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Volume 17, No. 2
UAB Neurobiologist Advances Leading-Edge Research in Age-Related Memory Dysfunction
by Yolanda A. Heiberger, M.A.
The fields of gerontology and geriatric medicine have led to an increased understanding
of the aging process and important treatments for age-related diseases. However,
less is known about the cellular changes leading to age-related memory decline that
often emerges during mid-life and continues with advancing age – resulting in such
common experiences as forgetting where we left our reading glasses or walking into
a room only to forget what we came there to retrieve. As a recipient of the prestigious
2010 Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar Award in Aging, UAB neurobiologist
J. David Sweatt, Ph.D., is conducting novel laboratory research that could lead
to the development of effective treatments for cognitive decline that occurs with
aging. “We know that it becomes more difficult to remember and retrieve information
as we age,” observes Dr. Sweatt, who is also Chairman of the UAB Department of Neurobiology
and Director of UAB’s Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. “The Ellison Senior Scholar
Award provides significant research funding that will allow our laboratory to investigate
and identify the cellular mechanisms that disrupt normal processes for learning,
memory formation, and retrieval in aged animals and test the effectiveness of certain
compounds in restoring normal memory.”
Critical Funding for Innovative Aging
The Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar Program in Aging provides financial
support to established U.S. investigators in an effort to advance research in the
basic biological sciences relevant to understanding lifespan development processes
and age-related diseases and disabilities. As one of 26 awardees from across the
nation, Dr. Sweatt was selected by the Ellison Scientific Advisory Board from a
highly competitive field of applicants. The award will provide $150,000 per year
for a four-year period in support of Dr. Sweatt’s laboratory research.
“This award is especially meaningful because of the personal admiration I have for
Lawrence Ellison, a visionary businessman who created the Foundation as a means
to advance significant scientific discovery in the field of aging,” Dr. Sweatt explains.
Lawrence Ellison, founder and CEO of the well-known software corporation Oracle,
created the Foundation in 1997 after a series of intriguing discussions with Nobel
Prize-winning biologist Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D. “Mr. Ellison determined that aging
was the area in which he wanted to invest funding in support of scientific research,”
he says. “He believes that aging is a fascinating and critically important scientific
problem. Last year alone, the Foundation received $42 million from Mr. Ellison.”
Testing a Novel Hypothesis Based on
Previous Groundbreaking Memory Research
Dr. Sweatt and his colleagues at the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute are conducting
laboratory research with mice to test an innovative hypothesis that explains the
cellular mechanisms for cognitive decline in aged animals. His current research,
supported by the Ellison Award, is an extension of earlier groundbreaking investigations
in how memories are formed and retrieved. “A significant discovery we made in our
laboratory a few years ago is that learning and the formation of long-term memory
involve changes in the three-dimensional structure of DNA and associated proteins
in the brain,” says Dr. Sweatt. He explains that deep within neurons, DNA strands
are tightly coiled around proteins called histones – much like strands of thread
wound around a spool. “We discovered that when the DNA strands are loosened, genes
involved in learning and memory are exposed and can be switched on. This process
creates new pathways for learning, memory formation, and retrieval.” In people with
memory disorders, this process seems to be disrupted. Read more...
November 7, 2011
Insight on Aging
Patricia Sawyer, PhD
UAB Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging
Richard Allman, MD
Karlene Ball, PhD
Marcas Bamman, PhD
John Mountz, MD, PhD
Christine S. Ritchie, MD, MSPH
Patricia Sawyer, PhD
Kathryn Burgio, PhD
Gregg Gilbert, DDS
Gary Hunter, PhD
Melinda Lalor, PhD
Daniel Marson, JD, PhD
Karen Meneses, PhD
Michael Morrisey, PhD
Richard Shewchuk, PhD
Mark Swanson, OD
J. David Sweatt, PhD
Trygve Tollefsbol, DO, PhD
Molly Wasko, PhD
“Dancing with the Silver Stars”
The Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging will host the Second Annual, “Dancing with the Silver Stars” on Monday, November
7, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. at The Club. The last community-wide salute to seniors had
approximately 400 attendees and raised nearly $95,000 to support program specific
needs including assistive hearing devices for UAB geriatric patients, expansion
of the Alzheimer Family Program for caregivers, undergraduate and graduate scholarships
for students pursuing mentored research in aging, faculty training in Geriatrics
as well as faculty recruitment. For ticket information for the 2011 event, click here. View photos from last year’s event.
