structure, X-ray microanalysis of rapidly frozen neuronal processes, oocyte expression of mRNAs to study a range of processes including: receptor biophysics and pharmacology, site-directed mutagenesis, the molecular characterization of intracellular signaling cascades and the neuronal/glial cytoskeleton, brain tumorogenesis and proliferation and electrophysiological analysis of synaptic signaling in neuronal networks. While the focus of the Department's research is on the molecular and cellular basis of normal structure and function of the nervous system, much of the work addresses major issues in neurological health and disease including: epilepsy, primary brain tumors (gliomas), addiction, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, brain/spinal cord injury, mental retardation/developmental disorders, perceptual disorders, stroke, learning and memory and Circadian rhythm disorders.