The Wire

  • ‘I could not in good conscience’ vote for spending bill — Gary Palmer

  • Bill passes House to allow terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs — Mo Brooks

    Excerpt from a news release issued by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks:

    “I’m proud the House passed Right to Try, and I was honored to co-sponsor of the Right to Try Act in the memory of Steve Mayfield, who died from ALS after being denied experimental treatments that could have prolonged his life and alleviated his pain. No American should have to suffer when their government holds the keys to lifesaving drugs. These terminally ill patients are already in the fight of their lives—they don’t need to fight their government, as well.

    Congressman Brooks was inspired to co-sponsor the Right to Try Act by the story of Steve Mayfield, a respected high school football coach at Central High School in Lauderdale County, Alabama, who in March 2017, died after a lengthy fight with both Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and a federal bureaucracy that denied him the right to try potentially life-saving experimental treatments.

  • Mayor Battle asks Gov. Ivey to appear with him at Huntsville and Birmingham area debates

    Excerpt from Battle for Governor advisory:

    Top Republican gubernatorial challenger Tommy Battle, emailed a letter addressed to Governor Ivey on Tuesday. The letter invited Ivey to appear with Battle at events throughout Alabama to discuss the qualifications of each candidate.

    Tommy Battle has committed to attend all of the following:
    — April 12 – 7 a.m. – A debate hosted by the Birmingham Business Journal
    — April 12 – 7 p.m. – A debate hosted by NBC 13 in Birmingham
    — April 14 – 8 a.m. – A candidate forum hosted by the Mid Alabama Republican Club in Birmingham
    — May 9 – 2 p.m. – A candidate forum hosted by the Association of Builders and Contractors in Huntsville
    — May 10 – 11:30 a.m. – A candidate forum hosted by the Moody Area Chamber of Commerce

2 years ago

UAB ranked Alabama’s top hospital, among the best in US

Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Senior VP, Medicine, and Dean, School of Medicine, talks to several medical students. (file)
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Senior VP, Medicine, and Dean, School of Medicine, talks to several medical students. (file)
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Senior VP, Medicine, and Dean, School of Medicine, talks to several medical students. (file)

U.S. News & World Report’s 2016-2017 Best Hospitals report ranks UAB Hospital No. 1 in Birmingham and Alabama, and nine UAB specialties are listed among the nation’s top 50, up from six specialties the previous year.

“We are proud to be one of the best hospitals in America, and located in Alabama,” said Health System CEO Will Ferniany. “UAB Medicine is something all people in Alabama should be proud of. We even have a bumper sticker that says ‘Our Nationally Ranked Team Wears Scrubs.’ While we are nationally ranked and internationally known, our faculty and staff never forget they are here to serve the people of Alabama with the best medical care possible.”

Rheumatology (11), Gynecology (16) and Nephrology (20) appeared in the nation’s top 20; Neurology and Neurosurgery (25), Pulmonology (29), and Ear, Nose and Throat (29) appeared in the top 30; and Cardiology and Heart Surgery (37) and Urology (47) rounded out UAB’s highest-ranked programs.

University Hospital exterior at night. (file)
University Hospital exterior at night. (file)

The biggest jumps in rankings came from Ear, Nose and Throat and Diabetes and Endocrinology, which were ranked as high-performing last year and both leapt to top-30 national rankings this year.

Cardiology and Heart Surgery went unranked last year and appeared at 37 this year. Rehabilitation, Orthopedics, Cancer and Geriatrics all earned the high-performing designation.

Rankings like U.S. News & World Report’s are just one tool available to patients as they make informed decisions about their health care, Ferniany says. UAB Medicine recently launched another when it became the first care provider in Alabama to empower patients to publicly rate and review its physicians — a reliable source of verified and up-to-date information from actual patients in UAB’s Find a Provider directory.

The rating and reviews feature gives patients an alternative to third-party rating sites that often exist with little if any oversight and feature outdated, inaccurate and in some cases libelous information. At its launch, more than 81 percent of eligible UAB physicians had a posted rating of at least four stars on the five-star scale.

2 years ago

Alabama business dollars rolling in for return of UAB football

UAB Football plans to start construction this month on a new 46,000-square-foot football operations center, two practice fields and an open-air pavilion. (contributed)
UAB Football plans to start construction this month on a new 46,000-square-foot football operations center, two practice fields and an open-air pavilion. (contributed)
UAB Football plans to start construction this month on a new 46,000-square-foot football operations center, two practice fields and an open-air pavilion. (contributed)

In early December of 2014, UAB shut down its football program.

It wasn’t a popular move, to say the least.

Students protested, fans wailed, coaches and players grieved. And the Birmingham community, which had shown little interest in Blazer football before, realized it had lost something good.

There was such an outcry that UAB President Ray Watts, who had announced the program’s demise, came back six months later and announced that it was coming back – if the community would get behind it and pledge donations to make it a first-class operation.

Now, a little more than a year later, Athletics Director Mark Ingram told Alabama NewsCenter, “We are making great progress in terms of fundraising.”

Gifts and pledges are coming in for a 46,000-square-foot football operations center.

The center will include offices for coaches, meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight rooms, film rooms, a training room and nutrition room.

“We’re planning for success,” Ingram said.

Legacy Credit Union is donating $4.2 million – the largest sponsorship in UAB athletics history – for the operations center and an open-air pavilion. The donation will give Legacy naming rights for 20 years.

Legacy was founded by a group of UAB employees to serve faculty, staff, students and the community.

“Since UAB had the vision to charter us, and is the largest employer and most dynamic economic driver in the state, we believe an investment in UAB will yield returns for Legacy members and the entire community,” President and CEO Joe McGee said.




Last month, retired businessman and Blazer fan Jimmy Filler made a $1 million donation for the operations building.

“UAB football is good for the city of Birmingham and is good for UAB,” Filler said. “A strong UAB means a strong Birmingham, and football is an important component in declaring that message.”

Hatton Smith, CEO emeritus of Royal Cup Inc., is chairman of a fundraising task force for new facilities.

“We will need $21 million for the football operations center,” Smith said. “There will be two fields initially and a covered pavilion” so the Blazers can practice in inclement weather.

Construction should begin in late August and be finished June 2017, a couple of months before UAB begins playing football again.

Smith said he took on the task of raising money because “I believe in our city, and abolition of football was not good for our city.”

Several large donations have been made in support of football, including $500,000 each from Protective Life, Alabama Power, Medical Properties Trust, Mike Thompson of Thompson Tractor and Harold W. Ripps of Rime Capital Account Inc.

The Birmingham City Council, which previously paid $250,000 for UAB football tickets, last year approved a resolution pledging to commit $500,000 a year for tickets, if UAB football returns.

Smith sets high goals. He is hopeful and optimistic that a 45,000-seat stadium will be built in Uptown, across the street from the Westin Hotel, to host not only UAB but also the Magic City Classic, Birmingham Bowl and the 2021 World Games.

He estimates a stadium would cost about $150 million.

2 years ago

University of Alabama student contracts Zika Virus

Zika virus

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A student at the University of Alabama has tested positive for Zika virus, the school announced yesterday. The student had recently studied abroad and is believed to have contracted the virus while overseas.

“Federal privacy laws prevent us from commenting on the student’s condition; however, in the majority of Zika cases, individuals make a full recovery within a week,” said University of Alabama spokesman Chris Bryant.

Bryant also stated that students who have recently studied abroad in Central and South America and the Caribbean have been notified and urged to get tested at the UA Student Health Center or their personal healthcare providers.

Almost all of the Zika cases in the United States have been travel-related. Only 11 of the 691 documented cases have been contracted through sexual contact with infected individuals. The UA student marks the sixth confirmed case of Zika in Alabama.

Zika virus is spread mainly through the bites of Aedes species mosquitoes but also can be transmitted through infected blood and sex. Only about 1 in 5 people infected with the virus become ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those who do get sick, Dr. David Freedman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UAB, describes Zika as “like a bad flu with a rash.” Symptoms include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, red eyes and headache.

Those who are at the greatest risk are women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

That’s because the Zika virus, after a widespread outbreak in Brazil in early 2015, has been linked to a spike in microcephaly in babies born in the virus-affected areas. Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of the head, with complications that include developmental delays, stunted growth, seizures and mental retardation.

The best thing health officials suggest is not traveling to places with confirmed Zika outbreaks. In Alabama, experts advise residents to take serious precautions against mosquitoes – like eliminate pools of stagnant water, stay in screened-in or air conditioned rooms, wear long sleeved shirts and pants, and always apply mosquito repellent.

2 years ago

This Alabamian has saved the lives of countless NASCAR and IndyCar drivers

credit Flikr user Brian Shamblen

(Video above: SAFER barrier at work)

If you’ve ever watched a NASCAR or IndyCar driver crash into a barrier during a race in the past ten years and walk away unscathed, you can thank Dr. Dean Sicking, mechanical engineering professor and researcher at UAB’s School of Engineering.

After the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, NASCAR hired Dr. Sicking to design a better barrier that could save drivers’ lives. Through his research, Sicking created SAFER – Steel and Foam Energy Reduction – a new barrier that has been installed in every NASCAR and IndyCar track in the United States. Since SAFER’s implementation in 2005, the number of fatal wall crashes during races has plummeted to near zero.

