Written by Charles Buchanan, Brett Bralley and Jay Taylor with editorial contributions from Matt Windsor and UAB Public Relations. Images from UAB Archives, Rachel Hendrix, Andrea Mabry, Sarah Parcak, Steve Wood and Getty Images. Web design by Tyler Bryant. Reprinted by permission of UAB Magazine.
UABs birth was like a ray of sunlight punching through the smog.
In 1969 the newly independent university, uniting a pioneering academic medical center and a growing extension center, brought the promise of a brighter future to a city eager for change.
Birmingham is better because of UAB. So are Alabama, America, and the world. In the following pages, discover some of the many ways that UAB has fulfilled its promiseby saving lives, solving problems, expanding knowledge, and opening doorsover 50 years.
Best of the best
UABs accolades shine a global spotlight on Birmingham and Alabama:
A way to retrain the brain
Most scientists once believed that neuroplasticitythe brains ability to grow or repair itselfended in childhood. But research by UAB neuroscientist Edward Taub, Ph.D., contributed to a shift in thinking, and in the 1990s he developed constraint-induced (CI) therapy for stroke patients with poorly functioning limbs. As the intensive training helps patients learn to accomplish tasks with their affected limbs, the brain adapts by strengthening communication with those parts of the body. And the results have been remarkable: Most patients see a clinically significant level of improvement in their ability to use their affected limbs, and brain scans have shown an increase in gray matter. Taub and UAB clinical psychologist Gitendra Uswatte, Ph.D., have used CI therapy to help thousands of stroke patientsand adapted it for patients impacted by cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury. Today CI therapy is in use worldwide.
Discoveries on ice
UAB scientists conduct a lot of research in the fieldbut none may go as far afield as James McClintock, Ph.D.; Charles Amsler, Ph.D.; and Maggie Amsler. Their investigations take place at Palmer Station, Antarctica6,898 miles from their campus offices. For two decades, the biologists have led teams that dive into the frigid waters surrounding the icy continent to study the chemical ecology of the unique marine algae and invertebrates living there. What theyve discovered could aid the search for new drugs to help humans. The group also chronicles the dramatic impact of climate change, such as ocean acidification, on Antarctic marine life. You can see climate change happening there like no other place on earth, says McClintock.
A pinch of prevention
UAB endocrinologist Constance Pittman, M.D., turned her research passioniodines impact on thyroid functioninto a global mission. In the 1990s and 2000s, she teamed up with Kiwanis International and UNICEF to help eradicate iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), a prevalent cause of cognitive disabilities. Pittman traveled the world to convince companies to add iodine to table saltthe simplest solution for preventing IDD. And her work helped make a lasting impact.
In 1973, UAB opened the nations first public diabetes hospitaland the first linked with an academic medical center. Today physicians on the front lines of the diabetes epidemic have an exciting new option to help their patients, thanks to breakthrough research from UABs Comprehensive Diabetes Center.
Sharing stories that matter
WBHM 90.3 FM radio went on the air in 1976 as the 200th National Public Radio (NPR)-affiliated station. A member-supported service of UAB, WBHM provides global news and award-winning local coverage to Birmingham and the surrounding region. The station also recently welcomed StoryCorps, an NPR-affiliated initiative, to collect stories from the Birmingham community that will be housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Book of Life
Its tough to find a physician anywhere in the world who hasnt learned a few things from Tinsley Harrison, M.D. The legendary School of Medicine cardiologist and dean created and edited Harrisons Principles of Internal Medicine, which has been reprinted 20 times, translated into 14 languages, and become arguably the most recognized book in all of medicine, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The School of Optometry has been a pioneer since it opened in 1969 as the nations first optometry school associated with an academic medical center. Three years later, it became the first optometry teaching program affiliated with a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, establishing a national model. Today more than 2,500 optometry staff and students from various schools work in the VA system nationwide.
Helping our hometown
Living and working in the heart of the city, UAB students, faculty, and staff cant help but feel a connection to Birmingham. Here are just a few ways Blazers have volunteered to support their neighbors:
A whole new ball game
Gene Bartow Mens basketball coach1977-1996
UAB started a winning tradition in 1977 when it hired coach Gene Bartow away from powerhouse UCLA to start a mens basketball program. He created a legendary team able to topple top rivals and reach the NCAA Tournament in just its third seasonthe first of 15 NCAA Tournament and 12 National Invitational Tournament appearances on its record. As UABs first athletic director, Bartow also helped UAB compete in other arenas. Today student-athletes in 18 sports give Birmingham reasons to cheer. Take a spin through some of the Blazers most memorable moments:
New views of history
Its as if Indiana Jones and Google Earth had a love child. Thats how UAB anthropology faculty member and National Geographic fellow Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., described space archaeology to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show in 2016. She has pioneered the use of high-resolution satellite imagery to search for the buried remains of lost civilizations. And her discoveries have thrilled people worldwide, including Colbert. She was even mentioned in a Jeopardy! answer earlier this year.
