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SP RING 2018



Celebrating the Advances


SPRING 2018 | UAB PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE The Psychology Update is a news magazine written for students, faculty and alumni of the UAB Department of Psychology UAB PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE EXECUTIVE EDITOR Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D. EDITOR + CONTENT Mary Frances Thetford, M.Ed. CONTENT + DESIGN Lauren Vardaman Huffman FOLLOW UAB PSYCHOLOGY



A 30 Year Milestone: Celebrating the Advances in CI Therapy

UAB CI THERAPY RESEARCH GROUP Front Row (left to right) Jamie Wade, M.S., Manager Gitendra Uswatte, Ph.D., Director Edward Taub, Ph.D., Director

Back Row (left to right) Jasmine Hill, Research Assistant Andrea Taylor, MPH, Research Assistant Mary Bowman, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist Staci McKay, B.S., Project Coordinator Victor Mark, M.D., Medical Director Brent Womble, Graduate Assistant Laura Reder, Physical Therapy Assistant David Morris, PT, Ph.D., Training Director



Jonathan Adams Alumni Sarah Cable Dr. Olivio Clay Dr. Ed Cook Dr. Kaylee Crockett Dr. Burel Goodin Dr. Maria Hopkins PAGE 05 Medical / Clinical Graduate Students Dr. Sylvie Mrug Emma Sartin Dr. Despina Stavrinos Students on Internship Kristin Schoonover & Nathaniel Harnett Kathryn Thompson Dr. Zina Trost Natalie Voss PAGE 06


A 30 Year Milestone: Celebrating the Advances in CI Therapy PAGE 08


Dr. Rajesh Kana First Ever Winners of College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching Dr. Christianne Strang American Art Therapy Association Announces Dr. Christianne Strang as 2017 - 2018 Board Chairperson



Dr. Edward Taub & Dr. Gitendra Uswatte Virtual CI Therapy PAGE 10 Dr. David Schwebel Study Examines How Man’s Best Friend Can Help Therapy Patients Improve PAGE 12 Dr. Karlene Ball Dementia Breakthrough? Brain-Training Game “Significantly Reduces Risk”

PAGE 22 Dr. Robert Sorge & Stacie Totsch The Role of Diet in Chronic Pain: You are What You Eat? PAGE 23 Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Awarded to Five UAB Graduate Students Second Tuesday Medical / Clinical Psychology Program Ranked No. 5 by Best Counseling Degrees

PAGE 14 Dr. Jessica Mirman Study Shows Options to Decrease Risk of Motor Vehicle Crashes for Adolescent Drivers


PAGE 15 Dr. Sylvie Mrug UAB Establishes Obesity Health Disparities Research Center


PAGE 16 Dr. Zina Trost Virtual Reality May Hold Pain-Relieving Promise for Paraplegic Patients

Save the Date: The 30th Annual Ost Undergraduate Research Competition



Lauren Bolden Higher Cortical Excitability Tied to Poor Attention in idiopathic Generalized Epilepsies PAGE 20 Summer Course Helps Budding Researchers Get Their Feet Wet


JoAnne Lin In Praise of Postdocs: Celebrating National Postdoc Appreciation Week


Introducing New Members of the Arts & Sciences Alumni Board

Three UAB Students Win U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship PAGE 26 SCAHIP: Paid Summer Research Opportunity PAGE 27 UAB Psychology Alumni Chapter: Join Today


Psychology at a Glance




Dr. Ed Cook, Associate Professor of Psychology and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, and Director of the Medical/Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, has been named recipient of the 2018 President’s Diversity Champion Award in the faculty category.

Doctoral student Jonathan Adams was a presenter for the “Discoveies in the Making Series” held in the Abbey Coffee Shop in January. His presentation, “How to Stop a Bully: A Guide for Students, Parents and Teachers,” showcased tips and methods derived from his research in the Department of Psychology’s Lifespan Developmental Psychology Doctoral Program. 1



Kaylee Crockett, a postdoc for Dr. Bulent Turan, will be featured on the JAIDS (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes) website for her paper that was chosen as “Editor’s Pick.”


Executive Program Director Mary Frances Thetford joins CAS UAB Alumni evening at Cahaba Brewery with Alumni President Wes Calhoun and CAS Development and Alumni Directors, Camille Epps and Frances Allison. Come meet your alumni the first Thursdays of each month to socialize!


Sarah Cable, a graduate student in the Medical/ Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, is shown above volunteering at “Dinner in the Dark.” “Dinner in the Dark” is an event put on by Dr. Laura Dreer, a psychologist in the Department of Ophthalmology, and her staff to simulate vision loss and educate others on the challenges individuals with vision loss face. Guests included faculty, staff, and residents within the Department of Ophthalmology. Guests were blindfolded and guided to tables by volunteers trained in orientation and mobility. Guests then had to order, eat, and drink their meals completely blindfolded. Following the meal, guests removed their blindfolds and discussed how the experience impacted them. This event is also an effort to support UAB Connections, which is a support group for individuals with vision impairment that meets twice a month for educational session and social events.