For the first time ever, SAFER is being installed on an international racetrack. The Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France – home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest active endurance racing event – is adding the SAFER barriers to its track this year. This marks a major milestone for Sicking and SAFER because it is the first time the design will compete against another model. Le Mans previously used TechPro barriers, but the French track owners’ tests have proved SAFER’s superiority.

“We are very pleased that Le Mans is installing the SAFER Barrier because we believe it validates what we already know: that our barrier is the best option to improve driver safety,” Sicking said.

The SAFER barrier’s design is often oversimplified as nothing more than a “soft wall.” But as Dr. Sicking explains, it does much more than just soften the blow.

Our barrier is designed to separate the impact into two separate events. Each impact involves a change in velocity of roughly one half the impact speed, which allows the barrier to work in tandem with the car’s safety devices.

The decreased impact speed effectively means the car is hitting the barrier at half speed, and at half speed, the safety devices built into the car are more than adequate to protect the driver.

So the car will still crash, but SAFER slows it down enough to allow the internal safety features to have more time to protect the driver and save his or her life.

Protecting drivers both on and off the racetrack has always been the goal of Sicking’s work. He also invented a new style of guardrail to catch cars on the highway. Allowing barriers to give and bend with a car can dramatically increase the chance of survival, Dr. Sicking says.

“Barriers are designed to stop vehicles, but we have the ability to design them so the barrier absorbs the impact of the crash,” he said. “If that energy is not absorbed by the barrier, it is absorbed by the car and subsequently the car’s occupants. In some cases, that can mean the difference between a fatality and walking away from a crash uninjured.”

2 years ago

WHOA: Did UAB researchers just cure diabetes?

UAB medicine
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The University of Alabama at Birmingham is set to begin a groundbreaking clinical trial of the drug Verapamil that medical researchers at the school proved can reverse the effects of diabetes in mice.

The study, which will be run by UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetic Clinic, will test to see if the drug can have the same effect on humans. The study aims to examine 52 volunteers between the ages of 19 and 45 years old and within three months of a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. UAB says the study should be completed within two and a half years.

“We hope this is a positive study. If it is a positive study, we want to know how big of an affect its has” Fernando Ovalle, M.D., the Director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Clinic told WIAT.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, whereas Type 2 occurs when the body cannot properly use it. On average, more than 18,000 children are diagnosed with Type 1 a year and at least one of three adults will develop Type 2 in their lifetime.

Since UAB discovered the effects that Verapamil could have on mice in 2014, many other studies have replicated their results and strengthened their hypothesis.

UAB is nationally renown for its contributions to the field of medicine. The cancer treatment at the University Hospital is among the best in the country and the University has led the way in the medical field with many breakthrough studies.

RELATED: UAB physicians named among the nation’s top cancer doctors
RELATED: UAB adds another game-changing accomplishment in a long line of heart surgery innovations
RELATED: How microscopic cubes created by a UAB researcher could destroy breast cancer (Video)

Additional statistics on diabetes in the U.S. can be seen in the CDC diagram below.

(c/o Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
(c/o Center for Disease Control and Prevention)


2 years ago

BIRMINGHAM BOOM: More than $1 billion invested in Magic City region in 2015

Members of the Birmingham area business community attend the Birmingham Business Alliance's Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit on Thursday, May 12. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Members of the Birmingham area business community attend the Birmingham Business Alliance's Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit on Thursday, May 12. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Members of the Birmingham area business community attend the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit on Thursday, May 12. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

The nearly $1.1 billion in capital investment from the announced economic development projects in the Birmingham metro area last year may be an all-time high for the region.

Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), told business and community leaders at this morning’s 2016 Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit that the figure is at or near a record. The investment came from 90 announced projects that will create more than 3,500 jobs.

“The goal isn’t statistics, it’s creating economic opportunity,” Hilson said.

However, statistics for 2015 did show mostly encouraging signs for that economic opportunity. Consider:

• Manufacturing accounted for 64 percent of the projects, 49 percent of the jobs and 75 percent of the capital investment announced last year.

• Finance and insurance industries made up 8 percent of the projects, 29 percent of the jobs and 14 percent of capital investment.

• Life sciences and information technology, where the BBA sees potential for great growth, accounted for 12 percent of the projects, 8 percent of the jobs and 4 percent of the capital investment in 2015.

• Between 2001 and 2010, the metro area had an annual average of 55 new projects, 1,875 jobs and capital investment of $255.7 million. Between 2011 and 2015, the first years of Blueprint Birmingham, those annual averages were 76 projects (up 38 percent), 2,890 jobs (up 54 percent) and $569.3 million invested (up 123 percent).

Optimism in the air at BBA Economic Growth Summit from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“Our economy remains strong and continues to grow,” said Ray Watts, president of UAB and chairman of the BBA board of directors. “But more than that, I believe the trends we are seeing in Birmingham and in the metro region are moving us in the right direction.”


Andy Levine, president of Development Counsellors International, delivered the keynote address. Levine’s company has been working with BBA to enhance Birmingham’s national image.

Levine said while some people associate the Jefferson County bankruptcy as a modern-day negative, there are positive perceptions centering on Birmingham’s culinary scene, downtown redevelopment and UAB.

Overall, there is an absence of perception, Levine said.

“I think there is a lot more people could know about Birmingham and there are a lot of positive things that could be shared about it,” Levine said.

He said the entrepreneurial environment is the most powerful story Birmingham has to tell in 2016.

Most business leaders’ perceptions of a community come from what they hear from peers, what they read in newspapers and magazines, and through travel to a city, Levine said.

Levine called on leaders in Birmingham to act as ambassadors, share their news with BBA so it can be amplified, and embrace visitors to the region.

BBA officials updated how Birmingham fared against 11 peer cities in 15 key categories.

Hilson said Birmingham improved its ranking in 10 of the categories, was unchanged in three and declined in two.

The 10 where it improved were average labor force (from 12th to ninth), gross domestic product (12th to seventh), annual average employment (from 12th to 10th), per capita personal income (eighth to fifth), construction investment (10th to seventh), merchandise export totals (12th to ninth), population age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree (ninth to eighth), population age 25 or older with an associate’s degree (10th to sixth), population estimate (11th to ninth) and at-risk youth age 16 to 19 not a high school graduate or not in the labor force or unemployed (eighth to fifth).

Birmingham remained unchanged in National Institutes of Health awards (fourth), National Science Foundation total research and development expenditures (fifth) and population age 25 or older with a high school diploma (ninth).

The two areas where Birmingham declined were in cost of living annual average composite index (fourth to fifth) and violent crime rate per 100,000 (seventh to ninth).

Those declining areas are a concern, Hilson said. Another red flag is in the total employment in the metro area. The region had a high of 533,400 jobs in 2007 but has not since reached that figure. Hilson said total employment dipped below 500,000 during the recession and ended 2015 at 515,500.

That is one of several areas addressed in Blueprint 2020, the new five-year economic growth plan that will guide the BBA’s efforts starting this year.

Ray Watts, president of UAB and chairman of the Birmingham Business Alliance Board of Directors, listens as Birmingham Mayor William Bell speaks at the BBA’s Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Ray Watts, president of UAB and chairman of the Birmingham Business Alliance Board of Directors, listens as Birmingham Mayor William Bell speaks at the BBA’s Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Blueprint 2020 takes a targeted approach to key economic development components such as human capital, physical capital and financial capital. It updates BBA’s approach to business development and existing industry retention and renewal.

It also makes innovation and technology a separate strategic initiative at BBA.

For the next five years, the BBA plans to focus on eight industry recruitment and expansion clusters: aerospace, automotive, chemicals, financial and insurance services, information technology and analytical instruments, life sciences, machinery manufacturing and metal manufacturing.

Hilson said the industry clusters that will receive the greatest emphasis are automotive, finance and insurance services, information technology and analytical instruments, and life sciences.

“I think what you will see in the next five years is a continuation of the best of what we’ve been doing through Blueprint Birmingham but a significant narrowing of our focus in order to be more attentive to the areas that need the most attention,”Hilson said.

2 years ago

Alabama legislature passes ‘Leni’s Law’ to decriminalize cannabis oil

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama legislature passed “Leni’s Law” yesterday, which will allow people with seizure disorders or other debilitating medical conditions to use cannabidiol, a derivative of cannabis.

The bill passed the Senate yesterday with a vote of 29-3, and the House later concurred 95-4. The bill now goes to Governor Bentley to be signed into law.

Leni’s Law is named after Leni Young, a young Alabama girl who suffered a stroke before she was born which caused her to have dozens of seizures a day. Leni’s family moved to Oregon to receive treatment of cannabis oil, which is illegal in Alabama. Leni’s parents, Wayne and Amy, said that once Leni started the treatment, her seizures diminished from 20-30 a day to 5 over the past 10 months.

“I prayed and hoped that it would help. But I had no idea that the changes would be this profound. She’s doing things we were told beyond her realm…ever,” Amy said. “It has given our little girl her life. She is a happy, sweet, opinionated little girl.

“Every moment is just such a gift.”

Leni’s story inspired State Rep. Mike Ball, who first introduced Leni’s Law earlier this year. The original bill allowed patients to use oil with 3 percent THC – the part of marijuana that produces the high. The House amended Ball’s bill to only allow 1 percent THC, but the Senate brought the level back up to 3 percent. Proponents of cannabis oil say that 3 percent THC is necessary for the oil to work, but not nearly enough to give the user a high.

