Laboratory

UAB is committed to providing state-of-the-art research facilities that match the outstanding quality of its scientists.  During approximately the past ten years, major construction and improvements to UAB facilities have taken place, the result of planned and approved projects from the UAB Master Plan.  Completed projects include the 155,000 ft2 Kaul Human Genetics Building (completed May 2001), the 77,665 ft2 Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering Building (completed September 2001), the 95,000 ft2 Biomedical Research Building II (completed December 2001) and the new 340,000 ft2 Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Sciences Building (completed Spring 2005).  Renovations to Volker Hall (completed in 2003) added additional space for laboratory space. The new Southeastern Biosafety Laboratory Alabama Birmingham (SEBLAB), a 43,500 ft2 building on the Southside of Birmingham is the most recently completed building (2008). The SEBLAB houses Biosafety Level 2 and Level 3 laboratories as well as animal Biosafety Level 3 laboratories.  It is through careful management of resources and an entrepreneurial approach to resource/program development that UAB continues to progress and grow as a major research institution.

Research and Training Centers

An exceptional feature of the UAB medical center is the operation of interdisciplinary Research Centers, which function in parallel to the Academic Departments.  Although faculty members have primary appointments in specific departments and individual departments award PhD degrees, much of the research with a specific disease-related focus, is carried out by laboratories in association with different Centers.  There are currently 23 University-wide Interdisciplinary Research Centers and 3 Pilot Centers with University-wide designation (http://www.uab.edu/opa/centers). The Centers are provided substantial Institutional financial support to foster their ongoing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research efforts.  Some of these centers with particular relevance to postdoctoral training are outlined below; several are directed currently by MERIT Research Mentors. 

Center for AIDS Research - The UAB Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), directed by Michael Saag, MD, has over 135 faculty members at UAB, representing 8 schools and 28 departments.  In 1999, a seminal discovery by CFAR member Beatrice Hahn, MD, uncovered the origin of HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS.  In addition to its shared facilities, the ten CFAR cores include Administrative, Developmental, Clinical, Biostatistics, Central Virus, Molecular Biology, DNA Sequencing, Flow Cytometry, International, and Behavioral Sciences.  The CFAR coordinates and provides infrastructure support to a large number of highly productive investigators focused on many aspects of HIV disease, from basic sequence analysis of HIV and related lentiviruses, to conducting a wide range of therapeutic and prophylactic clinical trials, to understanding the social and societal impact of HIV around the world. 

Center for Biophysical Science and Engineering - Since 1986, The Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering (CBSE), directed by Dr. Larry DeLucas, a MERIT Research Mentor, has integrated our strengths to become a leading structural biology center capable of embracing the “genes to drug” paradigm. We are one of the world’s largest Structure Based Drug Discovery facilities with over 110 employees, including 15 Ph.D. level crystallographers. The CBSE is centered on a suite of integrated high throughput laboratories allowing us to offer a cost-effective platform of discovery services designed to increase the efficiency and success for drug discovery projects with industry, academic and government partners. This includes the designation as a NASA Research Partnership Center aimed at fostering the participation of industry in the commercial development of space- related research. Our concentration in the area of protein structural information and the discovery and development of new drugs bridged the access for those interested in the effects of microgravity in scientific research.  In 1990 the CBSE Engineering Division was added to support the development of specialized research instruments for ground and microgravity based research experiments. The Engineering Group has grown into a full service organization providing customers with a range of solutions from technical guidance to complete turn-key systems and services (concept through fabrication). The engineering group has a history of designing, developing and commercializing innovative hardware and software systems for the aeronautic and life sciences industry. Access to this type of expertise in applied engineering creates a bridge for researchers interested in the development of novel systems that enable new technology to impact the future of scientific research.