DR. OLIVIO CLAY Dr. Olivio Clay’s paper on community residents’ expectations of HOPE VI program received the 2017 Marie Weil Award from the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration. 04 PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE // SPRING 2018



Associate Professor Dr. Burel Goodin married Dr. Marissa Gowey on September 16 in Asheville, North Carolina. The couple had a small wedding of about 65 close family and friends. Dr. Gowey is an Assistant Professor in the UAB Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, & Nutrition.


Dr. Maria Hopkins, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, has been named recipient of a Teaching Innovation and Development Award to support new approaches to instruction and learning in a team environment. “These awards are very important in the development, implementation and validation of new educational tools and approaches to measuring and growing success when students learn in a team environment,” said Dale Dickinson, Ph.D., director of the university Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). Dr. Hopkins will compare an online course that includes a team component to the traditional section without a team component. “There is a need to develop methods and strategies to facilitate collaboration and cooperation among peers in online courses just as we have in face-to-face courses,” Hopkins said in her submission.


4 4


As part of the monthly Pediatric Psychology Seminar Series, a group of graduate students from the Medical/ Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program and the School of Public Health visited the Amelia Center to learn about treating grief in children in families and, more generally, the services offered at the Amelia Center. The aim of each seminar is to provide pediatric psychology trainees with relevant medical information, tools for assessment and intervention resources related to the topic.


Professor and Interim Chair Dr. Sylvie Mrug has been chosen as a recipient of the 2018 Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship. The awards ceremony will be held April 2 at the Alumni House from 4-6 p.m.


The Society for Research on Adolescence announced that UAB Psychology graduate student, Emma Sartin, has been selected to receive a 2018 SRA Emerging Scholar Student Travel Award in the amount of $200 to support her attendance at the 2018 Biennial Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April. 5




Assistant Professor Dr. Despina Stavrinos and her husband welcomed twin daughters Alexandra (Alexa) Irene (6 lbs 5 ounces) & Valentina Barbara (5 lbs 10 ounces) to their family on September 25.

Three UAB Medical Clinical Psychology students (Sarah Koch, Jilian O’Neill, Jesse Passler) volunteered their time helping flood victims after only arriving three months earlier for their internships in Houston, TX.




Graduate students Kristin Schoonover and Nathaniel Harnett were among 9 finalists who competed in the 3MT (3 Minute Thesis) Competition on October 5 at the Hill Student Center Alumni Theater. Kristin was named this year’s winner and will move on to represent UAB at the 3MT regional competition at the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools in March.


Kathryn Thompson, Medical/Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student, was named a 2018 Early Career Poster Award Winner by the Pain & Disparities special interest group at the American Pain Society Conference.


Assistant Professor Dr. Zina Trost was awarded the “Harold Yuke Award for Research Excellence for best paper published in the journal Rehabilitation Psychology in 2016” by APA Division 22 (Rehabilitation Psychology). The paper is entitled “The Unfairness of It All: Exploring the Role of Injustice Appraisals in Rehabilitation Outcomes.”


Natalie Voss, junior in psychology, is one of twentyseven UAB students who will present innovative solutions to issues in their communities and around the globe at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University meeting on Oct. 13-15 at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Natalie and Danielle Madsen, senior in public health, created Girl Talk at UAB, an organization to educate women at UAB about reproductive health options via website discussion boards and in-person Girl Talks. The organization’s goal is to empower women and destigmatize women’s health education in the South.



Celebrating the Advuances


by UAB Digital Strategy & Marketing | in UAB CAS News

In 1986, Edward Taub, Ph.D., was recruited to UAB from the Institute of Behavioral Research in Washington, D.C. At that time, the conventional wisdom in the field of rehabilitation was that people who suffered a stroke or other brain injury reached their maximum level of improvement about a year after the event, and that from then on, the motor capacity in that patient was not modifiable. Yet. Dr. Taub and his research team were soon to up-end this traditional understanding. His reseach on brain plasticity and rehabilitation would have a fundamental and comprehensive effect on the recovery of victims of stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, and other challenges. Over the next several years, Taub and his research group would develop a rehabilitation technique now known as Constraint-Induced Movement therapy. Today, more than 600 papers have been published on CI Therapy in its various forms. Notably, the treatment was the subject of the first multi-center randomized clinical trial for upper extremity stroke rehabilitation funded by NIH. Longstanding leaders in Dr. Taub’s UAB research group include Gitendra Uswatte, Ph.D., Associate Director and Professor of Psychology; Victor Mark, M.D., Medical Director and Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine; David Morris, P.T., Ph.D., Chair and Professor of Physical Therapy in the School of Health Professions; and Staci McKay, Project Coordinator.