The Senate also expanded Ball’s bill to include anyone with a debilitating medical condition. The version passed by the House only allowed the oil to be used by individuals with seizure disorders.

Leni’s Law is also an expansion of Carly’s Law, which Ball introduced and passed two years ago. Carly’s Law allowed UAB to conduct a study using cannabidiol to treat seizure disorders. Almost half of the patients in the study have seen a 32-45% decline in seizures thanks to cannabidiol.

While Leni’s Law had plenty of opposition, including Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, the success that cannabis oil has had for Leni and others made a convincing argument. Senator Paul Sandford, the Senate sponsor of Leni’s Law, said access to cannabis oil in Alabama would give those suffering from seizures and other conditions and their families much needed hope.

“When you meet one of the families, and you see their children and you see the pain in the eyes of those parents and then put myself in their shoes and realize how blessed I am and how much strength that those families show for the situations that they have, how could I not help them?” he said.

2 years ago

World’s most endangered sea turtle species in big trouble off Alabama’s coast


By Katherine Shonesy

Newly examined video of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which are found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, shows that the species’ recovery from endangerment has stalled at less than one-tenth of historic nesting levels.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham came to that conclusion after being tasked with identifying the qualifying measure of endangerment for the species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN.

Kemp’s ridley turtles are classified as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The species was on the brink of extinction in the 1980s, but a Mexico-U.S. binational conservation program initiated in 1978 was able to reverse its decline.

The decades of intense conservation efforts were evident by 2009, with the Kemp’s ridley exhibiting an exponential recovery rate that was expected to continue for many years. However, an unanticipated downturn occurred in 2010 when the amount of nesting dropped significantly, and since that time, the species has not regained an upward trajectory to recovery.

How many Kemp’s ridley turtles should there be in the gulf? Scientists and conservationists weren’t sure; there was a lack of data between 1880, when the species was discovered, and the start of the conservation efforts in 1978.

UAB’s study, led by Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., a biology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and doctoral student Elizabeth Bevan, set out to answer that question through the evaluation of a historic film recorded in 1947 by Andres Herrera, a Mexican sportsman, on the Kemp’s ridley’s primary nesting beach in the western Gulf of Mexico near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico.

The film captured a mass-nesting event known as an arribada, involving tens of thousands of nesting turtles on a single day in 1947. It would help provide a rare benchmark for evaluating the historic population size of a species prior to its becoming endangered, which is usually not available for endangered species.

Uncovering the original riddle of the ridley

Prior to the film, the location of the Kemp’s ridley nesting grounds was a mystery. After hearing about a large mass nesting of sea turtles from locals, Herrera recognized the significance of such a unique biological phenomenon and became committed to documenting this unique event for society.

During a two-year period, Herrera flew his own plane 33 times over the Gulf Coast north of Tampico, Mexico, conducting aerial surveys in search of the mass sea turtle nesting. In 1947, he finally uncovered the event, but his discovery would remain unknown to the scientific community for more than a dozen years.

“At the time of the film’s development, no one was able to connect the dots between the phenomenon of the mass nesting and that the nests belonged to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles,” Wibbels said. “Herrera was a hobby enthusiast who wasn’t aware of the pursuit in the scientific world to uncover this location. Meanwhile, Archie Carr, who was considered to be the world’s leading sea turtles expert, had been searching for the nesting beaches for this species for decades.”

Carr searched for the Kemp’s ridley nesting beaches in all of the usual nesting regions – Florida, the Caribbean and the northern Gulf of Mexico; but after 20 years, he had found nothing.

“He had no logical explanation for the fact that this abundant turtle was seemingly not breeding or nesting,” Bevan said. “Scientists began to wonder whether the Kemp’s ridley could actually be a hybrid turtle.”

The dots were finally connected, and part of the mystery debunked, by Henry Hildebrand, Ph.D., from the University of Corpus Christi, who heard about the film and viewed it in 1961. Later that year, Hildebrand presented that film at the annual meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, revealing the news to the scientific community for the first time.

Breaking down the nesting numbers


It was estimated by some who viewed the original black-and-white footage that there were more than 40,000 nesting Kemp’s ridley sea turtles on the beach that day. Wibbels and Bevan’s recent study reflects more conservative, but still remarkable, numbers.

Wibbels and Bevan calculate that there were 26,000 sea turtles on a 1- to 2-mile stretch of beach on the day the film was taken.

The results from UAB’s study published this week indicate that about 120,000 to 180,000 nests were laid over the entire 1947 nesting season in contrast to about 14,000 nests in the most recent nesting season.

This new information on the historic population size greatly increases the mystery surrounding the abrupt decline in the recovery of this endangered species since 2009. The number of nests laid in the 2015 nesting season represents a 34 percent decline in comparison to 2009, and this occurred during a time when exponential growth of the population back toward historic levels was expected.

What this means for conservation

Intense conservation efforts are continuing, and this critically endangered species is protected throughout its range.

“Because the Kemp’s ridley is so protected, scientists believe that potential factors limiting its recovery may be habitat-related,” Bevan said. “Another hypothesis among the field is that environmental pollution, in particular the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, may have significantly impacted the population, and many years may be required before the species regains an exponential recovery rate.”

An alternative hypothesis is that the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem may have changed over the past seven decades since the Herrera film was recorded, and can no longer support the abundance of Kemp’s ridleys documented in the 1947 film. For example, studies have shown that the abundance of blue crabs, a preferred food item for the Kemp’s ridley, has significantly declined in the northern Gulf of Mexico in recent decades.

“The Kemp’s ridley could be significantly impacted by long-term changes and the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem because of its near exclusivity to the area and presence as a higher-trophic-level predator,” Bevan said. “That’s why it’s so important that we continue our research into the mystery of its stalled growth.”

“Solving the mystery will require continued monitoring of turtles on the nesting beach, a better understanding of the ecology of the Kemp’s ridley in its foraging and developmental habitats, and an evaluation of potential changes in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem since the 1947 Herrera film,” Wibbels added.

Wibbels’ and Bevan’s work was published in Ecosphere this month.

2 years ago

UAB space archeologist discovers new Viking settlement that could change history

Space Archeologist Sarah Parcak speaking at TEDYouth in 2015
Space Archeologist Sarah Parcak speaking at TEDYouth in 2015
Space Archeologist Sarah Parcak speaking at TEDYouth in 2015

Alabama’s own space archeologist may have discovered a new Viking site in North America that would rewrite history.

Sarah Parcak, researcher and professor of archeology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recently worked with a team that discovered what could be the first new Norse site in North America in over fifty years.

The discovery came from using Parcak’s pioneering method of space archeology. By analyzing satellite images from tens of thousands of square kilometers in Newfoundland, the archeologists found what appeared to be manmade structures. Their preliminary excavations are awaiting further research to confirm their findings, but their discovery would prove that Vikings traveled 300 miles further south than previously thought.

The first Viking site in North America was uncovered in the 1960s. Archeologists have been looking for a second site for the past 50 years, but Parcak is the first to find preliminary proof.

Parcak has been called a “modern-day Indiana Jones,” a name that she happily accepts. “If people want to call me Indiana Jones, I say I’m more sites, less stubble,” she said.

As a space archeologist (which is officially the coolest job title in the world), Parcak uses infrared satellite images to uncover ancient sites, a process she likened to “Google Earth on speed.” With this method, she has already discovered 17 lost pyramids, over 1,000 tombs and more than 3,100 ancient settlements in Egypt.

In 2015, the TED Foundation presented its annual $1 million TED Prize for her work uncovering lost history.

Parcak also focuses on the threats ancient sites face. She used part of her TED grant to find ways to protect and defend archeological sites in the Middle East from looting and destruction from ISIS and other terror groups.

But while ISIS and the Middle East may get the most media attention, looting is a worldwide threat. “You think looting is bad in Egypt, look at Peru,” she told the New York Times last year. “India, China. I’ve been told in China there are over a quarter-million archaeological sites, and most have been looted. This is a global problem of massive proportions and we don’t know the scale.”

Parcak will continue to uncover the past, protect it from those who do not respect it, and remind the world that archeology can be cool.

You can learn more about her Viking discovery on PBS, where it will be featured in a documentary special called “Vikings Unearthed” that airs this Wednesday at 8:00 pm.

2 years ago

Therapy dogs bring hope to intensive care patients at UAB

A therapy dog at work
A therapy dog at work
A therapy dog at work

Patients at UAB’s Intensive Care Unit have started to see a different breed of visitors in the hospital over the past few weeks.

A new project, started by UAB Nursing grad student Meredith Palmer, brings therapy dogs to ICU patients. Palmer started the project to see what effects the dogs had on patients and staff members. Therapy dogs have been used in many other areas of health care, so Palmer decided to introduce them to the ICU. The dogs have only been visiting patients for a few weeks, but their presence is already making a difference.

“We had one where we turned off their sedation and brought the dog in. He petted on the dog. He has six dogs at home and then they didn’t have to turn the sedation back on for quite a few hours. So, it was really impressive,” Palmer said.