Gerontology Education Program
Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging Research in Aging Scholarships
Two graduate and two undergraduate UAB students have been awarded the 2011-2012
Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging Research in Aging Scholarships. The Scholarship program is sponsored
by the Gerontology Education Program to encourage research in an aspect of the aging
process or a major biological, clinical, behavioral, social science, or health policy
problem which jeopardizes the health and well-being of a significant segment of
the elderly population. Funding for the scholarships has been provided through the
efforts of the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging Dancing with the Silver Stars. Awards are $2000
- Michelle Chang is in the Early Medical
School Acceptance Program and the UAB Honors Program at UAB. She is majoring in
Molecular Biology with minors in Chemistry, Gerontology, and Studio Art. Her research
project, “An Evaluation of the SPOONS Program on an Acute Care for Elders (ACE)
Unit,” follows an independent study course with her mentors, Julie Locher,
PhD and Kellie Flood, MD. Ms. Chang came to UAB following her high school graduation
in Edison, New Jersey.
- Miranda Collier is a pre-medicine
student in the Honors Program at UAB as well as a Presidential Scholarship recipient.
Ms. Collier came to UAB from Dothan, Alabama. She is pursuing a major in chemistry
and minors in both mathematics and economics. Dr. Stephen Barnes will be her mentor
for this research project, “Effects on A-Crystallin and Lens Clarity of Calpain
Inhibition in Lens of Zebrafish Cloche Mutants: A Model of Cataract Formation in
- Jacquelynn N. Copeland, MA is a third
year graduate student in the Medical/Clinical Psychology doctoral program at UAB.
Her research project, “Cortical Thickness in Amnestic Mild Cognitve Impairment and
Relationships with Neuropsychological Functioning and Financial Capacity”
will be under the mentorship of Kristen Triebel, PhD. Ms. Copeland earned her Master
of Arts in Clinical (Medical) Psychology at UAB following graduation from the
University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.
- Andrea Sartori, MA earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at
Arizona State Univerity. She received a UAB Gerontology Scholarship in 2009-10 for
research related to her Master’s degree at UAB. Her current research project, “The
Relationship Between Inflammatory Biomarkers and Cognitive Function in Older Adults,”
is under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Crowe.
UAB/AARP Public Policy and Aging Conference
"Paving the Way: A Roadmap for Ending Hunger and Food Insecurity” was the title
of the Fourth Annual UAB/AARP Aging Policy Conference held on April 15th, 2011.
Despite tornado warnings and inclement weather, the conference was attended by nearly
100 persons from across the state. Immediately following the conference, the Alabama
Poverty Project sponsored a conference on Higher Education's Response to Hunger
and Food Insecurity. James Weil, President of the Food Research Action Center was
one of the guest speakers at both conferences. Subsequent activities related to
food security and aging are scheduled both in Alabama and in the United States.
For the first time in two years, the Nutrition Coordinators from each of the local
Department of Senior Services met face-to-face to discuss programmatic and budgetary
challenges and opportunities. Dr. Locher, Director of the Public Policy and Aging
Program at UAB, who organized the UAB/AARP conference, was the keynote speaker at
their meeting. At the national level, the Institute of Medicine will be holding
a Workshop on October 5 and 6 in Washington D.C. on Nutrition and Healthy Aging
in the Community. The workshop is open to the public. The Chair of the Planning
Committee is Dr. Gordon Jensen (Professor and Head of the Department of Nutrition
Sciences at Penn State).