Center for Clinical and Translational Science - The Center was officially approved by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees on February 3, 2006 and was funded by a 5-year, $26.9 million NCRR CTSA in 2008.  The CCTS is 1 of 39 institutions in the CTSA national consortium and is directed by Robert Kimberly, MD. The vision of the CCTS is to transform the institutional environment by building productive and efficient interdisciplinary research teams through educational ingenuity, regulatory reorganization, resource coordination, and methodological innovation.  Its mission is to develop a transformative infrastructure that spans the spectrum from preclinical research to bench-to-bedside translation to community implementation. The CCTS provides trainees, including postdoctoral fellows, with an overview of the conduct of clinical and translational research with its many components, but particularly through the Participant & Clinical Interactions Resource (PCIR) and Translational Technologies and Novel Methodologies (TTNM) Component. The TTNM cores (Laboratory Core, Physiology and Metabolism Core, and Informatics Core) and the PCIR’s Bionutrition Unit are invaluable resources. The CCTS also offers access to a biostatistician and a Clinical Research Safety and Training Coordinator. The PCIR supports study development, implementation, and outreach and currently has on-going adult studies and 15 pediatric clinical trials/observational studies (NIH & industry funded). Also available to trainees is the CCTS Research Commons, a University-wide crucible in which critical research catalysts are assembled.  The Commons houses the Program for Research Support, which fosters career development by assisting with NIH Research Career (K), Fellowship (F), and Program (T) applications, the CCTS Scientific Writing Seminars and the Nascent Projects Panel.  Some postdoctoral fellows participate in quarterly CCTS Scientific Writing Seminars which are designed to provide practical assistance in the preparation of scientific manuscripts, writing of career development and research grants and scientific presentations. The goal of these activities will be submission of individual NRSA (or equivalent) fellowship applications. The Nascent Projects Panel provides readily available expertise in areas such as research design and biostatistics, ethics and regulatory knowledge, and grant writing. The Panel meets biweekly and includes experienced basic and clinical investigators from across campus and from SRI. Although originally designed for postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty, the graduate school and CCTS leadership are modifying the structure and incorporating elements to broaden opportunities for all trainees.

Center for Computational and Structural Biology - The Center for Computational and Structural Biology (CCSB), Dr. Jere P. Segrest, Director, a strategic investment by UAB in its vision to become a leader in bio–medical research and training, focuses on bridging the gap between knowledge of the human genome and knowledge of the function of new and predicted genome products.  To accomplish this, a quantitative understanding of the three-dimensional structure of proteins and, in particular, their interactions with other macromolecules, such as the membrane, will be the pivotal challenge in biomedical research in the next few decades. The CCSB represents a strategic investment by UAB in its vision to become a leader in bio–medical research and training. The Center makes that vision a reality through implementation and execution of an interdisciplinary research and training program focused on computational and structural biology.  The CCSB integrates skills and resources from a range of research areas including: High Performance Computing and Visualization, Macromolecular Modeling and Dynamics, Image Processing, Cryo-Electron Microscopy, X-ray Crystallography, and NMR Spectroscopy. The collaborative effort of these cores enables the development of two new areas of research that uniquely define the CCSB, membrane protein structure and dynamics, and protein folding and assembly.

Center for Exercise Medicine – The Center for Exercise Medicine was established in 2011 and is directed by Dr. Marcas Bamman. The vision of this center is to cultivate an environment that establishes UAB as the nation’s leader in exercise medicine research and education.  UAB is among the first of major academic medical centers to realize the importance of this innovative research.  The work of the Center impacts the health and well-being of children and adults of all ages by cultivating interdisciplinary research, training and educating the next wave of scientists and healthcare professionals, and promoting community outreach and education based on findings through clinical exercise trials.

Center for Free Radical Biology - The Center for Free Radical Biology was originally conceived and founded in 1996 by Dr. Bruce Freeman to recognize the strengths at UAB in the fields of basic and clinical free radical research. Since then, under the current leadership of Dr. Victor Darley-Usmar, it has developed into a University wide Center with approximately 59 members drawn from a wide range of disciplines across campus including chemistry, biology, physiology and clinical practice. Faculty currently have funded projects encompassing the basic chemistry of free radicals, cell signaling, physiology and translational research.