The therapy dogs come from Hand in Paw, a non-profit based in Birmingham. The organization was founded in 1996 and already sends therapy dogs to over 90 facilities in central Alabama, including a number of hospitals and elementary schools. Hand in Paw operates mainly through its 175 volunteers that bring therapy dogs in contact with over 97,000 patients and clients a year.

According to the American Kennel Club, “Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. From working with a child who is learning to read to visiting a senior in assisted living, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.”

Therapy dogs are not service dogs, as some may assume. Service dogs are partnered with one individual and perform specific tasks to help people with disabilities, like guide dogs for blind individuals. Therapy dogs visit many groups or clients and do not perform specific tasks; their purpose is usually more for emotional support. Therapy dogs also do not have the special privileges service dogs have, like being allowed in restaurants and airplanes.

Palmer hopes that the therapy dogs introduced in the ICU will have a positive impact on patients. As part of her study, she will monitor the dogs’ effectiveness and present her results to UAB. Hopefully, her results will allow therapy dogs to become a permanent service in the ICU.

2 years ago

Birmingham positioning itself as Alabama’s hotbed of innovation

Officials want the kind of innovation that exists inside Innovation Depot can spread into the newly named Innovation District. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Officials want the kind of innovation that exists inside Innovation Depot can spread into the newly named Innovation District. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Officials want the kind of innovation that exists inside Innovation Depot can spread into the newly named Innovation District. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Michael Tomberlin

When the Birmingham City Council voted last month to change the name of the city’s “Entrepreneurial District” to the “Innovation District,” some influential leaders applauded the move not just for branding reasons, but for the realization of what the Magic City has become and can become.

Since that decision, leaders from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, REV Birmingham, Innovation Depot, the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama have met with Birmingham Mayor William Bell to ensure the Innovation District will emerge in reality and not just in the changing of the signs that mark the district.

“The City Council’s action to change the formal name of the ‘Entrepreneurial District’ to the ‘Innovation District’ is a declaration of the intent of the City of Birmingham, UAB, Innovation Depot, BBA and other partners to put Birmingham’s City Center on the global map as a hotbed of innovation,” David Fleming, president of REV Birmingham, said. “It is a response to recognition by stakeholders that the goal of this area is to be a place in our city that fosters new methods, ideas and products. This area can be defined by the connection, culture and collaboration that results in an innovation economy in our city. This is critical for the growth of the Birmingham region and our competiveness in the modern economy.”

Innovation Depot said 75 percent of its companies would like to locate in permanent locations near the business incubator once they “graduate.” (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Innovation Depot said 75 percent of its companies would like to locate in permanent locations near the business incubator once they “graduate.” (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

As with the Entrepreneurial District, the Innovation District is bordered by the railroad lines to the south, Second Avenue North to the north, Interstate 65 to the west and 18th Street to the east.

At the heart of the district is Innovation Depot, a business incubator established by UAB that is home to a number of startups, many of them in innovative and emerging technology fields.

Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot, said having an identified district provides a place for companies to grow in a place where they have indicated they want to be.

“Having an established Innovation District focused on the connectivity, walkability and clustered technology industries startups most desire can have a major impact on this region moving forward,” Laney said. “Innovation Depot’s member companies overwhelmingly want to remain ‘close’ or ‘adjacent’ to Innovation Depot when they graduate. Seventy-five percent of our companies indicate a preference to remaining in the downtown area, with a majority specifically citing the Innovation District. Connectivity is essential, both in terms of infrastructure and the relationships and resources the companies have developed here at Innovation Depot. This is a new model of urban economic development.”

Economic development officials agree.

The Entrepreneurial District signs are still up, but the district around Innovation Depot is being renamed the “Innovation District.” (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
The Entrepreneurial District signs are still up, but the district around Innovation Depot is being renamed the “Innovation District.” (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

“We feel that changing the name to Innovation District better represents what’s currently happening, and will happen, in the area anchored by Innovation Depot,” Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the BBA, said. “This is a great way to help spread innovation throughout Birmingham’s central business district, and attract and retain more businesses in our area.”

At some point the signs that mark the “Entrepreneurial District” will come down and new ones will go up declaring it the “Innovation District.” But the real signs will be the innovation taking place by those who are already in or will come into the district, Laney said.

“The city was recently named as a ‘Tech Hire’ city by the White House, and Fast Company magazine named Birmingham as the No. 1 city in America for millennial entrepreneurs,” Laney said. “This positive focus on our city and region is driving the growth of young entrepreneurs in the technology space we see. TechBirmingham, BBA, Innovation Depot, UAB, and other partners are helping to promote and advance the technology ecosystem in our community, with a major part of that effort being the vision and development of the Innovation District.”

2 years ago

How microscopic cubes created by a UAB researcher could destroy breast cancer (Video)

Laser scanning confocal microscopy image of SUM159 human breast cancer cells incubated with cubic capsules for 24 hours. Cell nuclei are stained blue, cell skeleton is stained green, and the capsules are labeled with a red fluorophore. (Biana Godin and Eugenia Kharlampieva/Alabama NewsCenter).

(Video above: How UAB researchers are using tiny, squishy cubes to kill cancer)

By Jeff Hansen

UAB researcher Eugenia Kharlampieva, Ph.D., makes polymer microcapsules meant to carry cancer drugs to the site of a tumor. Working in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Chemistry at the intersection of polymer chemistry, nanotechnology and biomedical science, she is creating novel “smart” particles that will provide controlled delivery for therapeutic drugs. Specifically, she has found that changes in shapes or elasticity of these tiny carriers greatly influence their ability to surmount the drug-delivery hurdles that lie between an injection into a vein and engulfment into a cancer cell.

In a recent paper, Kharlampieva and colleagues compared four different microcapsules — rigid cubes or spheres, and elastic cubes or spheres — to see how they perform against three challenges. The first is avoiding engulfment by healthy macrophage immune system cells that act as lookouts and first defenders against foreign pathogens entering the body. The second is the ability to squeeze through the tiny openings in the walls of unhealthy blood vessels to reach tumor cells. The third is getting taken up by tumor cells, where they can deliver their chemotherapy payload.

Three tests, clear winners

Advanced Healthcare Materials – The cancer-fighting cubes created by Kharlampieva’s research team were featured on the cover of Advanced Healthcare Materials, 2015, Vol. 17. Copyright Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. Reproduced with permission.
Advanced Healthcare Materials – The cancer-fighting cubes created by Kharlampieva’s research team were featured on the cover of Advanced Healthcare Materials, 2015, Vol. 17. Copyright Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. Reproduced with permission.

In the in vitro experiments, the team found clear winners. For the macrophage challenge, the elastic spheres and cubes were far better at avoiding engulfment compared with the solid spheres and cubes. This potentially means less harm to the healthy immune system cells and a longer half-life in the bloodstream for the elastic therapeutic microcapsules.

“We want them to stay away from macrophages, which are like the clearing soldiers of the bloodstream,” Kharlampieva said. “We found that the hollow particles are much more elastic, and they are not taken up by macrophages, which is fantastic.”

In the challenge of squeezing through tiny openings, the elastic spheres and cubes again were far better than the solid microcapsules. The walls of the microscopic blood vessels in tumors have openings that range between 300 nanometers to 1.2 micrometers. The researchers found that the elastic microcapsules, which are 2 micrometers wide, could squeeze through pores that were two to three times smaller than the diameters of the particles. And after squeezing through, the microcapsules regained their shapes as spheres or cubes.

In tests of uptake into breast cancer cells, the cubes — whether solid or elastic — showed greater uptake, possibly because the flat walls have greater surface area contact with the cells.

Thus, overall, the researchers write, “Our data show that elastic cubical capsules possess important biological characteristics, which can warrant their further development for cancer therapy.”

The next step for Kharlampieva and her colleagues will be testing the biological significance, looking at how changes in shapes and elasticity affect the fates and destinations of these polymer microcapsules in the bloodstreams of mice.

UAB researcher Eugenia Kharlampieva, Ph.D
UAB researcher Eugenia Kharlampieva, Ph.D

Biodegradable building blocks, 50 nm thick

Kharlampieva’s investigation of the effects of shape and elasticity comes from the simple observation that cells of the body that travel through the bloodstream are not spherical and are quite elastic.

To manufacture the spheres and cubes, Kharlampieva and colleagues start with solid scaffolds — either a spherical particle of silicon dioxide or a cubic crystal of manganese carbonate. They then coat the particles with five bilayers of polymers, using tannic acid and poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone). For the solid microcapsules, they leave the scaffolds in place. For the elastic microcapsules, they remove the scaffolds with either acid or a chelating agent.

The resulting microcapsules are water-soluble, nontoxic and biodegradable, which suits them for the job of controlled drug delivery, and the polymer walls of these shapes are just 50 nanometers thick. Their elasticity is measured with an atomic force microscope, and they are so small that a line of 12,700 of the microcapsules would measure 1 inch.

2 years ago

State representative issues dire warning: ‘Medicaid could be the downfall of Alabama’


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — During a pre-legislative session budget hearing on Wednesday, State Representative Lynn Greer (R- Rogersville) warned that the unchecked growth of Alabama’s medicaid program is threatening to bankrupt the state.

“Unless we can get control of Medicaid… it can be the downfall of the state of Alabama,” he said.