Simply stated, CI Therapy is a family of treatments that teach the brain to “rewire” itself following an injury. The foundations for CI Therapy arose out of Dr. Taub’s discovery that much of the loss in function in a limb after a brain injury is the result of “learned non-use,” and that by combining the restraint of the unaffected limb and the intensive use of the affected limb, this learned non-use can be “unlearned.” Learn more about CI Therapy on page 9. On November 14, 2017, Dr. Taub’s colleagues held a celebration in his honor at the Spain Rehabilitation Center entitled “A 30 Year Milestone: Celebrating the Advances in CI Therapy.” Speakers at the event included Amie McLain, M.D., Chair and Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine and Director of the UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System; Cathy Newhouse, O.T., M.B.A., Founding Manager of Taub Therapy Clinic and Director of Rehabilitation Services; Angi Griffin, M.A., OTR/L, Supervisor of the Pediatric CI Therapy Outpatient Program and Coordinator of Physical Therapy/ Occupational Therapy Outpatient Services at Children’s of Alabama; Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Uswatte.


Attendees included Dr. Taub and his wife Mildred Taub, Pam Benoit, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost; Jordan DeMoss, Senior Associate Vice President of UAB Medicine; Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., Interim Chair of the Department of Psychology; and William Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System.





by UAB Digital Strategy & Marketing | in UAB CAS News

by Katherine Shonesy | in UAB News

The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of College of Arts and Sciences who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching. The individual must have held faculty status at UAB for a minimum of three years and may receive the award only once in any three-year period.

Dr. Strang, a UAB research instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology, has 30 years of clinical art therapy experience, and provides art therapy services to individuals in treatment for anorexia and bulimia.

The three winners, who were selected by the CAS President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Committee, will be considered for the final College of Arts and Sciences nominee for the President’s Award of Excellence in Teaching. From the Arts and Humanities: Dr. Cassandra Ellis; Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dr. Rajesh Kana; From the Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Dr. Samiksha Raut. Dr. Rajesh Kana, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, Co-Director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, and Director of the Cognition, Brain, and Autism Laboratory Dr. Kana’s interest is in autism spectrum disorders, specifically social cognitive and affective neuroscience, neuroimaging, and brain and language. After earning a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India, he completed his postdoctoral training at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2001 he was awarded the William Fulbright pre-doctoral research fellowshop to do research at University of California Los Angeles. He joined UAB in 2007. Dr. Kana’s nominator said that, “He is incredibly invested in his students’ learning and growth, whether in the classroom or in the research laboratory. He creates a dynamic, collaborative and relaxed environment in which students feel comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas. He uses a combination of teaching styles and each method ensures that students learn and understand a different facet of the subject. He also stays highly involved in his mentees’ professional development and meets regularly with them to offer his guidance. He is not just a professor and mentor to me; he has also become a role model.”


At UAB, Strang teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in behavioral neuroscience, developmental neuroscience and introduction to creative arts therapies. Prior to serving as board president, Strang served as the treasurer for the American Art Therapy Association and on the Art Therapy Credentials Board. “The greatest benefit of my AATA membership has been in the relationships and connections with other art therapists,” Strang said. “The conferences are like coming home — seeing old friends and being with a group of people who have a shared vision and vocabulary, as well as a shared understanding of the healing power of art therapy.” Strang’s academic research is focused on the role of neurotransmitter receptors in visual processing and how that processing is affected in Alzheimer’s disease. She enjoys spending three weeks every summer co-directing a neuroscience immersion course at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She took the same course herself as a UAB student in 1998. When asked about why art therapy is effective, Strang answered, “There are so many things — it bypasses the cognitive messages and habits, identifies and reinforces new ways of thinking and interacting, builds healthier habits and patterns of behaving, and provides the opportunity to develop and explore relationships in new ways.”

DR. ED TAUB & DR. GITENDRA USWATTE V I RT U A L C I T H E R A P Y by Katherine Shonesy | in UAB News

Constraint-Induced Movement therapy— a behavioral approach to the rehabilitation of movement and speech after brain injury developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham— is being translated to a video game version called Recovery Rapids through an ongoing clinical trial. “We know from several randomized controlled trials that patients with stroke, like the individuals who will participate in this trial, obtain large improvements in the use of their stroke affected arm in everyday life after CI therapy when it is delivered face-to-face in the clinic,” said Gitendra Uswatte, Ph.D., professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology and associate director of the CI Therapy Research Group and Taub Therapy Clinic. “Patients who did not use that arm to carry out activities like eating, combing your hair, and picking up a telephone begin to do so after in-clinic CI therapy.” The video game therapy allows patients to receive treatment from home, while still benefiting from the innovative CI therapy techniques and therapist interaction. “Given the lower cost and increase in access to treatment made possible by the virtual reality version of CI therapy, the virtual reality version will represent an advance for patients even if the treatment gains are only two-thirds to half as large as for the in-clinic version of CI therapy,” Uswatte said. Recovery Rapids can be played on a home video game system that is supplied by the study. The treatment and testing that will be done at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is part of a multi-site clinical trial directed by Lynne Gauthier, Ph.D., assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Ohio State University, whose research group designed the game. The game contains tasks designed to exercise a variety of arm movements and automatically progresses with the play increasing in difficulty as the patient improves.

