Douglas C. Heimburger says he’s a man glad of a new challenge – and a Fulbright Scholarship award that is enabling him to work in Zambia is providing just that.

That’s because winning the award has finally enabled an energized an eager Heimburger an opportunity to fulfill a life-long desire.

“I’ve always wanted to do some work and research in the developing world and help the poor and under-served,” Heimburger says. “Plus, I’m a Christian and am motivated by the example of Jesus who went to people who were really needy, identifying with and helping them.

“It’s a little anxiety-provoking in some respects,” the 25-year professor of nutrition sciences says of his trip to Lusaka, Zambia, which began in mid July. “But that’s what I was looking for, to shake things up and try something new.”

During his six-month stay in the African nation, Heimburger (who was accompanied on the trip by his wife Beth and 16-year-old daughter Betsy) will investigate nutritional factors influencing the response to medical treatments for HIV and AIDS. His grant to do so comes from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Heimburger is one of approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad to some 150 countries this coming academic year through the Fulbright Scholar Program. Recipients of Fulbright Scholar awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and because they have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.

UAB has a strong presence in Zambia. It supported the establishment of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) in 1999 and currently treats 50,000 people there with HIV/AIDS — up from 1,000 just two years ago. Doctors there are gathering a real-time database of information on maternal-child health and infectious diseases.

Heimburger is eager to help the people of Zambia and his colleagues in their continuing efforts to treat and cure diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Specifically, he is trying to analyze the link between malnutrition and mortality among those on anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
His research will center on refeeding syndrome, which occurs when previously malnourished patients are fed with high carbohydrate loads. The syndrome can cause cardiac failure, muscle weakness, immune dysfunction and death.

Heimburger is studying this because of the high mortality rate following the beginning of ART in low-income countries.

“I have to think that a person’s nutritional status will influence how they respond to the drugs,” Heimburger says. “We know little about how dietary intake and poor nutrition interact with ART, creating an urgent need to investigate this link.”

Heimburger, who goes out of his way to thank his colleagues in the department of nutrition sciences for their help while he pursues this endeavor, is hoping this project won’t be just a six-month investigation.

“I want to go back with some colleagues a couple of times a year and work with a Zambia team that would stay there and carry the research on,” he says.

“I’m hoping to begin some things that will have long-term results and impact.”