Medicaid is the joint-federal and state healthcare program designed to provide coverage for low-income and disabled individuals.The program is currently the largest line item in Alabama’s budget, comprising 37 percent of the General Fund. According to the Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama’s Medicaid expenditures increased by 53% between 2001 and 2013, and as the state’s senior population increases, costs are expected to grow even further. But because the federal government covers 70% of the cost of Medicaid and mandates certain levels of coverage for enrollees, the state has essentially no control over the exploding costs.

The head of the Alabama Medicaid Agency on Wednesday asked lawmakers for an additional $156 million in 2016, but was met with fierce opposition from Republicans, including Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) who insisted that Alabamians are “not going to put money into failing programs.”

Alabama’s Medicaid rolls eclipsed 1 million in 2015, after over 38,000 new enrollees became Medicaid recipients in a single year. More than one in five Alabamians is now enrolled in the government healthcare program.

Medicaid reforms passed by the legislature last year are expected to save the state an estimated $1.5 billion over the next decade, if the Obama administration grants Alabama a “waiver” that would allow the reforms to go into effect.

But the Bentley administration is also believed to be exploring ways to expand the program, which Governor Bentley concedes would be a costly proposition.

“(Y)ou have to realize it is going to cost the state of Alabama over the next six years $710 million in the General Fund,” Bentley said in November. “Now folks, I can’t even get (the Legislature) to raise a hundred million dollars. So we’ve got to look at a funding stream if we’re going to do it.”

The governor appointed the state’s Health Officer to chair the task force, which was given the responsibility of finding ways to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare for Alabamians. The governor appointed 37 other people to the task force, including legislators, healthcare professionals, and insurance company representatives.

Among those appointed are several members who have been longtime Medicaid expansion advocates, including three Democratic members of the state legislature, the policy director of the liberal advocacy group Alabama Arise, and an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

Several representatives from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) were also appointed to the task force. In 2014 UAB released a study saying Medicaid expansion would create thousands of jobs and bring increased tax revenue to the state. Governor Bentley called the study “bogus” at the time, and another study from Troy University later refuted the majority of its claims.

The only two Republican legislators on the task force were the chairmen of the Alabama House and Senate Health committees.

Similar to Pennsylvania and Arkansas, which are also led by Republican governors, Gov. Bentley has suggested he would like to be able to funnel federal tax dollars through the state government and into private insurers. The private insurers would then use those taxpayer dollars to cover uninsured individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the same ultimate outcome as Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. The political benefit is that by receiving a “waiver” from the Obama administration, Republican governors have been able to expand the program while selling it as something completely different. In Pennsylvania they call it the “Healthy PA” plan. In Arkansas it’s commonly referred to as the “private option.”

Conservative policy and advocacy groups have taken to calling such plans “Medicaid expansion by another name.”

Gov. Bentley has insisted he would only pursue such a plan as a “block grant” from the federal government. Block grants are federal funds granted to states that include more flexibility in how they are spent than traditional “categorical grants.”

“It would have to be in the private sector and there would have to be some requirements on it,” Bentley told reporters in December. One specific requirement he mentioned was that he’d like to see the system tied to employment. “(Recipients) need to be working on getting a job, or having a job.”

Other states that have tried to tie work requirements to Medicaid benefits have been denied. In rejecting such a proposal from Utah last year, U.S. Health and Human Services Department spokesman Ben Wakana said, “encouraging work is a legitimate state objective. However, work initiatives are not the purpose of the Medicaid program and cannot be a condition of Medicaid eligibility.”

The bottom line is, the Obama administration will have to sign off on any plan Alabama pursues.

The legislature will convene for its 2016 legislative session next month.

2 years ago

More people moved out of Alabama in 2015 than moved in; here’s one important reason why

Moving Alabama

A new migration study by United Van Lines (UVL) found that, in 2015, slightly more people (51%) moved out of the state of Alabama than moved in (49%).

“For nearly 40 years, we’ve been tracking which states people are moving to and from, and we’ve also recently started surveying our customers to understand why they are making these moves across state lines,” explained Melissa Sullivan, UVL’s director of marketing communications. “Because of United Van Lines’ position as the nation’s largest household goods mover, our data is reflective of national migration trends.”

UVL calculated the percentage of migrants who moved in and out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., over the last 12 months, and found the following:

Top inbound states of 2015:

Rank. State (Percentage inbound)
1. Oregon (69%)
2. South Carolina (62%)
3. Vermont (62%)
4. Idaho (61%)
5. North Carolina (59%)
6. Florida (59%)
7. Nevada (57%)
8. District of Columbia (57%)
9. Texas (57%)
10. Washington (56%)

22. Alabama (49%)

Top outbound states of 2015:

Rank. State (Percentage outbound)
1. New Jersey (67%)
2. New York (65%)
3. Illinois (63%)
4. Connecticut (63%)
5. Ohio (58%)
6. Kansas (57%)
7. Massachusetts (57%)
8. West Virginia (57%)
9. Mississippi (57%)
10. Maryland (56%)

The reasons people are flocking to certain states and abandoning others are numerous; some are simple, while others are a bit more complex.

“This year’s data reflects longer-term trends of people moving to the Pacific West, where cities such as Portland and Seattle are seeing the combination of a boom in the technology and creative marketing industry, as well as a growing ‘want’ for outdoor activity and green space,” said Michael Stoll, economist, professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy at UCLA. “The aging Boomer population is driving relocation from the Northeast and Midwest to the West and South, as more and more people retire to warmer regions.”

Alabama’s relatively low taxes, its status as a right-to-work state, and its pro-business regulatory climate, have attracted numerous large companies to the state in recent years — Airbus, Remington, Polaris and Google, just to name a few — and the state’s automotive and aerospace industries continue to boom.

And as the UCLA professor mentioned, Alabama’s warm climate and welcoming culture will continue to attract retirees.

But a deeper look at the demographic breakdown of people moving in and out of the state reveals that Alabama appears to be hemorrhaging young people.

People moving into and out of Alabama

Alabama seems to be suffering from a problem sometimes referred to as “brain drain.”

A study published by Forbes Magazine placed Alabama in the lowest third of states when it comes to its ability to retain recent college grads.

In short, the majority of students who graduate from an Alabama college or university will move to another state to take their first job. Meanwhile, states like Washington, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada, all of which are on the list of top inbound states, retain the vast majority of their recent college grads.

As one might expect, college graduates tend to migrate toward places where they can find a job in their career field, and also to places where there are a high percentage of college graduates already living.

Some regions of Alabama, like many areas of the midwestern United States, have struggled to reinvent themselves economically as manufacturing has dwindled.

Alabama largest city, Birmingham, is home to a world-class research institution in UAB, and many other innovative companies and non-profits, but the city’s population as a whole lags behind when it comes to educational attainment.

The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program in 2010 ranked American cities by which had the most college-educated residents. Out of the 100 largest metro areas in the country, Birmingham-Hoover ranked a disappointing 74th, with just 26.6% of residents having earned a college diploma. Most of the top ten cities were over 40%.

Huntsville, on the other hand, has one of the most educated workforces in the country.

According to a recent analysis, north Alabama is the single best place in the country to move, if you are an engineer. Huntsville tops the list, thanks in large part to the NASA flight center and Army arsenal, as well as a large private defense industry. Decatur comes in eighth on the list, thanks to a massive United Launch Alliance manufacturing facility.

It is no wonder, then, that many of the high-profile economic development projects Alabama has attracted in recent years — with Airbus being a notable exception — have chosen to locate in northern part of the state.

Alabama has smartly begun to take steps to reduce the brain drain.

For one, state leaders have taken proactive steps to reduce the stigma attached to the trades. The Go Build Alabama campaign was rolled out several years ago to educate young people on the value of learning a trade, dispel their misconceptions about the construction industry and inspire them to consider a career in the skilled trades. With more Alabama students learning a trade, they will be more likely to come out of school ready to take a job with any number of Alabama companies who are ready to hire them, rather than leaving the state to find employment elsewhere.

Additionally, the more success the state has in attracting tech companies like Google, and the friendlier the state’s economic climate is to entrepreneurs, the more young people will stick around after graduation.

These issues and more will be discussed at Yellowhammer’s upcoming Alabama Economic Growth Summit. For more information visit

2 years ago

Alabama rep vows to ‘eliminate every gun free zone I can,’ starting with college campuses


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — “Campus carry” may be coming to Alabama in 2016.

A state lawmaker has pre-filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would ensure the right of college students who obtain a concealed carry permit to conceal a pistol while at school. The bill would also allow colleges to “establish rules concerning the storage of pistols in dormitories” and empower university presidents to impose “reasonable rules” and “certain limitations” with regard to concealed carry on campus. Additionally, colleges would not be held liable for any “damages caused by an action” authorized by the bill, unless that action is taken by a university officer or employee.

The bill was pre-filed by State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City), who is also a trained law enforcement officer, and will be debated by the legislature when the body reconvenes next month. If passed by the full legislature, a Constitutional Amendment would then likely appear on the ballot in November for approval by the citizens of Alabama.

“I have been working on this bill for months,” Representative Butler told Yellowhammer. “I hope to eliminate every gun free zone I possibly can, which will increase the safety of all Alabamians. By doing it as a Constitutional Amendment, every citizen of our state will have the opportunity to weigh in and take ownership of this very important decision.”