Patients virtually kayak down a river using the game system and perform tasks that will force them to exercise their affected body part, avoiding use of the opposite limb completely. While playing the game, patients encounter tasks such as paddling, reaching for fruit on trees, avoiding rocks and fishing. The game is also customizable to the patient’s needs. For example, if a patient has more trouble with hand activities, the game can be customized to present more hand tasks. Patients in the study wear activity trackers on their wrists that monitor the movement of the arms, and provides real-time feedback on how much they are using their affected arms versus non-affected arms outside of the game. Interaction with a therapist via an Internetbased audiovisual link several times per week helps the patients to translate gains made during gameplay at home into improvements on everyday tasks. By having rehabilitation at their fingertips, stroke patients can drive their own recovery. Jeremy Reynolds participated in the trial after suffering a stroke and undertaking standard physical rehabilitation at UAB. “I had a stroke in January of 2015 and I lost a lot of the use of my right arm, well mainly my right hand,” Reynolds said. “I had been through physical and occupational therapy, and was looking for another way to get the use of my hand better than it was.” He knew he wanted to try the CI therapy video game therapy after learning about it from his mother, who saw a flier with information on the trial. Reynolds says CI therapy worked for him.

STROKE PATIENTS WHO ARE INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IN THE TRIAL ARE ENCOURAGED TO CONTACT (205) 934-9768. Eligible patients are those who are more than six months after a stroke, can partially open and close the hand, and have some movement of the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Eligible patients will be randomized to standard CI therapy, home-based gaming CI therapy, or standard physical therapy. Treatment will be at no cost to the patient.

Photo by Jett Walker Photography


University of Alabama at Birmingham psychologist and University Professor David Schwebel, Ph.D., is partnering with Hand in Paw to study the role therapy dogs may have in improving a patient’s overall outcome from physical or occupational therapy. Schwebel, who typically focuses his research on child injury prevention in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences, says his work began with Hand in Paw when he started researching and developing programs for dog bite prevention. “That’s how I first connected with Hand in Paw,” Schwebel said. “While we were working together on that initiative, the organization approached me with interest in understanding whether the therapy they already were doing in hospitals such as UAB was actually helping the patients.” Hand in Paw, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization, sends professionally trained volunteers along with dogs in animal-assisted therapy teams to help people in area hospitals, schools, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. “We are very passionate about the work we do and believe we make a lasting impact on those we visit,” said Laura Cardwell, executive director of Hand in Paw. “This project and partnership with UAB provides an important opportunity to advocate for the benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy.”


The dedicated team is led by UAB’s Denise Graham, an occupational therapy manager, and Hand in Paw’s Joan Stelling. Stelling, a Hand in Paw board member, is the research coordinator for the project and is a retired Spain Rehab spinal cord injury specialist and UAB administrator. Hand in Paw works in a variety of ways with UAB. The most widespread, according to Cardwell, is the Petscription program. “Petscription is our feel-good program, but it’s also goaldirected therapy,” Cardwell said. “We actually engage our animals with the patients to do their therapy. We see our purpose as being motivators for the patients at Spain Rehab.” The dogs participate in therapy by allowing the patients to interact with the animal, whether it is through brushing the dog or playing with small toys to target fine-motor skills. The program is also meant to provide emotional support for the patients. To get the study off the ground, Schwebel and Cardwell looped in UAB School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation to be able to examine the effects on spinal cord patients at Spain Rehabilitation Center. “These are patients who have had an injury in the last few weeks, oftentimes who are now paralyzed for life,” Schwebel said. “They have both psychological and physical rehab to deal with. The question is, ‘will interacting with therapy dogs help them get better quicker?’”


The Study In the study, half the patients have four sessions with a therapy dog while the other half do not get any sessions. Schwebel’s team will then look at the various outcomes that are being measured to see if there is a difference in recovery between the two sets of patients. “They’re tough injuries, but there is a rehabilitation process, and its phenomenal here at UAB. Adding to that is opportunities we have for our patients like therapy dogs through Hand in Paw, so we feel optimistic that the results will ultimately reflect a positive effect on the patients who interact with the therapy dogs.” The team will measure physical-based outcomes as well as emotional-based outcomes. Physical improvement is measured in terms of strength, balance and capacity to move. With emotional functioning, the team will measure depression, anxiety, feelings about the future and feelings about their injury.

Each semester, DSS gives our students the opportunity to nominate faculty and staff that excel in providing accommodations and creating a safe environment for students with disabilities.

2017 DSS Outstanding Faculty Award D R . D AV I D S C H W E B E L 2017 DSS Outstanding Staff Award ANNA JOHNSTON “...Dr. Schwebel and Ms. Johnston have proactively supported me and accommodated my physical disabilities as I volunteer in their research lab. For example, when our team was filming soccer games for a research study, I was scheduled to be on the same field throughout

“These are very serious, life-changing injuries, and severe pathology often

the tournaments to minimize walking. At the

comes along with this,” Schwebel said. “They’re tough injuries; but there

same time, Dr. Schwebel and Ms. Johnston

is a rehabilitation process, and it’s phenomenal here at UAB. Adding to

have always held me to the same standards

that are opportunities we have for our patients like therapy dogs through

as other Research Assistants, which I really

Hand in Paw, so we feel optimistic that the results will ultimately reflect

appreciate. They truly believe I can be just as

a positive effect on the patients who interact with the therapy dogs.”