Center for Metabolic Bone Disease - The UAB Center for Metabolic Bone Disease (CMBD),  currently directed by Majd Zayzafoon MD, was established in 1996 to provide a broad-based multidisciplinary research, training, and service center focused on metabolic bone disease.  It is also supported by a P30 Research Core Center (RCC) grant from NIAMS, one of only a few bone disease RCC’s in the United States.  The CMBD Research Cores are essential to the success of this dynamic program and include shared research facilities in Human Bone Cell Production, Histomorphometry and Molecular Analyses, Small Animal Bone Phenotyping, and a Small Animal X-Ray Facility.  In addition, there is a comprehensive Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Clinic, DEXA database, and clinical research program.

Civitan International Research Center - The Civitan International Research Center, directed by neuroscientist, Dr. Harald Sontheimer, a MERIT Research Mentor, and pediatric neurologist Dr. Alan Percy, has over 100 faculty dedicated to improving the well-being and quality of life for individuals and families affected by mental retardation and developmental disabilities.  The Center is home to the Mental Retardation Research Center (MRRC); Alabama's University Center for Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD); and the UAB Maternal and Child Health Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) interdisciplinary training project.  Researchers at the UAB Civitan International Research Center will be part of a new multi-center Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network that will study three rare diseases – Rett, Angelman, and Prader-Willi syndromes.  Led by Dr. Percy, a leading authority on Rett Syndrome, the five-year $6.25 million grant is one of only seven from the Office of Rare Diseases of the NIH.

Clinical Nutrition Research Center - The UAB Clinical Nutrition Research Center (CNRC), directed by David B. Allison, PhD, a MERIT Research Mentor, is supported by a $4 million NIH center grant and has over 110 appointed faculty representing more than 30 academic units at UAB.  One of only nine such centers in the country, its state-of-the art core facilities support small animal phenotyping, assessment of energy metabolism and body composition, and assay technologies involving isotope ratio mass spec, GC/mass spec, and a multi-analyte platform for simultaneous quantification of multiple hormones and metabolites.  The Department of Nutrition Sciences, directed by Tim Garvey, MD, provides the academic home for the CNRC.

Comprehensive Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center - The UAB Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center (AMC), directed by Robert Kimberly, MD, serve as the focal point for basic and clinical research in arthritis, autoimmunity, and musculoskeletal diseases and is the base for an NIH-sponsored Training Program in Rheumatic Diseases Research.  The AMC has been federally funded since 1977 and is supported in part by center and program project grants from NIAMS, the CDC, and AHRQ.  Through its extramural funding, the AMC supports research core facilities in Flow Cytometry and High Speed Cell Sorting, Hybridoma and Phage Display, High Resolution Microscopy (conventional and dual photon confocal microscopy), and Gene Targeting and Molecular Genetics.  The AMC has a P60 for multidisciplinary clinical investigations into arthritis and a P30 Rheumatic Disease Core Center grant.  UAB is one of the few sites nationally with such support.  As an example of the outstanding interdisciplinary research in autoimmunity, work on the genetics of SLE has been supported by a SCOR grant from NIAMS since 1998, and has identified a large number of SNPs and other genetic traits that are associated with lupus and other inflammatory conditions. 

Comprehensive Cancer Center - In 1973 the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) was designated by the NCI as one of the first eleven comprehensive centers in the country and has maintained this designation for more than 30 years.  Led by Edward E. Partridge, MD, the CCC remains the only comprehensive cancer center in the Deep South.  It currently has more than 300 members representing 30 departments and 7 schools on campus and occupies more than 175,000 square feet of space in eight buildings.  Its NIH-funded specialized facilities include cores in tumor procurement, radiolabeling, gene therapy and vaccine vector production, mass spectrometry/proteomics, biostatistics and informatics, gamma camera imaging, and vascular flow MRI technology.  The Center’s translational and clinical research programs include Experimental Therapeutics, Women’s Cancer, and Neuro-Oncology.  The Center’s main areas of basic research include programs in Immunology, Virology, Tumor Biology, and Structural Biology.  In 1992, the NCI established the Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) to promote interdisciplinary research and to speed the bi-directional exchange between basic and clinical science to move basic research findings from the laboratory to applied settings involving patients and populations.  Marking UAB’s superior research environment, the NCI has awarded its investigators with three SPORE grants for breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer research.