Dr. Locher is also serving on the planning committee, with experts from across the
US. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an independent, nonprofit organization that
works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision
makers and the public. Established in 1970, the IOM is the health arm of the National
Academy of Sciences.
Deep South Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR)
The Deep South Resource
Center for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) is a partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), Tuskegee University (TU), the University of Alabama (UA), and the
of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Funded by the National Institute on Aging
(NIA), the RCMAR serves as a research-based and mentoring investment for the purpose of
closing the health disparities gap between African American and non-minority older
adults. The Center is increasing the number of researchers with the capacity to
conduct independent, peer-reviewed research related to minority aging and health
The Deep South RCMAR Investigator Development Core (IDC) builds research capacity
among investigators from different fields through a formal Health Disparities Research
Training Program (HDRTP) focusing on minority aging and health disparities research,
and through the RCMAR Pilot Grant Awards.
The RCMAR provides early career (junior faculty) or mid-career scientists who are changing
or expanding the focus of their research to minority aging and health disparities
- Education/Training - training in the basic tools of
social behavioral, clinical and outcomes research (including biostatistics, epidemiology,
bioethics, behavioral interventions, health services, and policy research, as well
as their applicability to minority aging research)
- Mentoring - a mentored research experience focusing
on career development
- Funding and guidance on development and implementation of small-scale studies related
to minority aging research, with the long range goal of producing more competitive
research projects for funding in minority aging.
RCMAR HDRTP Scholars who complete the required components of the training program,
including submitting a grant proposal to an external, peer-reviewed research funding
agency, are eligible to apply for $10,000 pilot funds to collect data for future
grant projects. Dr. Giyeon Kim has received these pilot funds, in addition to a
RCMAR Pilot Grant Award.
The RCMAR Pilot Grant Awards (PGA) are provided to select investigators who submit
grant proposals in response to the annual request for applications. The proposals
are reviewed by senior faculty, and selections are made based on the scientific
merit assessed by the scores and critique comments from the reviewers. Drs. Kathleen
Foley, Giyeon Kim and Maria Pisu were selected in the 2012 PGA competition, and
have received approval from NIA to implement their projects over the next year.
- Kathleen Foley, PhD, MS — UAB,
Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy; “Comparison of Toileting Disability Among
Black and White Female Older Adults,” Mentor: Cynthia Brown, MS, MSPH; $15,391
- Giyeon Kim, PhD — UA, Assistant
Professor, Center for Mental Health and Aging; “The Role of Geography on Racial Disparities
in Mental Health Service Use,” Mentor: Patricia Parmelee, PhD; $25,000
- Maria Pisu, PhD — UAB, Assistant Professor, Preventive Medicine;
“Older African American Breast Cancer Patients and Cancer Financial Challenges,”
Mentor: Karen Meneses, PhD; $25,000
Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging Annual Meeting
Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging Annual Meeting will be held from 9:00 AM until 2:30 PM
on October 14, 2011 in the Great Hall at the Hill University Center on the UAB campus.
The Annual Meeting provides an opportunity for faculty and guests to hear a prominent
scientist present a keynote address, to listen to oral presentations of junior faculty
pursuing research in aging, and to have informal interactions as they view poster
research presentations. Faculty awards for Outstanding Service and
Teaching will be presented, and outstanding community leaders will be recognized
for their commitment to improving the health and well-being of older adults and
their family members.
Three oral scientific presentations will also be featured during the meeting. These
abstracts earned top scores from faculty judges from across the campus. The speakers
and the titles of their abstracts include:
- Cynthia Brown, MD, “Impact of a Hospital Walking Program
on Function and Community Mobility”
- Heather Cain, “Predictors of Eye Care Utilization Among
Older Adults with Diabetes”
- Edward Merritt, PhD, “Inflammatory Gene Expression in Aged Skeletal Muscle Following
Mechanically Induced Damage”
Community awards include the McCallum Award, the Bynum Award and the New Horizons
Award. The 2011 McCallum Award will be presented to J. Claude Bennett, MD,
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at UAB. As chair of the UAB Department
of Medicine between 1982 and 1993, Dr. Bennett identified the development of programs
in aging as a priority, and provided resources needed to develop a Geriatric Medicine
Fellowship and to establish the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative
Care within the Department. He recruited and appointed Alan M. Siegal, MD, as the
Acting Division Director in 1987. After a national search, Dr. Bennett then appointed
Richard M. Allman as the Director of the Division. Dr. Bennett served as the fourth
president of UAB from 1993-1996, when he became the Chief Operating Officer of BioCryst
Pharmaceuticals. As a leader in the community, Dr. Bennett has continued to be an
advocate and supporter for programs designed to improve the health and well-being
of older adults in the community.