active a producer of research as ablebodied

Hand in Paw’s outreach in the UAB community is widespread. The organization brings animal-therapy teams to the Comprehensive Cancer Center, helps provide “puppy study breaks” for students and also has been honored by the UAB Benevolent Fund with a Community Impact Grant. “We’re happy to be partnering with Hand in Paw on this effort,” Schwebel said. “They do so much outreach for the UAB community and the Birmingham community in general. We hope this study helps validate even further the great work they are doing.” “We’re hopeful to prove, and I think we will, that we’re part of that healing process,” Cardwell said. “My goal is that we continue to do research, and we can prove how valuable this type of therapy is. The future is wide open for Hand in Paw and UAB to work together.”

students and mentor me as such. To further prepare me for graduate school and finance my research proposal, Dr. Schwebel is applying for a National Institute of Health Diversity Supplement grant on my behalf. Dr. Schwebel and Ms. Johnston have been amazing advocates for me and I wholeheartedly recommend them for the DSS Award.” - DSS Graduate Student



A recent study has been hailed as a “breakthrough” in dementia prevention, after finding that a brain-training exercise can lower the risk of the condition by more than a quarter. Researchers say that speed-of-processing training can lower the risk of dementia. The study — which followed more than 2,800 older adults for a decade — reveals how the brain-training intervention known as “speed-of-processing training” reduced participants’ risk of dementia by 29 percent. The intervention was developed by Dr. Karlene Ball, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Dr. Dan Roenker, of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and the study results were recently published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions. Dementia is an umbrella term for a decline in cognitive functions — such as learning, memory, and reasoning — that impairs a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for around 60–80 percent of all cases. It is estimated that dementia affects around 47 million people worldwide. By 2030, this number is projected to soar to 75 million. A wealth of research has indicated that people may protect themselves against cognitive decline and dementia through brain training Scientists now know that the brain can adapt to change at any age, and that such adjustments can be either beneficial or harmful. This process is known as “neuroplasticity.” Brain training aims to strengthen neural connections in a way that maintains or increases cognitive functioning. To investigate this association further, Drs. Ball, Roenker, and colleagues launched The Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) Study, which is the largest study of cognitive training to date.


The ACTIVE Study Part-funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the study included a total of 2,802 adults from the United States with an average age of 74. Participants were randomized to one of three brain-training groups or to a control group, members of which did not receive cognitive training. The first group was given instructions on strategies to help boost memory, the second received instructions on strategies to improve reasoning skills, and the third group received individual speed-of-processing training, which was developed by the researchers. The speed-of-processing training is a task that aims to improve a user’s visual attention — that is, the speed and accuracy with which a person can identify and remember objects in front of them. The speed-of-processing training involves a computer game called “Double Decision,” wherein the user is asked to spot an object, such as a car, in the center of their gaze, while also identifying an object in their peripheral vision, such as a road sign. As the game goes on, the user is given less time to spot each object, and distractors are added to the screen to make it more challenging. During the first 6 weeks of the study, each brain-training group received 10 training sessions, each of which lasted for around 60–75 minutes. At 11 and 35 months, subsets of each braintraining group also received up to four “booster” training sessions. All study groups underwent cognitive and functional assessments after the first 6 weeks, as well as at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 years. The incidence of dementia among the subjects over the 10-year follow-up was also assessed.

Dementia risk reduced by 29 percent The researchers found that the incidence of dementia was highest among the control group, at 10.8 percent. Among participants who completed at least 15 sessions of the memory and reasoning training, dementia incidence was 9.7 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. But subjects who completed the speed-of-processing training were found to have a significantly lower incidence of dementia, at 5.9 percent. The team calculated that the speed-of-processing training resulted in a 29 percent reduced risk of dementia over 10 years, and that each additional training session was associated with a 10 percent lower dementia risk. “When we examined the dose-response,” notes lead study author Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida in Tampa, “we found that those who trained more received more protective benefit.” The researchers explain that speed-of-processing training has demonstrated significant benefits for cognitive function in 18 clinical trials to date. Combined with their latest results, the researchers are confident that this form of brain training can reduce the risk of dementia. The team says: “We have shown that a specific form of cognitive training, speed-of-processing, reduced the risk of dementia in initially well-functioning older adults followed up to 10 years. This is the first report of an intervention significantly reducing dementia risk.” That being said, the researchers stress that further studies are needed to determine why speed-of-processing training is effective for cognitive functioning, while other forms of brain training are not.


is an umbrella term for a decline in cognitive functions — such as learning, memory, and reasoning — that impairs a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.

“We also need to investigate what is the appropriate amount of training to get the best results. The timing of intervention is also important,” adds Edwards. “Existing data,” he adds, “indicate speed training is effective among older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment, but it is important to understand this is preventative to lower risk of dementia and is not a treatment for dementia.” “Our ongoing research is examining this intervention among persons with Parkinson’s disease as well as other types of cognitive interventions,” Edwards concludes.



Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging onroad driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for adolescents in the United States and are caused largely by practical inexperience with driving, and developmental features of adolescence.

“Adolescents need high-quality and appropriately

The on-road driving assessment administered to study participants at the end of the learner’s permit period reduced adolescents’ crash risk by an estimated 53 percent compared to the group of participants who did not receive the assessment. Being assigned to take the assessment was also associated with increased practice quantity and situational diversity during the learner’s permit period.

Motor vehicle crash rates for adolescents are highest during the transition from permit holder to licensed driver. Informed by these population-level crash data, graduated driver licensing policies were created to phase adolescents into licensure by providing an opportunity to build practical driving experience during a formal period for supervised driving prior to licensure.

“Experiencing diverse and challenging driving situations during the learner’s permit period could help decrease adolescents’ risk of experiencing motor vehicle crashes during the first years of independent driving,” said Jessica Mirman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology.


challenging learning opportunities during the learner’s permit period to prepare them for the myriad risky scenarios they will face as licensed drivers. Driving practice that is much too easy, is much too hard or is too infrequent is unlikely to be helpful.”

Many states also restrict newly licensed adolescents from higherrisk driving scenarios, such as driving with friends and driving late at night.


The University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center has been awarded a $7 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to establish the UAB Obesity Health Disparities Research Center.


“Our current study suggests that parents should take advantage of their state’s GDL policies and look for evidencebased interventions that can help adolescents gain critical real-world driving experience during the learner’s permit period,” Mirman said.

The Study The experimental study evaluated the long-term effectiveness of two different interventions provided to families during the learner’s permit period of GDL. A web-based intervention, the TeenDrivingPlan, was found to improve the the quality and diversity of parent-supervised practice driving by offering an interactive logging and rating tool, online practice tutorials, and an interactive practice planner for families; but it did not reduce post-license crash risk. The comprehensive on-road driving assessment lasted about an hour and was administered at the end of the learner’s permit period by a certified driver rehabilitation specialist in a dualcontrol vehicle. The assessment entailed taking adolescents through several different road environments, like highways, urban commercial districts, residential neighboroods and rural roads, where adolescents faced challenges common to each type of roadway, like rural roads that had curves and elevation changes that require speed management and anticipating potentially unseen hazards. The study assessment is much more challenging than a typical on-road license exam. Adolescents and their parents were provided with feedback at the conclusion of the assessment. The study found that the assessment experience was associated with an estimated 53 percent reduction in crash risk compared to adolescents who did not take the assessment. While these results are promising, future studies are needed to determine whether this effect can be replicated. This research was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

UAB is one of 12 academic institutions in the United States to receive funding through the NIMHD’s Centers of Excellence program that fosters collaborative multidisciplinary research in minority health and health disparities. Using the state of Alabama as a model, UAB investigators will study the complex contributors and interactions among biological, behavioral and social factors related to obesity. Investigators will also study how the factors vary at critical periods during life, and develop interventions to address these contributors. “This new NIMHD/NIH award allows us to build on the MHRC’s strong foundation, which has been successful for the last 15 years,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB MHRC and co-principal investigator for the new center. “Under the umbrella of the MHRC, we have studied the pathways to obesity and the differences in health outcomes for members of vulnerable populations. With the creation of this new obesity research center, we can continue this important work.” This award allows the UAB MHRC to expand its impactful obesity-related research, education and community engagement efforts during the next five years. The OHDRC will also launch two new research projects. One project, led by Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, will study whether early life stress — age 20 and younger — can change DNA in a way that contributes to obesity, and if this changed DNA can be inherited by future generations. Mrug will also investigate whether there are protective factors that can prevent the biologically embedded DNA changes from being transmitted to children. The second project will be under the leadership of Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, Ph.D., and Gareth Dutton, Ph.D., associate professors in preventive medicine, and will test the effectiveness of delivering obesity prevention as part of a federally funded home visitation program for low-income mothers and their young children. The study will examine whether a simple targeted in-home intervention that focuses on developing good habits can improve weight outcomes and obesity risk among mothers and children. Joining Fouad as co-principal investigators are UAB colleagues Tim Garvey, M.D., professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, and senior scientist in the Nutrition Obesity Research Center Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., professor and associate director for Faculty Development and Education, Division of Preventive Medicine. SPRING 2018 // PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE 15


In 2005, a teenage Jereme Wilroy was visiting his grandmother’s house in Grand Bay, Alabama, located about two hours northeast of New Orleans, helping her recover from Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm that devastated the Gulf Coast from central Florida to Texas and killed more than 1,200 people. During the clean-up, Wilroy’s father cut down a damaged tree, and while Wilroy tried to direct its fall, something went wrong. He fell, and then the tree fell on top of him, breaking his fifth thoracic vertebrae along with several ribs and puncturing a lung. Because Wilroy was injured so severely and cell service hadn’t yet been restored after the hurricane, it took hours for a helicopter rescue crew to reach him and transport him to safety. “It’s just a miracle I lived,” he said. Understanding the basics Wilroy, now a postdoctoral scholar at UAB studying in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said the spinal cord injury left him paralyzed below the waist. He often experiences neuropathic pain, or nerve-based sensations that can manifest themselves as pain, discomfort or, in Wilroy’s case, pins and needles in the bottoms of his feet. With time, his symptoms have shifted to “more tingling sensations, nothing super painful” in his legs, although his injury line can experience more “stabbing, shocking-type” feelings. He knows others with comparable injuries who have similar experiences.