Comprehensive Diabetes Center - The Comprehensive Diabetes Center is the result of a collaborative effort between UAB, Children’s Hospital and members of the Birmingham Community.  The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama approved the formation of the Comprehensive Diabetes Center in September 2006; Dr. Anath Shalev serves as its current Director. The Comprehensive Diabetes Center is comprised of clinical and research faculty with interests encompassing autoimmune type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, risk factors, epidemiology, complications, community outreach and intervention programs. The UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center is an NIH-funded Diabetes Research Center (DRC). This prestigious award provides research resources to the UAB diabetes research community through a number of scientific core facilities. The DRC also provides funding for a Pilot & Feasibility award program designed to foster the careers of new diabetes researchers.

Comprehensive Neuroscience Center - The overall mission of the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center (CNC), directed by Dr. Lori McMahon, a MERIT Research Mentor, is to promote and support interdisciplinary neuroscience research, clinical care and education at UAB.  Diseases of the nervous system represent some of the most physically and emotionally devastating illnesses afflicting mankind.  Brain and spinal cord injury, dementing illnesses, schizophrenia, depression, multiple sclerosis, autism and other neurological and psychiatric diseases often rob patients of their dignity, potential and hope.  To make meaningful progress in understanding the mechanisms of brain function and dysfunction and ultimately, to develop disease prevention and treatment strategies, a concerted effort must be placed on establishing highly interactive, interdisciplinary Centers of Neuroscience excellence.  Despite significant advances over the last 15 years in understanding many basic neurological processes, development of more effective treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases have been identified as the largest and fastest growing unmet medical need in this country.  The institutions that can most rapidly and creatively establish the necessary neuroscience initiatives to facilitate the translation of basic research discoveries into effective therapies will be positioned to lead neurological and psychiatric disease research into the future.  The UAB CNC serves as the administrative epicenter of UAB basic and applied neuroscience research and oversees the development of six thematic programs of neuroscience investigation:  1) Neurodevelopment and Neurogenetics; 2) Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics; 3) Neuroregeneration and Plasticity; 4) Behavioral and Cognitive Health; 5) Glial Biology in Medicine; and 6) Neuroimaging.  The UAB CNC serves to facilitate and promote internationally recognized neuroscience research, clinical service and education at UAB and have a tremendous economic benefit for the State of Alabama.  UAB is also one of only four institutions in the US to obtain funding for a Neuroscience Blueprint Core. The Alabama Neuroscience Blueprint Core Center began operations in September 2006 as an NIH supported (NS57098) facility to promote investigations of nervous system function and dysfunction.  The Center contains a series of interrelated research cores focused on genetically modified rodents and other small laboratory animals.  The Center supports the research activities of NIH funded neuroscience investigators at UAB and participating institutions in Alabama and neighboring states.

Cystic Fibrosis Research Center - The Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center was conceived when the University of Alabama at Birmingham administration approached Governor Forrest H. James with a plan to establish a multi-disciplinary Cystic Fibrosis Center to conduct basic research in CF as well as therapeutic interventions. The Center was established at UAB in 1981.  Also in 1981, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation began a new program for funding CF research known as the Research Development Program (RDP). The UAB Center was the first to receive RDP support from the Foundation, which now sponsors 10 such Centers in the United States. The Center has maintained continuous external funding from the NIH and CF Foundation since 1981. The CF Research Center includes more than fifty faculty members. Using the resources described above, as well as University funds and an allotment provided by the State of Alabama, the Center maintains Core facilities available for studies of cell biology, ion transport, and translational aspects of CF research. The center is directed by Dr. Eric J. Sorscher, MD, who was the first researcher in the U.S. to introduce the corrected gene for CF into the lungs of patients using a lipid molecule vector.  In addition to an experienced CF research center, a strong Cystic Fibrosis Care Center is located at the Children's Hospital of Alabama and UAB Hospital. This Center provides state-of-the-art care for approximately 400 CF patients. Interactions between the research and care centers provide a direct and creative link between basic scientists and clinicians, and fosters a spirit of cooperation and concern at all levels from the research laboratory to the patients' bedside.

