Written by Katelyn Howard 

vlad parpura 2016Vladimir Parpura, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurobiology, was elected as a corresponding member of VI Section of Medical Sciences of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Established in 1938, The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts is the top national institution of sciences and arts in the country, which prides itself on uniting scientist and artists who were elected into the institution for their specific achievements in the areas of science and art. SASA has a maximum of 90 corresponding members from abroad. Currently there are only 78 corresponding members from scientific organizations abroad.
Parpura earned his medical degree from the University of Zagreb in Croatia in 1989, and a doctorate in neuroscience and zoology from Iowa State University in 1993. He was elected as a Member of Academia Europaea in 2012 and of Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives in 2016, and was recently elected president of the American Society for Neurochemistry for the 2017-19 term.Parpura elected to Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Written by  Katelyn Howard Print Email
Mary Phillips recently gave an oral presentation of her abstract at the Gordon Research Conference on “Excitatory Synapses and Brain Function” in Les Diablerets, Switzerland. Mary received a travel award providing her the opportunity to attend the conference.  She is a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Lucas Pozzo-Miller and both Mary and Dr. Pozzo-Miller presented during the Autism session.

The international event was attended by scientists from numerous countries. Dr. Pozzo-Miller and Mary were the only UAB representatives who presented at the event. Mary's talk "Atypical Hippocampal Afferent Inputs to the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Alter Social Behaviors in the Mecp2 Mouse Model of Rett Syndrome” and Dr. Pozzo-Miller’s talk “Dysfunction of Hippocampal Synapses in Rett Syndrome” were both well received.

Gordon Research Seminars provide a unique forum for graduate students, post-docs, and other scientists with comparable levels of experience and education to present and exchange new data and cutting edge ideas. For more information on the Gordon Research Seminars visit: www.grc.org.
Three UAB students selected for the 2017 Amgen Scholars Program

The highly-selective program provides fully-paid summer research opportunities for students at some of the country's premier institutions.

amgen scholars 2017 streamFrom left: Niharika Loomba, Cody Savage and Jasmin RevannaFor the fourth year in a row, students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham have been selected for the Amgen Scholars U.S. Program. This year, three students will take part in the highly selective program, which provides 200 undergraduates with fully paid summer research opportunities at 10 of the nation’s premier educational institutions.

The Amgen Scholars summer program is funded by a 12-year, $50 million commitment from the Amgen Foundation to support student research at world-class institutions. The program aims to increase student interest in pursuing advanced training and careers in the sciences.

Niharika Loomba, a neuroscience teaching assistant in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Biology, will conduct research at Stanford University’s SSRP-Amgen Scholars Program. “Receiving this incredible opportunity has helped me take one step closer toward achieving my dream of becoming a neuroscientist,” Loomba said.

“During my time at Stanford, I hope to explore new areas of science,” Loomba said. “I am always eager to learn new things, so immersing myself in science for this nine-week program is really exciting.” Loomba says she is looking forward to networking with students and scientists from across the country and is appreciative of her mentors and peers at UAB who have helped her achieve this goal.

Jasmin Revanna, a neuroscience student studying epigenetic mechanisms at UAB’s Department of Neurobiology, says she was ecstatic when she received her acceptance into the Caltech Amgen Scholar Program.

“The project I proposed aims to create an animal model for autism spectrum disorder while utilizing the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool,” Revanna said. “While at Caltech, I hope to gain experience working with nematodes, which is something I have never done, while making use of the lab techniques I already know.” She hopes this opportunity will open the door for bigger opportunities and ultimately increase her chances of acceptance into graduate school. Both Loomba and Revanna are students in the UAB Honors College.

Cody Savage says he is deeply honored to have been chosen to be an Amgen Scholar. Savage is a neuroscience major graduating in the fall with dreams of pursuing a career as a biomedical scientist. During his time as an undergrad, he had many research opportunities ranging from genetic studies to electron microscopy.

“I hope to gain knowledge of new experimental techniques, develop an interesting research project and soak up as much information as possible from the distinguished scientists at Washington University in St. Louis,” Savage said.
April 11, 2017  
      Advances in brain imaging allowing early detection of the plaques implicated in Alzheimer’s disease have pushed prevention strategies in the fight against dementia.

david geldmacherDavid Geldmacher, M.D., the Warren Family Endowed Chair in Neurology
      It has been 111 years since Auguste D. became the first person described with what is now called Alzheimer’s disease. German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, for whom the disease is named, first publically reported his observations of Auguste in 1906, upon her death at age 56. Now, as life expectancy grows — there are 29 nations with an average life expectancy of 80 years of age or older — the specter of Alzheimer’s disease looms larger than ever.

          “In my experience, Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared disease in people over 65,” said David Geldmacher, M.D., the director of the
Division of Memory Disorders
           in the
Department of Neurology
           at the
University of Alabama at Birmingham
         . “And while it’s true that efforts to find a cure for AD have not yet proved successful, much of that fear may be misplaced, since we have learned so much about the disease in the last several decades.”

      So much so that Geldmacher says prevention, not cure, may be the key to stopping Alzheimer’s.

      “When I started my career treating dementia, Alzheimer’s was a black box that we couldn’t open,” he said. “We couldn’t even diagnose the disease except with an autopsy after death. We couldn’t treat it or slow its progression, or stop it in the first place. Today we have a much better understanding of Alzheimer’s and are much closer to developing meaningful therapies that will be beneficial in prevention and treatment.”