UAB immunologists have been among the first to shed light on the mechanisms powering our bodys defenses:
Future football helmets may better protect athletes thanks to mechanical engineering professor Dean Sicking, Ph.D. (Before coming to UAB, he developed the lifesaving SAFER barriers used on NASCAR and IndyCar courses.) Analyzing data from thousands of helmet-to-helmet impacts in football, Sicking has developed designs for a new helmet that could address concussionsabsorbing as much energy of the impact as possible so that the athlete has less risk of brain injury.
The dividends of discovery
In 2018-2019, UAB received $602 million in research grants and awardsjust one year after surpassing the $500-million milestone for the first time. We are aiming high and exceeding our goals, and it is a testament to the UAB research communitys great ideas, hard work, and will to succeed, says Christopher Brown, Ph.D., vice president for research. A rise in research funding means more opportunities to explore the frontiers of knowledgebut it also enables UAB to attract top minds from around the country in health care, engineering, the sciences, and more, plus create new jobs that boost the local economy. Want to ensure that UAB continues its upward trajectory? Philanthropic support helps position the university to attain competitive research grants.
Space is the place for UAB people and technology:
Researcher Larry DeLucas, O.D., Ph.D., became the first optometrist in orbit with a 1992 mission aboard the shuttle Columbia. There he conducted experiments to grow protein crystals, which give scientists a 3D view of protein structuresand a greater understanding of the roles they play in disease. DeLucas also served as chief scientist for the International Space Station in 1994-1995.
Astrophysicist Thomas Wdowiak, Ph.D., passed away in 2013, but his name lives onon Mars. The Red Planets Wdowiak Ridge honors the physics faculty members role in NASAs Mars Exploration Project. Wdowiak was in charge of operating the Mossbauer spectrometers onboard the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that helped uncover firm evidence that water once existed on Mars.
Focus on finances
Would you like to get better at saving, budgeting, or investing? Or do you dream of launching a business? The Regions Institute for Financial Education in the Collat School of Business has been helping people throughout the community develop practical, lifelong financial management skills since 2015. Some of its programs include a Money Math Camp for middle schoolers, a College Bridge Camp to prepare high schoolers for life after graduation, and for adults, a Do-It-Yourself Credit Repair Workshop.
Campus expansions have reshaped Birminghams Southside, and UAB works hard to be a good steward of that spaceand set a sustainable example. In 2008, UAB brought open green space into the heart of Birmingham by converting a city street into the Campus Green. Now UAB is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and establish a clean energy standard of 20-percent renewable energy by 2025.
Ingenuity vs. Infection
Antiviral therapies are essential for treating everything from influenza to HIV. In 1977, UAB pediatrics experts Richard Whitley, M.D., and Charles Alford, M.D., helped spark the antiviral revolution by developing vidarabine, the first drug to treat encephalitis caused by the herpes simplex virus. In the 1990s, Whitley and his team transformed the herpes virus into a genetically engineered weapon against tumors.
Vaccines for everyone
The laboratory of Moon Nahm, M.D., is a national treasure, notes the National Institutes of Health. But its discoveries could help protect millions of children worldwide threatened by S. pneumoniae infections, the leading cause of pneumonia. (Nahms lab also is designated a World Health Organization Pneumococcal Reference Laboratory.) His mission is to make pneumonia vaccines more affordable for use in developing countries.
GeoSentinel is a worldwide network of clinics watching for potential pandemics in an increasingly interconnected world, ready to relay information quickly about new disease outbreaks and effective treatments. And it has Alabama roots. UAB travel medicine expert David Freedman, M.D., cofounded GeoSentinel, a collaboration between the International Society for Travel Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 1990s. He also directed the network for 20 years.
Staying safe on the road
In 2002, UAB public health researchers unveiled the Digital Childa pioneering computer model evaluating the physical consequences of car crashes on young passengers at various stages of developmentto generate data that could lead to improved child safety devices. Shift gears to today, and researchers in UABs TRIP (Translational Research for Injury Prevention) Lab use virtual realitya first-of-its-kind SUV simulator built with Honda Manufacturing of Alabamato study distracted driving in an effort to save lives. The TRIP Lab also has a portable simulator for schools and community events to help educate students and others on the dangers of distracted driving.