Heflin Center for Human Genomics - The UAB Howell and Elizabeth Ann Heflin Center for Human Genomics is a multi-school, multi-departmental Center.  Directed by Bruce R Korf, MD it was established in 2001 as a part of the UAB Genetics Initiative.  The mission of the Center is to bring together the UAB community of genetic investigators and to develop a robust technologic infrastructure to support genetic and genomic research at UAB.  The Center has established three high-priority technological resources: 1) microarray analyses, 2) high-throughput sequencing, and 3) high-throughput genotyping, including single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).  Data management will be supported by the UAB Molecular and Genetic Bioinformatics Facility (MGBF), which has been incorporated into the Center.  Statistical support will be provided through a collaborative arrangement with the Department of Biostatistics’ Section on Statistical Genetics. 

Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center – The MHRC, directed by Mona Fouad MD,  a member of the MERIT Program Executive Committee, provides UAB researchers with an infrastructure to develop and conduct innovative research ideas for improving the health status of minority groups and expand the participation of minorities in biomedical and behavioral research; and to identify and support research opportunities to reduce health disparities in underserved populations through the partnership with UAB schools and centers and with other state agencies and grassroots organizations in minority communities. In 2008, UAB, represented by the Minority Health MHRC and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, was granted funds by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish the Mid-South Center of Excellence in the Elimination of Disparities (CEED) in breast and cervical cancer. The Center has developed a comprehensive model that addresses disparities in breast and cervical cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivorship within the minority community.

Nephrology Research and Training Center - The NRTC was established in 1976 and was recently recognized as a full University-wide Interdisciplinary Research Center effective October, 2008. In 1998, the NRTC was strengthened by the provision of an endowment, the proceeds of which were targeted to support its training and research activities. Recognizing the importance of enhancing the research portfolio of the NRTC, Dr. Anupam Agarwal, a MERIT Research Mentor, was recruited as the Director of the Center in November 2003.  Since 2006, the renewed mission of the NRTC has been to provide a comprehensive interdisciplinary infrastructure and environment to support the kidney-related research continuum from molecular pathways to model systems to man. The particular emphasis of this Center will be to focus on projects/experimental strategies that integrate basic concepts and clinical insights into translational research. Through educational outreach programs, relevant data will be shared with the community so as to improve health and well-being of those affected by kidney disease and hypertension and increase the number of organs available for renal transplants through public awareness.  The Center currently has 70 faculty members including members from 6 different Schools at UAB.

Southern Research Institute - SRI, a contiguous UAB-affiliate contract drug-development company encourages students to perform lab rotations and provides insight into the workings of modern drug discovery, allowing students to follow the pipeline from target selection to drug discovery to FDA approval.  SRI is an independent, not-for-profit center (401 c3) for scientific research that formally affiliated with UAB in 1999. It provides contract research in the fields of engineering, chemical and biological defense, homeland security and infectious disease research, environmental and energy-related research, and pre-clinical drug discovery and drug development. The drug discovery staff is comprised of about 100 scientists with expertise in medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, biochemistry and high-throughput screening technologies.  SRI scientists frequently have joint UAB appointments, serve on UAB committees and training grants, and collaborate with UAB research centers for an exceptional research interchange.

Vision Science Research Center - The VSRC was founded in 1979 with the mission to promote vision science research, facilitate collaborative investigations and add to the scientific knowledge of the eye and central visual pathways leading to improved diagnosis, treatment and prevention of blindness and visual impairment. The Center is directed by Dr. Kent Keyser, PhD, and currently has 56 appointed faculty members representing 16 departments and 7 schools at UAB.  The participating faculty’s research focus includes topics such as molecular biology of the visual system; retinal anatomy; physiology and molecular genetics; mechanisms of myopia; mechanisms of cataract formation; central visual system physiology; studies of the lacrimal gland, cornea, and tear film; and visual psychophysics. To facilitate research in these areas, the Nation Eye Institute/National Institutes of Health provides funding for shared facilities that support the individual members’ research activities.