Butler added that his bill is similar to one passed in Texas last year. But unlike Texas, which requires concealed carry permit holders to be at least 21 years old, the age requirement to obtain a permit in Alabama is only 18. This means a far greater number of students would be allowed to carry on campus, if Butler’s bill — and the subsequent Constitutional Amendment — was to pass.

The introduction of the bill reads as follows:

This bill would propose an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to allow a concealed pistol permit holder to carry a concealed pistol upon his or her person while the permit holder is on the campus of a public institution of higher education or a private institution of higher education.

The amendment would allow public institutions of higher education or private institutions of higher education to establish rules concerning the storage of pistols in dormitories or other residential facilities that are owned or leased and operated by the institution and located on the campus of the institution and located on the campus of the institution and to further limit the carrying of pistols on campus under certain conditions.

This amendment would also provide immunity for public and private institutions of higher eduction from damages arising from action or inaction under the requirements of the amendment, with certain limitations.

While public universities would not be allowed to completely ban weapons, they would be able to draft “reasonable rules” with regard to campus carry. This means that universities could ban concealed carry in certain situations, such as large sporting events where security screenings take place prior to entry. Private colleges would have more latitude to prohibit guns, because of their private property rights.

Several of Alabama’s largest college campuses do not currently allow concealed carry.

Cathy Andreen, director of media relations at the University of Alabama, said in 2014 that UA’s decision to prohibit guns on campus is an effort to keep students safe.

“Our policies are designed to help make sure our campus is a safe place for our students, employees and visitors to live, learn, work and visit,” she said. “UA believes that its policies and procedures comply with the state law.

“As a result, UA will not allow the possession of guns or dangerous weapons on our campus, except under the limited circumstances set out in its policy.”

Auburn, UAB, South Alabama, and numerous other public institutions have similar policies.

As a result, campus carry groups have popped up at college’s around the state in recent years, particularly as mass shootings on college campuses have become more widespread.

Campus carry advocates often point to Colorado as evidence that empowering students, faculty and staff to concealed carry at colleges is a safe and powerful crime deterrent. Campus carry has been the law of the land in Colorado since 2003 and there have not been any mass shootings or crimes by permit holders.

There were a total of 23 shootings on college campuses in 2015, the most deadly of which took place at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where 9 were killed and 9 more injured.

2 years ago

UAB researchers partner with Department of Defense to test lifesaving new medication

Infantry Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team carry a wounded Stryker Soldier on a litter to be medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) after rolling over an anti-tank mine in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. (Brian Naranjo)
Infantry Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team carry a wounded Stryker Soldier on a litter to be medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) after rolling over an anti-tank mine in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. (Brian Naranjo)
Infantry Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team carry a wounded Stryker Soldier on a litter to be medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) after rolling over an anti-tank mine in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. (Brian Naranjo)

By Bob Shepard

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will launch the first Phase 1 human trials of a drug – derived from the female hormone estrogen – that may help patients with severe bleeding survive long enough to get to appropriate medical care. A three-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Defense contract from the Combat Casualty Care Research Program, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, Md., will fund studies of a synthetic estrogen molecule that may have a profound effect on an individual’s ability to survive major blood loss.

The initial observations and subsequent research in animal models was done by Irshad H. Chaudry, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Surgery at UAB and co-principal investigator on the contract. Chaudry and his colleagues discovered that following severe bleeding, a single injection increased survival times even in the absence of any fluid resuscitation. Time is the key. Severely hemorrhaging patients – those who experience approximately 40 percent or more blood loss – who do not receive fluid or blood product resuscitation within a few hours usually do not survive.

“The work of Dr. Chaudry and colleagues showed that EE-3-SO4 is extremely effective in improving cardiovascular functions and boosting survival rates following injuries with extreme hemorrhage,” said principal investigator Mansoor Saleh, M.D., professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, and director of the UAB Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program. “This drug could have major implications for treating trauma, from battlefield injuries to life threatening hemorrhage following any injury. We are excited to be launching the first-in-human studies of this drug that was developed by one of our own here at UAB. This is a classic example of bench-to-bedside translational research.”

According to the Department of Defense, more than 80 percent of potentially survivable U.S. battlefield deaths from 2001-2011 were due to severe blood loss. Saleh said the drug does not stop a patient from bleeding, but appears to help the body respond to extreme blood loss by mobilizing a variety of physiologic mechanisms.

“Part of our challenge is to identify how EE-3-SO4 works its magic,” Saleh said. “We envision a single dose, injectable medication – administered in the field – which would buy time for a patient to be transported to a medical facility or advanced medical care. The key is to maintain blood flow to the brain and other important organs even while a patient is hemorrhaging.”

The drug appears to work in three ways:

  • It helps the heart beat more efficiently, enabling it to fully expand and contract while pumping to maximize blood flow.
  • It lowers resistance to blood flow to vital organs, and then gradually elevates blood pressure and promotes sufficient blood flow throughout the body.
  • It recruits fluid from surrounding tissue, increasing blood volume to compensate for blood loss from the wound or injury. The average person has about 10 liters of this interstitial fluid in tissue and about 5 liters of blood.

The DOD contract will enable UAB to begin the first human studies of EE-3-SO4. The initial studies, or Phase 1 studies, will test the safety and tolerability of the drug in healthy humans who are not experiencing blood loss. Researchers will also use these studies to determine optimal dosing information and study the mechanism of action of this novel agent.

Secondary objectives will include determining the pharmacokinetics of the drug – to see if its effect on the heart, blood vessels and blood volume mimics that seen in non-human studies.

“There are certain relevant clinical and biologic surrogate markers that we look for, as well as predefined cardiac and vascular parameters that should give a good indication of how the drug behaves in humans,” Saleh said.

A second set of trials will involve administering the drug to healthy subjects who have had 1-2 units of blood removed in a controlled setting. Investigators will again be looking for physiological responses that indicate whether the drug is having the intended effect on the heart and blood vessels.

While EE-3-SO4 is promising, Saleh urges patience, as testing will be a lengthy process with no guarantee that it will prove beneficial for humans. If it does meet its potential, the drug could dramatically change how trauma care is delivered.

“A drug such as this would have tremendous utility,” said Jeffrey Kerby, M.D., director of the UAB Division of Trauma, Burns and Surgical Critical Care and a former U.S. Air Force trauma surgeon. “Not only is there a need for drugs that could save lives on a battlefield, a drug of this nature would be an important tool in the hands of emergency medical providers responding to traumatic injuries of any kind.”

Saleh is the director of the newly established UAB Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program, which provides infrastructure and support for early phase, first-in-human clinical trials of potential new drugs. The program enhances the university’s ability to conduct such studies through a patient-centered approach where a dedicated team is responsible for the entire operation of the study of such novel agents.

“The program forms the epicenter of a competitive clinical and translational drug development program at UAB and will provide all of the necessary resources to conduct Phase 1 trials that investigators need,” Saleh said.

UAB’s B.L. Harbert Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship is managing two pending U.S. patent applications of EE-3-SO4, in which Irshad H. Chaudry, William J. Hubbard and Zheng F Ba are listed as the inventors.

To learn more about the 19-year effort by Chaudry and colleagues to develop EE-3-SO4, click here for more information on the science that led to this discovery.

UAB surviving blood loss

2 years ago

An Alabama bride’s unusual choice of wedding venue meant the world for her terminally ill father

Sarah and Jason celebrate the ceremony with her father (c/o UAB News)
Sarah and Jason celebrate the ceremony with her father (c/o UAB News)
Sarah and Jason celebrate the ceremony with her father (c/o UAB News)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Sarah Williams was just like any bride, she wanted the perfect location, the most beautiful dress, and for her father to give her hand away in marriage to her lucky groom. But when her father’s terminal illness meant he wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital to attend her dream wedding, Sarah took the ceremony to him.

On October 8th Sarah and her fiancé Jason Wire surprised her father, Joseph, with a “Blessing of the Marriage” ceremony in UAB Hospital.

“You look beautiful,” Williams told his daughter when she walked into the hospital room, wearing her gorgeous white wedding gown.

The ceremony, complete with flowers and a cutting of the cake, was all planned with the help of the UAB Coronary Care Unit nursing staff, and presided over by UAB Medicine Pastoral Care Director Malcolm Marler.

“Words cannot express how amazing UAB Hospital was to my dad and to my family for having that ceremony,” said Sarah, who lives with her now husband Jason in Starkville, Mississippi. “This selfless act helped change an unfortunate situation into a memory we will be able to cherish forever. I am so thankful for the nurses, doctors, pastoral care and staff at UAB Hospital for helping create such a memorable day for us.”

Sarah’s father passed away just a week later on October 15th, after a long battle with congestive heart failure.

While the day was special for the Williams family, it also deeply touched the lives of the UAB Coronary Care Unit who witnessed it.

“Mr. Williams had been here for a little while and was critically ill, and every time we went on a trip to X-ray or CT, he kept saying, ‘How am I going to get to my daughter’s wedding?’ He was disappointed that he might miss it,””said CCU nurse Kelly Karell. “Our nurse manager, Delois Spencer, and I talked about it, and Sarah came to us and said she’d like to have a chaplain come and have a marriage ceremony here. We wanted to make it as special as possible, so we had places for the wedding party to change and a place for her to change into her wedding dress, and we ordered some food and a cake.

