UAB Magazine Online Features
The Challenge of Fighting Disease in Medical School
By Carla Jean Whitley
Students have a million different motivations for pursuing a medical degree—a desire to help people, an aptitude for science, or inspiration to follow in the footsteps of a family member or childhood physician, perhaps. But for three current UAB School of Medicine students, the reasons suddenly shifted in midstream when disease became a harsh reality instead of a case study.
Encounters with Empathy
Sarah Gammons began dropping weight, experiencing night sweats, and feeling fatigued during her first year of medical school—and she was certain it wasn’t from stress. “I had a great doctor at the UAB student health clinic who kept looking when every test came back normal,” she says. He sent her to an endocrinologist who diagnosed Gammon with medullary thyroid cancer.
“I started doing research on thyroid nodules in a textbook and a database we use in school,” Gammons recalls. “Medullary thyroid cancer only occurs in 4 percent of people with thyroid cancer; 50 percent of those are genetic, but mine’s sporadic. It was a one in a million chance that I would get this disease at my age.”
She had a radical neck dissection and total thyroidectomy, but “you’re never cured of this type of cancer because there’s no treatment,” she explains. “It’s a chronic disease; every six months, the doctors monitor two hormone levels which are perfect markers for the disease to see if it comes back.”
Despite the surgery and recovery, Gammons was able to stay on track toward her medical degree. The school allowed her to make up work during the summer, and classmates took time away from their break to tutor her. “At the end of the day, I had school to fall back on,” Gammons says. “Throwing myself into my work helped to take my mind off all the bad stuff.”
Inside UAB's 3D Superstore
By Matt Windsor
Looking for a 12th century chess piece? A custom Rubik’s cube? An exact copy of a seashell, the inside of an eyeball, a relief map of an Egyptian burial ground, or an obscure protein?
UAB computer scientist Kenneth Sloan, Ph.D., has them all in stock. If you’re searching for something else—anything else—he can get it. Or, to be precise, make it. Just give him a day or two, and $20 per cubic inch.
Inside Sloan’s lab on the ground floor of Campbell Hall are five 3D printers, ranging from entry level to commercial grade. These magic machines, which recently earned a spot on the cover of Wired magazine, transform computer files into reality. Instead of ink, their “print heads” extrude a thin stream of superheated plastic in layers seven-thousands of an inch thick. Building layer upon layer, a 3D printer can make a nearly infinite variety of objects.
3D Print Lab with their own designs.Sloan and his students have made life-size models of Tetris pieces, intricate puzzles, and elaborate contraptions that could be produced in no other way. But these “toys” only offer a hint of what is possible, Sloan says. The printers’ true value is becoming clear as other UAB researchers come to the
By Susannah Felts
When Paul Janeway (above, left) walks onstage, audiences snap to attention. They stand up, they get down, they holler and shake as Janeway, a bespectacled blond clad in one of his father’s old suits, and his bandmates—a.k.a. St. Paul and the Broken Bones—crank out one soulful song after the next. Janeway might pause to mop his brow with a towel or bust dance moves that have earned comparisons to none other than James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. “A little hyperbolic,” he says. “But I’ll take it.”
Not bad for a 28-year-old UAB accounting student, who seems thrilled and surprised by the turn his life has taken in recent months.
Putting a New Spin on Computer SecurityBy Matt Windsor
Computer security researchers put themselves into the minds of cybercriminals to figure out what they might do next. Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., takes a different approach. His mission is to get inside the minds of users—quite literally, in his latest project—to figure out how to protect them from new attacks.
Saxena is the head of the SPIES (Security and Privacy in Emerging Computing and Networking Systems) research group in the UAB Department of Computer and Information Sciences. “Most traditional security research focuses on the attackers,” Saxena says. “We work on the defense side, with an emphasis on the end users.”
The SPIES lab puts the “strengths and weaknesses of the computer user” under the microscope, Saxena explains. Or under the brain scanner, to be precise. In one new project, Saxena has partnered with Rajesh Kana, Ph.D., a researcher in the UAB Department of Psychology who specializes in using brain imaging for autism research. The interdisciplinary duo has started scanning volunteers while they perform everyday security tasks. The subjects have to decide whether the sites they are looking at are real or fake—the actual Facebook home page or a knockoff, for example—or they are asked to heed a security warning while reading an article.
“We want to understand, from a neuroscience perspective, what happens when people are making these security decisions, and especially what happens when they are rushed into making decisions, as often happens online,” Saxena says. “We are still in the early stages, but this may give us clues on how to design warnings and safeguards that are more effective.”