The 2011 Bynum Award will be given to Anne Warren. Ms. Warren has
provided leadership for the Beeson Fund of the Canterbury United Methodist Church.
The Beeson Fund provides support for programs that address the needs of older persons
in Jefferson County, Alabama. In this role, the Beeson Fund has awarded grants to
meet the needs of some of the poorest older adults in the county. The Bynum Award
is given to someone who has demonstrated a commitment to improving the health and
quality of life of older adults in a manner similar to that exhibited by the late
Robert Bynum, who died in October 2010, and for whom the award is named.
The 2011 New Horizons Award will be given to Alabama AARP for its support of
the UAB Public Policy and Aging Program. Over the last three years,
Alabama AARP has co-sponsored annual conferences addressing critical policy issues
impacting the health and well-being of older adults. The most recent conference
focused on eliminating hunger among older adults. The New Horizons Award is awarded
to a not-for-profit organization each year that demonstrates a commitment to improving
the health and well-being of older adults.
The 2011 Faculty Service Award will be presented to Julie Locher, PhD, Associate
Professor of Medicine and Public Health and Director of the Public Policy and Aging
Program, in recognition of her leadership for the Public Policy and
Aging Program and the 2011 conference, “Paving the Way: A Roadmap for Ending Food
Insecurity and Hunger.” Under Dr. Locher’s leadership, the Public Policy and Aging
Program has also sponsored conferences on health care workforce needs in Geriatrics
and the impact of the economic crisis on older adults.
The 2011 Faculty Teaching Award will be presented to Richard V. Sims III, MD, Professor
of Medicine and Chief, Geriatrics Section, Birmingham VA Medical Center.
Dr. Sims provided outstanding leadership for the Geriatric Medicine Fellowship Program
for seventeen years from July 1994 through June 2011 With Dr. Sims’ leadership,
the UAB graduate training program in Geriatric Medicine has been ranked number 14th
in the nation by the US News and World Report.
This year’s keynote speaker is Michael Gaziano, MD, MPH. Dr. Gaziano is Professor
and Chief, Division on Aging at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. The
title of Dr. Gaziano’s keynote address will be, “Design and Implementation of the
Million Veteran Program (MVP).” Dr. Gaziano is the principal investigator for the
VA Million Veteran Program. The Birmingham VA is a participating site for this landmark
study that will link genetic information with health data available in the VA computerized
patient record system. Patricia Goode, MD, and Jasvinder Singh, MD are co-PIs for
the study site here in Birmingham, AL.
Geriatric Education Center
The Interprofessional Geriatric Education Conference
hosted by the UAB Geriatric Education Center will be held January 19 & 20, 2012
at the Hill University Center. This two-day event focuses on the Care of the Complex
Older Adult and is open to all healthcare professionals and trainees. Continuing
education credits will be offered. For more information, please contact Channing
R. Ford, MPA, MA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UAB Geriatric Education Center, the Alabama Securities Commission, partners
and contributors invite you to attend a continuing education program, "Preventing
Elder Investment Fraud: Assessing Your Patients for Vulnerability to Financial Exploitation."
This event will be offered
October 13, 2011 and again on January 19th, 2012, on the UAB Campus Alumni
Auditorium located at 1400 University Boulevard, Birmingham, AL 35294. The clinical
education presenter will be Daniel Marson, JD, PhD, UAB Professor of Neurology and
national expert on Financial capacity and older adults. Ed Reed, the Assistant Attorney
General Associate Counsel of the the Alabama Securities Commission will serve as
the investor education presenter. For more information, please contact Channing R.