“We knew Mr. Williams was very sick, and you could tell he and Sarah had a close relationship,” Karell continued. “We wanted her to remember her father seeing her get married, and we wanted to do what we could to make it special for her.”

2 years ago

UAB researchers’ fascinating discovery is making shrimp not so shrimpy

(Video Above: Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham appear to have found a better way to grow shrimp that is also less expensive)

By Katherine Shonesy

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham appear to have found a better way to grow shrimp that is also less expensive, and the new process could hold the key to unlocking future breakthroughs in environmental science, business and medicine.

Using sea urchins and shrimp as models, UAB scientists discovered that one species could feed another from its waste, without needing to use traditional food at all.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham appear to have found a better way to grow shrimp that is also less expensive, and the new process could hold the key to unlocking future breakthroughs in environmental science, business and medicine.

Using sea urchins and shrimp as models, UAB scientists discovered that one species could feed another from its waste, without needing to use traditional food at all.

“Over the years, we’ve found that a number of the animals we’ve worked with are excellent models for studying aspects of medicine,” Watts said. “Many of them are great biomedical examples, and we can study a variety of diseases and issues related to human health, so our research is really twofold. We study the animals for aquaculture and biomedical research.”

In his previous work with sea urchins, Watts began to understand that the animals could potentially support another species, sparking his interest in further pursuing that possibility.

“In some cases, we had our shrimp together with our sea urchins, and they did very well, and we noticed that the shrimp had a tendency to congregate by the sea urchins and consume the waste pellets from the urchins,” Watts said. “It looked like there might be some kind of synergy there.”

In Watts’ lab, researchers grow sea urchins and put them into a polyculture system, in which one animal supports the other. In this instance, the sea urchins support the shrimp through dropping their waste pellets through to the shrimp that live beneath the urchins, allowing them to consume the pellets and grow without the need for traditional food.

The sea urchin pellets are full of nutrients and healthy bacteria and, according to Watts’ research, help shrimp grow faster and larger than they did when consuming shrimp feed alone.

This finding has the potential to bear positive impacts in several fields.

“Fundamentally, it’s a breakthrough in polyculture science; but the positive effects could also be seen in industries that raise aquatic species and by those that buy them for restaurants,” Watts said. “Cost savings seen from reducing or eliminating the need for traditional food could be substantial.”

Farm-raised shrimp are an important part of aquaculture and to the restaurant industry. Worldwide, much of the shrimp that is cultivated for culinary interests is done so in ponds, rather than out in the ocean. In order to raise these shrimp to be harvested for market, farmers must usually buy expensive feed.

Watts’ system eliminates that cost factor.

“When you have urchins present, you won’t need the shrimp feed,” Watts said. “What we’ve found is that the shrimp do very well when just consuming the urchin pellets alone — they grow large fast and stay healthy. In many cases, they exceeded the growth rate of shrimp fed the expensive feed.”

Furthermore, chefs like Birmingham’s Chris Hastings, chef and owner of world-renowned Hot and Hot Fish Club and the newly opened Ovenbird, could stand to gain from this new system.

Watts and his research team brought their shrimp to Hastings’ Hot and Hot Fish Club for a taste test.

“If you did a side-by-side with any shrimp grown in a pond in the world that’s not done sustainably in a closed loop with organic food as its source in a clean environment, and you taste it next to this shrimp — the flavor, the texture, everything about your shrimp is world-class compared to that,” Hastings said.

“And do you know what it means for me as a chef? It means I know I have a hope and a chance of achieving what I dream in cooking,” Hastings said. “You can’t achieve those dreams with less than a perfect product.”

Watts and his team echo Hastings’ desire to create an environmentally sustainable system for the culture of many species.

“With the number of individuals in this world increasing, and the need for protein, aquaculture is going to be the only mechanism by which we are going to be able to enhance fish protein production,” Watts said. “It’s all we have.”

“Aquaculture gives us a new way of bringing in protein that we haven’t fully utilized yet,” said Karen Jensen, a master’s student in Watts’ lab. “These animals use a lot less energy than, say, a cow or a chicken to raise to full adult, and they still give us great nutrition.”

With this system’s many benefits in mind, Watts and his team will continue research on this polyculture relationship and others, aiming to bring more aquaculture to market.

2 years ago

Alabama Innovation Fund awards $4.5 million for promising research

UAB nano diamond research (c/o UAB)

UAB nano diamond research (c/o UAB)
UAB nano diamond research (c/o UAB)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Innovation Fund has awarded nearly $4.5 million to advance research being conducted at universities and other institutions, providing key support for programs that could generate new ventures and create jobs across the state.

This year, the Alabama Innovation Fund is funding 14 projects at six different universities and two research-focused organizations, with the maximum award reaching $500,000. The projects being supported focus on fields ranging from automotive metallurgy to aquaculture and exercise science.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are critical to Alabama’s long-term economic development plan, and I am proud that the Alabama Innovation Fund supports research at universities across the state,” Governor Robert Bentley said.  “These grants are highlighting some of the state’s best and brightest researchers from various industry sectors. Each grant represents the potential for new jobs as well as other economic opportunities for the state.”

At the University of Alabama, $200,000 from the Alabama Innovation Fund will help a team led by Brian Jordon buy a friction stir welding machine and investigate innovations leading to lighter auto and aircraft parts – a development that could position the university as a hub for this technology.

Another $181,480 will advance UA research conducted by Luke Brewer’s team with partner Nemak USA to invent next-generation aluminum alloys from high-pressure die casting for engine blocks, enhancing the state’s profile in the automotive industry.

“Two of our researchers are leveraging support from the Alabama Innovation Fund to help their scientific discoveries more quickly benefit society, which in turn spurs economic development in our state,” said Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development. “We are grateful for both the recognition and support for our talented faculty.”


At Birmingham’s Southern Research, Robert Hergenrother, director of Medical Technology Development, and a team are working on a device that will allow individuals with gait and balance disabilities to safely train on a treadmill. The apparatus is being developed through the Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology (AIMTech) partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Funding is $164,800.

“The Force Induced Treadmill project will help mobility-impaired patients to increase their health and fitness, thus improving quality of life,” Hergenrother said. “The development team and I are very appreciative of the support that the Alabama Innovation Fund is providing to make this demonstration force-induced exercise unit possible.”

Other projects receiving Alabama Innovation Funding support include:

    – The University of Alabama in Huntsville is getting $500,000 to support the creation of its “Invention to Innovation Center,” a business incubator that will work with inventors, entrepreneurs, high-tech companies and others to leverage innovation into start-up ventures.

    – Mark Liles at Auburn University was awarded $250,000 to further research into the development of probiotics and vaccines to benefit Alabama’s catfish industry. Alabama is a major player in the nation’s catfish industry and ranks second among the states in catfish production.

    – Yogesh Vohra at UAB and research partner Vista Engineering received $250,000 to explore the potential of developing Alabama ventures based on diamond-based technologies. Examples include development of nano-diamond coatings that can lead to longer-lasting and less-painful artificial joints and diamond based sensors.

    – Jianyi Zhang at UAB was awarded $500,000 to develop innovative, patentable, and commercially viable biomaterial heart repair products for people suffering from heart disease, such as cardiac patches to strengthen weakened or failing heart muscle.

    – K-T Hsiao at the University of South Alabama will receive $253,635 to develop strengthened layer carbon nano-fiber composites for the next generation of advanced materials for aircraft construction.

For a full list of the 2015 Alabama Innovation Fund award recipients, click here.


Created in 2012 as part of the “Accelerate Alabama” strategic growth plan, the Alabama Innovation Fund aims to bolster research and economic development. Projects are selected for funding based on factors such as job-creation potential, the likelihood of successful commercialization and additional research possibilities.

Winning proposals were selected through a statewide competitive evaluation process, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce, which administers the program.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to fuel the creation of future ‘Made in Alabama’ products while also advancing our strategy of stimulating breakthrough research at universities and institutions across the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The program will help us bring in more federal research funding, attract new technology companies to Alabama and spur closer cooperation between businesses and researchers in the state.”

2 years ago

UAB physicians named among the nation’s top cancer doctors

Drs. James Posey, left, and Marty Heslin
Drs. James Posey, left, and Marty Heslin
Drs. James Posey, left, and Marty Heslin

By Beena Thannickal

Numerous University of Alabama at Birmingham cancer physicians and specialists were named to the Newsweek Top Cancer Doctors 2015 list.

Newsweek Top Cancer Doctors 2015 is a list of more than 2,600 leading cancer specialists across the country arranged by location and specialty. The list was compiled through peer nominations and extensive research that Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., the well-respected publisher of America’s Top Doctors®, has conducted for more than two decades.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2015 an estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 589,430 people will die from the disease.

“Our doctors work every day to provide the highest quality of life for people diagnosed with cancer, while advancing the world’s understanding of cancer, and translating this knowledge into prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship,” said Edward Partridge, director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It’s an honor to have our doctors listed so prominently on such a reputable list. We know that our physicians are some of the best in the world, but now the world knows it too.”