A home for Birmingham history
Odessa WoolfolkEducator and civic leader
When Birmingham first dreamed of developing a civil rights museum and research center, UABs Odessa Woolfolk, then special assistant to the president and director of community relations, and Horace Huntley, Ph.D., a historian and first director of the African American studies program, helped lead efforts to turn that idea into a reality. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opened in 1992, with Woolfolk as president of its board of directors. Huntley also directed the institutes Oral History Project, which preserves the accounts of foot soldiers and other witnesses to the Birmingham campaign. Today the BCRI attracts visitors from around the world and is a key component of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
Invention in action
Faculty, staff, and students are designing the future for the rest of us. Preview some of their ingenious solutions:
Each year, biomedical engineering and business students develop technologies to help people overcome physical limitations. Examples include a joystick-controlled wheelchair for toddlerswhich won an international awardbuilt for the Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs, and a special scale to help wheelchair users monitor their weight, used by the Lakeshore Foundation. Another design, a mechanical umbrella to protect power wheelchair users from rainy weather, scored second place at the 2018 World Congress on Biomechanics.
Graphic design students in UABs Bloom Studio unleash their talents to support local nonprofits and underserved communities. You can spot their work on license plates and signs that promote and protect the Cahaba Riverpart of a collaboration with the Cahaba River Society.
Solution Studios pairs Honors College, engineering, and nursing students with UAB health professionals to tackle everyday problems affecting patient care. One team has designed a device prototype that could improve quality of life for patients wearing ostomy bags to expel waste. Another has focused on new, more comfortable methods of applying wires to the skin in settings such as intensive care units.
Spreading the word
Low literacy levels translate into increased high school dropout rates, a lower-performing workforce, and higher rates of social problems, say UAB School of Education experts. For years UABs Maryann Manning, Ed.D., led the charge to improve literacy across Alabama, launching programs such as a conference that attracted thousands of local schoolchildren to share their writing with authors and illustrators. Today the Maryann Manning Family Literacy Center continues her legacy, providing enrichment activities in reading, writing, math, arts, and science for children and helping teachers across Alabama learn innovative strategies to foster literacy skills in their classrooms.
The heart of innovation
John Kirklin, M.D.Surgery superstar
John Kirklin, M.D., helped put Birmingham on the medical map when he was recruited in 1966 to chair the Department of Surgery. He already was a superstar at the Mayo Clinic, where he had revolutionized cardiovascular surgery by improving the heart-lung machine and performing the first operations for a variety of congenital heart malformations. At UAB he continued to pursue new methods and techniques, such as the development of a computerized intensive care unit with continuous monitoring of vital functions, which became a model for ICUs worldwide.
When Kirklin passed away in 2004, colleagues estimated his medical innovations had saved millions of lives. And his legacy thrives in other ways: UAB is a world-class medical center in part because of Kirklins work behind the scenes, where he championed the combination of public and private investments to foster growth. His textbook, Cardiac Surgery, remains a must-read for anyone in the field. His name lives on in The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, which opened in 1992. And his son, cardiothoracic surgeon James Kirklin, M.D., directs UABs James and John Kirklin Institute for Research in Surgical Outcomes.
Birthplace of new businesses
UABs ideas and energy are an engine for entrepreneurship. The university was a founder of Birminghams Innovation Depot, where start-up companiessome born from UAB research breakthroughsfind the resources they need to grow. Today Innovation Depot is the Southeasts largest high-tech business incubator, home to more than 100 companies.
University of opportunity
In the fall of 2019, underrepresented students made up nearly 42 percent of UABs enrollment, and 20.5 percent of undergraduates were first-generation students. UAB has a long history of widening access to higher educationand potential careers in science and health careamong diverse students. Back in 1978, the Minority High School Research Apprentice Program began matching local students with faculty members for summer research experiences. Today, initiatives such as the Department of Surgerys Pre-College Internship for Students from Minority Backgrounds and the Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars program offer similar opportunities for students along their educational journeys.
Successful careers begin here
More than 135,000 alumni call UAB their alma mater. Today youll find them across the United States and around the world, working as leaders in health care, science, business, art, engineering, government, education, and other fields. Many stay connected with UAB through the National Alumni Society, which was established in 1979 and has 63 chapters in locations ranging from Washington, D.C., to Taiwan.
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UAB: 50 years of Improving Birmingham, Alabama and the World - Birmingham Times