Ford, MPA, MA at email@example.com.
AgeWell.com is a consumer-friendly
online resource of information and advice dealing with issues facing today’s older
adults. The content is provided by expert gerontologists and geriatricians affiliated
with the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging, written in a way that is easy for the lay population
to understand. AgeWell.com is a useful resource for aging adults, their
caregivers and family members, as well as clinicians and researchers. Recent articles
include interviews with:
- Sonia Makhija, DDS, MPH, UAB Assistant Professor of
Dentistry - Oral Health is Key to Quality of Life – Learn Why
- C. Barrett Bowling, MD, UAB Instructor, Gerontology,
Geriatrics, and Palliative Care - Chronic Kidney Disease – More Common in Older Adults
- Laura Vogtle, PhD, UAB Professor of Occupational Therapy
- Aging Increases Seizure Risk – Know the Facts
Christine Ritchie Chosen to Participate in Institute of Medicine (IOM) Panel
Dr. Christine Ritchie, Associate Director of the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging, was invited to
participate on an Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel of 35 national experts to discuss,
“Approaching Death, Fourteen Years Later: Where Are We Now?" The meeting, which
was held in Washington DC on January 14, 2011, evaluated the progress in care of
patients with serious advanced illness since the landmark IOM report of 1997. The
overall goals of the meeting were to address the question, “How can the IOM best
advance care for these patients?” and to suggest further IOM activities in this
area. The emphasis was on creative advice regarding new IOM activities. Outcomes
from this meeting will inform future IOM activities in broad areas of healthcare.
This discussion is timely, given the aging of the American population and dramatic
projections of the individuals with multiple chronic conditions and serious advanced
illness. Participants in the meeting included leading clinicians, policymakers,
consumers, and other stakeholders.
Kellie Flood’s Abstract Selected as Oral Presentation at National Meeting
Dr. Kellie Flood’s abstract, “Cost Savings from an Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit
Versus Usual Care for Hospitalist Patients,” was selected for an oral presentation
during the Plenary Paper Session at the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) 2011 Annual
Meeting, scheduled May 11-14 in Washington, DC. The Selection Committee scored her
abstract as one of the three best abstracts submitted based on average score, quality,
originality and methodology of research. Co-authors were Deb McGrew, Darlene Green, DSN,
Cindy Dodd, and Dr. Cynthia Brown.
Four UAB Faculty Members Selected for National Institute on Aging (NIA) Summer
Four UAB faculty members were selected to participate in the NIA Summer Institute
on Aging Research July 9-15, 2011 in Queenstown, MD: C. Barrett Bowling, MD, Special
Fellow in Advanced Geriatrics and Instructor, Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics,
and Palliative Care; Richard Kennedy, PhD, Assistant Professor in Biostatistics;
Daniel Smith, PhD, Instructor in Nutrition Sciences; and Akilah Keita, PhD, Postdoctoral
Scholar in Nutrition Sciences. Only thirty-five participants were selected from
around the nation based on training, letters of recommendation, a brief statement
of objectives for attending the program, and a research abstract. The program offers
new researchers intensive exposure to issues and challenges in research on aging.
Four UAB Nominees Selected for John A. Hartford Center of Excellence 2011 National
Four UAB nominees for the John A. Hartford Center of Excellence 2011 National Scholars
Program were approved through a competitive peer-review process: Drs. Barrett Bowling,
Caroline Harada, Heather Herrington, and Kendra Sheppard. UAB will be awarded $90,000
from the John A. Hartford Foundation to support the career development of these
scholars. Institutional matching funds are will be used to support their career
development and mentoring. Congratulations to all of our candidates. On a national
level, 132 candidates were nominated from 27 Centers of Excellence.
Insight on Aging is a publication of the UAB Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging. You can
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