UAB Magazine Online Features
UAB Neuroscientists Stretch the Boundaries of the Mind
The big news in neuroscience these days is that you can change your mind. Not just in superficial ways, either, such as opting for milk over creamer or paper instead of plastic, although plasticity has a lot to do with it. The field is abuzz with mind-bending research indicating that the adult brain can be shaped—repaired, expanded, optimized—in ways that were unimaginable only a few decades ago.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the saying goes. And for decades, scientists thought the same thing about the human brain. An adult brain, the textbooks said, is not plastic—that is, it has no ability to change, to grow, to repair itself if injured. At birth, in infancy, and through childhood, the central nervous system is malleable; it can grow and change depending on different stimuli. But researchers were certain that this ability fades upon maturity, leaving the adult brain with the capacity to diminish—through injury, disease, or simply old age—but not to grow new cells or structures, or to repair the damage it accumulates over a lifetime. Distinguished Spanish neuroscientist Ramón y Cajal summarized the viewpoint succinctly in 1913: “Everything may die; nothing may be regenerated.”
A Meditation on Preservation
By Charles Buchanan
In the face of 500 years of change, one face has remained the same. Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the Angel for the “Madonna of the Rocks” still looks as youthful and fresh as the day she was sketched, her alluring gaze free of crease or blemish.
The angel owes her clear complexion to progress in preservation, a specialty that blends art and science in a manner that would impress Leonardo himself. And while preservation was once the province of curators and archivists alone, today it is a crucial facet of many fields, including research, health care, and information management. An increasingly digitized society requires that agelessness extend to patient records, spreadsheets, and family photos, along with humankind’s greatest masterworks.
UAB's Raceway Rescue Squad
By Tyler Greer
Down at Birmingham's Barber Motorsports Park, where professional Porsche, Mustang, and superbike racers come out to play each summer, a group of UAB medical volunteers is on hand in case of emergency. In this audio slideshow, sports medicine specialist Drew Ferguson offers a behind-the-scenes look at the UAB Infield Care Center.
A New Way of Looking at Disease
By Jo Lynn Orr
The next time you reach into the medicine cabinet for some instant relief, you might want to take a moment to reconsider the long-term consequences. “When we get sick, our first inclination is to take a pill to make the symptoms go away, but that might not be the healthiest thing to do,” says UAB biologist David Kraus, Ph.D. Taking acetaminophen to reduce a fever, for example, tampers with “a highly coordinated set of physiological responses that allows our body temperature to rise in order to fight infection from foreign invaders like bacteria,” says Kraus. “If we reduce the fever, we are inhibiting finely tuned, evolved mechanisms that are useful for our health.”
These mechanisms are not restricted to fever—or disease, for that matter. The complex relationship between human health and evolutionary processes—generally studied under the name “evolutionary medicine”—has become a hot topic among scientists in a host of disciplines. Students are catching on, too. Kraus and fellow UAB biologist Jeannette Doeller, Ph.D., who are husband and wife, developed a popular course on evolutionary medicine in the Schools of Public Health and Natural Sciences and Mathematics that has seen enrollment soar from 25 students in 2003 to 150 last year.