The Castle Connolly physician-led research team makes tens of thousands of phone calls each year, talking with leading specialists, chairs of clinical departments and vice presidents of medical affairs, seeking to gather further information regarding the top specialists for most diseases and procedures. Each year, Castle Connolly receives nearly 100,000 nominations. After a careful review of credentials, the following 21 UAB physicians were selected to be a part of Newsweek’s Top Cancer Doctors 2015 list:

 – Ronald Alvarez, M.D., Gynecologic Oncology
 – Kirby Bland, M.D., Surgery
 – Graeme Bolger, M.D., Medical Oncology
 – Robert Cerfolio, Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery
 – Robert Conry, M.D., Medical Oncology
 – Craig Elmets, M.D., Dermatology
 – John Fiveash, M.D., Radiation Oncology
 – Jobe Fix, M.D., Plastic Surgery
 – Andres Forero, M.D., Medical Oncology
 – Barton Guthrie, M.D., Neurological Surgery
 – Martin Heslin, M.D., Surgery
 – Helen Krontiras, M.D., Surgery
 – James Markert Jr., M.D., Neurological Surgery
 – Ruby Meredith, M.D., Ph.D., Radiation Oncology
 – Lisle Nabell, M.D., Medical Oncology
 – Louis Nabors, III, M.D., Neurology
 – Glenn Peters, M.D., Otolaryngology
 – James Posey III, M.D., Medical Oncology
 – Francisco Robert, M.D., Medical Oncology
 – Herrick Siegel, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery
 – Rodney Tucker, M.D., Hospice and Palliative Medicine

To view the complete list, see the article.


2 years ago

Alabama teacher is working to bring inspirational TEDTalks to the classroom

Dr. Dylan Ferniany
Dr. Dylan Ferniany

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Dr. Dylan Ferniany, the gifted education program specialist for Birmingham City Schools, has seen significant success through her use of  TEDTalks to advance her students’ learning. So on September 22, Ferniany is participating in an event at UAB to educate others how to utilize TEDTalks in the classroom.

The wildly-popular TEDTalks are part of TED, a nonprofit “devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).” These talks range in a variety of academic and social topics as well as current issues, and are typically recorded in front of a live audience and then posted later on TED’s website.

Ferniany said that using a TEDTalk as a hook to the rest of the lesson makes learning relevant and applicable while provoking questions and comments that lead to student dialogue.

“TEDTalks are usually on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world,” said Ferniany. “You can expose students to what’s happening far away and what’s happening in science and technology. It’s really a lot about engagement.”

Because of her involvement with TEDX Birmingham, Dr. Ferniany was elected to participate in the first TED-Ed Innovative Educator Program, consisting of 28 educators from around the world, with Ferniany being the only person selected from Alabama.

Ferniany believes that TEDTalks are a key innovation to implement to help students understand social change.

“While one or two experiences led me to become a teacher, about a thousand have led me to stay a teacher. As an administrator, I try to create these experiences for my teachers and students by keeping current on the best programs and innovative practices out there and bringing them home to Birmingham,” Ferniany wrote on the Ted Ed Blog.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22 Dr. Ferniany will be a key speaker at UAB’s Edge of Chaos, an event that will explain how to use TEDTalks in developing students. Ferniany will be discussing the topic of taking a TEDTalk video and creating a lesson from it.

For more information on UAB’s Edge of Chaos, please go to


3 years ago

Blazer Football fans celebrate as head football coach signs five year contract extension

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —  UAB Director of Athletics, Mark Ingram, announced a five year extension of head football coach Bill Clark’s contract Wednesday, prompting fans of the school’s newly revived program to partake in a pep rally and press conference for Blazer Football that afternoon

The Conference USA Coach of the Year led the Blazers to a 6-6 record in 2014 and bowl eligibility for the first time in a decade.

Clark’s contract began officially on June 1,  with guaranteed 5 years in the program—through the 2019 season. The head football coach’s salary will be between $600,000-$700,000 a year with bonus incentives.

Clark has been the the head coach at UAB since 2014 and said he looks forward to getting back on the field for the 2017 season.

“My family and I want to thank UAB, Mark Ingram, Dr. Ray Watts and the Board of Trustees for their commitment to me as UAB’s head football coach,” said Clark after the contract was made public. “We are doing this and doing it right – today’s announcement sends that message loud and clear.”

Mark Ingram says he is also looking toward the future for the UAB football program.

“The university looks forward to the next phase of UAB Football. We will continue raising philanthropic support needed for facilities and will move forward with our plan to play a complete FBS schedule as a full member of Conference USA in 2017,” Ingram said. “I am as happy as our fans, alumni, donors and community that Bill Clark will continue to be our coach. This is another day of celebration for UAB, with many more to come.”

The UAB football program’s future was shaky at best 6 months ago due to financial concerns, but since the celebrated reinstatement of the program in June the team and UAB community looks to be building itself one heck of a comeback in the 2017 season.

Fans can already reserve Blazer Football season tickets for a deposit of only $25.

The pep rally is open to the public and will will feature remarks by both Head Coach Bill Clark and Director of Athletics Mark Ingram.


3 years ago

Researchers at UAB find fascinating differences in how men and women process pain

UAB researcher Robert Sorge

(Video Above: Researchers at UAB find differences between how men and women experience pain)

By Donna Cope

Robert Sorge and medical colleagues believe men and women experience pain differently and that women suffer chronic pain more often than men.

Sorge may have discovered the reason.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology delivered groundbreaking findings in Nature Neuroscience online. In his study, Sorge and colleagues at UAB and in Canada studied male and female mice, whose pain systems mimic humans. Sorge found that the sexes use different immune cells to process chronic pain, indicating that different therapies may be needed.

That data is critical, since it is estimated that about one third of Americans have pain that is considered “chronic,” ranging from mild to excruciating and lasting longer than six months. An international study of 85,000 people showed that 45 percent of women and 31 percent of men have chronic pain. Women tend to have a lower sensitivity to pain, which supports the research of Sorge. Backache is among the most common pains, while young people commonly experience more pain from exercise.

“It is imperative to look at both males and females in research,” said Sorge, who earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Concordia University in Montreal in 2006. “It’s really notable that most research is done on male animals to model a 70 percent female population. There’s ample evidence there are differences in pain in males and females.”

Sorge and his colleagues conducted research unlike most previous studies. Their experiments used male and female mice. For years, researchers avoided studying females, Sorge suggests, under the supposition that female hormonal cycles could skew results.

Examining differences

Most existing research shows men and women have different sensitivity to pain. The assumption has been that a common pain circuit exists in both sexes, but is altered in women by estrogen. Sorge and his colleagues working in labs at UAB and in Canada found this assumption may be false.

“We looked at immune systems and how immune system receptors may change susceptibility and sensitivity to chronic pain,” said Sorge. “We found that some immune cells or receptors work differently in males and female mice.”

Now, researchers know that the immune system does more than fight off infection: It works with the brain to express pain. Some cells are critical for pain processing. When activated by injury such as inflammation or nerve damage, the cells release chemicals that reach neurons in the spinal cord to communicate the pain sensation. Sorge’s findings show this process only occurs naturally in male mice.

His research suggests a completely different part of the immune system – T cells – are responsible for releasing these same chemicals and the same signals in female mice. Sorge’s study found that females are able to use the male system when the female system is unavailable, or when high levels of testosterone are present. The results indicate that male and female mice have access to both pain reaction systems, but each sex preferentially uses one system over the other.

Critical Mandates

The National Institutes of Health recently mandated the use of female animals and cell lines in preclinical research.

Sorge predicts major changes on the horizon in the treatment of pain, including tailoring medicines and dosages according to a patient’s sex. With the lowered cost of genetic screening making testing available to more patients, Sorge believes more doctors will use this testing to check for predispositions to genetic causes of pain.

“The future of pain medicine is to look at the genetic makeup of an individual, because there are genetic causes of pain,” Sorge said. “Use of pain medicines is a very individual thing. With genetic testing, doctors will have the ability to figure which medicines will best treat a particular patient – depending on whether they are female or male – and also figure the correct dosage, based on their genetic makeup.”

3 years ago

This Alabama school is ranked among the top 150 universities in the world

Image c/o Flickr user Max Wolfe
Image c/o Flickr user Max Wolfe
Image c/o Flickr user Max Wolfe

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has been ranked 146th among the top universities in the world, according to the Center for World University Rankings.

Based in Saudi-Arabia, the CWUR scores universities around the globe and has published these rankings since 2012.

The consulting organization uses eight objective categories to rank the world’s top 1000 universities:

Quality of Education, measured by the number of a university’s alumni who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals relative to the university’s size [25%]

Alumni Employment, measured by the number of a university’s alumni who have held CEO positions at the world’s top companies relative to the university’s size [25%]

Quality of Faculty, measured by the number of academics who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals [25%]

Publications, measured by the number of research papers appearing in reputable journals [5%]

Influence, measured by the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals [5%]

Citations, measured by the number of highly-cited research papers [5%]

Broad Impact, measured by the university’s h-index [5%]

Patents, measured by the number of international patent filings [5%]

Founded in 1969, UAB currently has an undergraduate enrollment of about 12,000 students. The 2015 edition of Best Colleges in National Universities listed UAB as 149th (tied) in the country.

The full listing of UAB’s scoring can be found on the CWUR website.

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa came in at #409 on the list, Auburn University was ranked 549th, The University of Alabama in Huntsville was 752nd, and the University of South Alabama was 844th.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think about this story on Twitter.</p>&mdash; John James (@john_james_20) <a href=”″>August 19, 2015</a></blockquote>
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