Neuropathic pain is a common complication for many patients with spinal cord injury, described in 2015 as found in between 60-69 percent of that population. It’s often chronic, and doesn’t respond well to any single drug, although anti-depressants, anti-epileptics, opioids and other analgesics have been tested and often are prescribed. “Some call it suicide pain, because it doesn’t respond well to anything — not opioids, cognitive behavioral therapy — and I’m a psychologist saying that,” said Zina Trost, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology who studies clinical health and rehabilitation psychology. She focuses on factors that influence adjustment to chronic pain and traumatic injury or both. In 2004, a group of scientists reported patients with phantom limb pain experienced relief from discomfort while viewing a reflected image of their intact limb in a mirror. They adapted that therapy in a test for paraplegic patients, in which their upper torso was reflected in a mirror while a video of legs walking replaced the reflection of their legs and wheelchair. “It actually seemed to work,” Trost said, “and in this field, if anything works even a little bit, it’s great.” Then Clinical Professor Scott Richards, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Betsy Richardson, Ph.D., from the departments of Psychology and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to take the concept a bit further: They created a 3-D video from a first-person point of view, then placed patients in 3-D glasses and exposed them to the videos; they observed interesting brain activation.

Players walk in the virtual world by moving their arms, and can observe their environment by turning their head.

Building and innovating When Trost joined UAB’s faculty in 2015, she set to work building on this research. She partnered with UAB’s Immersive Experience Lab (IXL) to create a virtual reality simulation that could offer the same therapeutic opportunities as mirror therapy for paraplegic patients who experience neuropathic pain. The School of Engineering’s IXL is home to a cross-functional team of developers and artists who research the application of immersive artificial experience in learning, visualization, communication and performance, and they develop virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed-reality software and content. Trost has experience with simulations; she’s also working on a Small Business Innovation Research grant-funded project with faculty from the Department of Physical Therapy and an NIH-funded venture developing treatment for chronic low-back pain. The theory is this, Trost says: “If [paraplegic patients] who have neuropathic pain imagine themselves doing a movement that requires their legs, they will have activation of those same networks,” providing relief from phantom pains. In the IXL simulation, participants sit in their wheelchairs wearing goggles and hold foot-long wands that allow scanners to track their arm movements. The goggles provide a first-person view from the perspective of their standing avatar — literally able to look down and see themselves standing — complete with a shadow that moves fluidly with the avatar. As users move their arms as one would do to walk, their avatar moves forward. Other arm motions trigger climbing and kicking movements to earn points within the game — an element Trost believes will benefit therapy.

“I come from a background of using virtual reality in a way that’s not just distracting people in order to relieve their pain,” Trost said. “Gamification is important. It allows interaction with the environment. When you have a goal, your brain lights up more.” J.D. Rugamba, a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Mathematics, was injured in a 2014 car accident that left him paralyzed below the waist. He still experiences neuropathic pain, but says it’s become rote in the four years since the accident. “Sometimes it gets worse, but I’m accustomed to it,” he said. “It’s different for everyone. When you have a spinal cord injury, you shouldn’t feel anything. You should feel like you’re floating, so when your neuropathic pain gets extreme, it’s bothersome.” Rugamba, who had never played a virtual reality game or tried other treatments or medications for his neuropathic pain, was one of the earliest participants to test the IXL’s new therapy game in a small focus group. Trost says the group offered advice crucial to and irreplaceable in this kind of research: “You really can’t develop this kind of technology without the input from the folks who are going to use it. I don’t know what it’s like to experience this from their perspective.”


Rugamba was excited to try the game and give feedback about its potential as a therapy option. “It has a chance — once you put the headset on you get a feeling like you’re moving. Your brain is definitely tricked. If it works, it’s definitely positive.” Wilroy, who also was one of the focus group members, participated in an earlier version of the research elsewhere, during which he wore a headset but was only shown a prerecorded video of his avatar walking. He believes this simulation therapy has a better chance at providing relief from pain. “I could feel an increase in sensation,” Wilroy said. “Not externally touching my legs, but it gave me the feeling of moving around.” Recognizing the potential Hearing positive reactions such as Rugamba’s and Wilroy’s was a career-defining moment, Trost said. Corey Shum, manager of the IXL, said the focus group participants gave constructive criticisms — “my avatar is walking into a wall,” “these legs don’t look like mine,” “I would never wear Chucks” — but the overall response was categorically positive. One participant said they felt the sensation of their hips moving. “They were complaining about certain aspects of the thing, yet saying, ‘It felt like I was doing this,’ or ‘It felt like I was climbing,’” Shum said. “They gave me a neutral-positive response.” One aspect both Trost and Shum found particularly interesting is that focus group participants often didn’t look at their avatar’s legs, yet still experienced sensations of movement and pain relief — a deviation from findings based on mirror therapy for phantom limb pain.“ They didn’t have to look at the legs to feel like they were walking,” Shum said. “In mirror intervention, you try to get them to look at their legs as much as possible. [In this game,] they felt swinging and moving and just being at the correct elevation was enough.”