          Geldmacher, who was recently named the Warren Family Endowed Chair in Neurology in the UAB
School of Medicine
         , likens the process to how medicine overcame earlier scourges such as pneumonia. “First we had to discover germ theory, then isolate the bacteria responsible for pneumonia, develop antibiotics to kill the bacteria and then ultimately develop a vaccine to prevent the disease in the first place,” he said. “That took about 100 years. We are following the same pathway of knowledge with Alzheimer’s, but now with much better tools.” One of those tools is the PET scan, or positive emission tomography. PET scans use radioactive tracers that can bind to substances in the body and then light up during the scan, producing images that show increased brain activity.

      In Alzheimer’s, advanced imaging facilities such as UAB use a special tracer that binds to a brain protein called amyloid beta. Amyloid is routinely produced in the brain, but an abnormal increase or buildup of amyloid is toxic, and a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

erik roberson 2017Erik Roberson, M.D., Ph.D., the Patsy W. and Charles A. Collat Professor of Neuroscience
      “We can now use PET imaging to look at the brain of a person without any symptoms of memory loss or dementia, and see if a buildup of amyloid is already occurring,” Geldmacher said. “This doesn’t tell us when symptoms of dementia might start, but does indicate an increased risk for Alzheimer’s at some point in the future. More importantly, it gives us a target for aggressive efforts to reduce the amount of amyloid and hopefully reduce the risk.”

          UAB is actively involved in several clinical trials aimed at reducing amyloid levels in the brain, including the
A4 study
           , a national trial with 66 investigational sites. Participants will undergo PET imaging to search for amyloid buildup. Those with significant amyloid will receive a drug called solanezemab, delivered via infusion, which binds to amyloid protein and helps the body dispose of it. A second trial, called
         and coming in 2017, is for an oral medication that is thought to inhibit the production of amyloid, reducing its level in the brain.

DIAN-TU study
         is looking at a version of early-onset Alzheimer’s called dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease, a more rare disease type caused by a genetic mutation.  “This study, conducted in younger individuals who are at genetic risk of the disease because of a parent with Alzheimer’s due to one of these mutations, is testing two monoclonal antibodies designed to reduce amyloid,” said Erik Roberson, M.D., Ph.D., the Patsy W. and Charles A. Collat Professor of Neuroscience, and primary investigator at UAB for the trial. “While there are some differences between this type of early-onset disease and the more common age-associated disease, we believe the results will have implications for future studies and treatments for all types of Alzheimer’s.”

          Another trial, called
         , is a Phase III study assessing a drug called aducanumab for Alzheimer’s. Results of a prior study of aducanumab indicated that it had a dose response curve, meaning higher doses showed better responses. The EMERGE trial is recruiting patients with a condition referred to as mild cognitive impairment. “Now that we can use PET imaging to predict the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, we’ve changed how we characterize the disease,” Roberson said. “We used to consider mild cognitive impairment to be a precursor of Alzheimer’s. Now we look upon it as part of the disease, simply an early stage. For prevention strategies to work, we have to consider the first sign of amyloid buildup — before symptoms emerge — as the starting point of Alzheimer’s disease.”

      Even though Geldmacher and Roberson are excited about the prospects of prevention, both understand that better therapies for those who already have the disease are needed, as are better ways to help families and caregivers manage the complexity of coping with an Alzheimer’s patient. “We can’t reverse dementia once it has begun, and we can’t induce the body to make more neurons after brain cells are lost,” Roberson said. “We have to find ways to ease symptoms and provide a better quality of life.”

pet mriPET scans use radioactive tracers that can bind to substances in the body and then light up during the scan, producing images that show increased brain activity.
      One method is using an individual’s own genetic makeup to predict and determine which medications on the market will work best to manage an individual’s particular symptoms. The Memory Disorders Division is working closely with UAB’s Hugh Kaul Personalized Medicine Institute to utilize the power of precision medicine in this effort.

          A Department of Defense study, done in collaboration with Rita Jablonski-Jaudon, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UAB
School of Nursing
         , is using telemedicine for personalized caregiver coaching on how to respond to disruptive behaviors, reducing caregiver stress and improving the home environment. The project, which may also have utility for patients with traumatic brain injury, uses face-to-face coaching via the internet.

          Geldmacher also directs the UAB
Alzheimer’s Risk Assessment and Intervention Clinic
      , the first such clinical service in the nation. Patients receive a detailed, personalized risk assessment, which includes family history, a detailed memory history for the patient, cognitive testing and a baseline MRI scan. That information is incorporated into existing risk-predictor models, which have been validated by research studies that followed thousands of patients for as many as 20 years to produce an accurate risk assessment.

      “We focus on the reversible risk factors,” Geldmacher said. “So many people facing dementia focus on the irreversible risk factors, such as ‘I’m getting older’ or ‘my dad or mom had dementia.’ We can’t change those things, but we can change things like levels of physical activity and cholesterol counts and blood-pressure numbers.” He says the studies have shown that reducing one or more risk factors can have a significant effect on reducing one’s overall chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

      “I am more optimistic that we will find ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease now than when I started in the field,” Geldmacher said. “The Risk Clinic, pre-symptomatic diagnosis, imaging gains — all of these advances have given us new targets for investigation. During my career, we have sequenced the amyloid peptide, and we have discovered the genes that might modify and regulate it. Most importantly, we have developed an understanding of the factors underour control that we can use now to modify the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

          For more information on UAB clinical studies for Alzheimer’s disease, click
           . Research studies are supported in part by the
National Institutes of Health