Pain psychologists believe neuropathic pain develops due to a dissonance between information entering and leaving the body. In theory, virtual reality therapy could reverse cortical changes caused by that dissonance. Trost and Shum are pairing with a group of top brain-imagers in Australia to better understand if and how virtual reality changes the brain. Australia has a large population of people with spinal cord injuries. “Birmingham has a specific population of people who have spinal cord injuries,” Trost said. “So as a scientist, you begin to wonder if your research only works in your specific area.”Trost and Shum are making a trade: In exchange for sharing the IXL technology with the Australian researchers, UAB will be able to access the research data generated by its use there. In addition, the Australians will train brain imagers, such as UAB Research Associate Professor Mark Bolding, Ph.D., to collect that type of data. “We will provide the technology while they provide initial imaging and cortical analysis,” Shum said. “If we can mirror our tech out there and their imaging protocols here, there will essentially be two sides of the world doing the same thing.” A bright future Ultimately, Wilroy believes the project potential is unlimited. It is pioneering and modern, and it could make therapy accessible to patients with spinal cord injuries, both financially and logistically. “I think it’s a very innovative therapy program,” Wilroy said. “Technology is getting cheaper and cheaper. It’s becoming very affordable to have in the home.“If it changes things in regard to neuropathic pain, it will be successful because it will be something people want to use. Rather than have to go somewhere to work with a therapist and interact with things that aren’t necessarily enjoyable, this is fun.”

Trost is quick to note that this therapy doesn’t mean that participants are gaining any use of their legs. What she hopes for, based on the focus group’s experiences, is a significant reduction in neuropathic pain, no matter how it varies from patient to patient. Forming strategic partnerships This spring, Trost and Shum will begin a two-part study using this new virtual reality software. Two larger groups will be measured: One will employ a newer version of the interactive software that incorporates the suggestions of the focus group; a second will use only the headset and watch a prerecorded, non-interactive version of the same game. The goal, Trost said, is to understand whether virtual reality can change brain organization. Cory Shum & Dr. Zina Trost




Higher cortical excitability is associated with worse performance on cognitive tasks in patients with idiopathic generalized epilepsies (IGEs), according to findings presented here at the American Epilepsy Society annual meeting.In the study, researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to measure cortical excitability and long-interval intracortical inhibition, a paradigm that involves measuring patients’ responses to cortical stimuli within a very short time of each other. The response to the second stimulus is typically suppressed. But on average, the responses of the 17 patients in the study were not suppressed as normal, but were elevated during certain 30-millisecond intervals. Patients were also given a battery of neuropsychological tests, such as the Digit Spans Forwards for attention, a card sorting task for executive function, and the Profile of Mood States to assess mood. Researchers plotted out curves on the patients’ responses to the stimuli and found that the area under the curve — or the degree of oveall inhibition— negatively correlated with performance on the Digit Spans Forward test. Decreased inhibition was associated with poorer performance on this task. “Preliminary data suggest a relationship between cortical excitability and cognition in IGEs — specifically, a relationship between cortical hyperexcitability, likely GABA-B network dysfunction, and cognitive dysfunction,” researchers said. “Furthermore, these findings suggest that modulating cortical excitability may improve attention and mood in patients with IGEs.” They acknowledged that these correlation findings don’t necessarily indicate causation. Lauren Bolden, a PhD student in neuropsychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who presented the findings, said researchers are comparing these results with those of patients with uncontrolled IGEs and to healthy controls. She said the findings help lay the groundwork for a better understanding of effects of cortical excitability and that TMS could have wider applicability.

The technique could also be used to assess the effects of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), which could eventually yield data that could be used to help patients who might benefit from having their cortical excitability reduced. “How do AEDs work? Do they work through adjusting cortical excitability, or do they work through a different mechanism?” she asked. “We don’t really quite understand that. So we could use TMS to examine how various AEDs affect cortical excitability differently, and possibly use this information to help inform medication treatment in the future.” TMS could also potentially be used as a tool to help adjust excitability, she said. Commenting on the research, Shlomo Shinnar, MD, PhD, FAAN, professor of neurology, pediatrics and epidemiology and population health at Montefiore Medical Center and the new president of the American Epilepsy Society, said it’s “a nice, elegant piece of work that deserves further study.” “This gives you an interesting piece of the puzzle; how they’ve done it is somewhat novel,” he said. “But it’s clearly not the whole story.” He and others have shown that childhood absence epilepsy has a 30 percent rate of clinically significant attention issues, but when you completely control the seizures — with a normal electroencephalography and presumably reduced excitability — their attention problems aren’t controlled. Here, he acknowledged, “they’re measuring something more subtle” — not spikes, but the potential for them — but “how that leads you to a therapeutic target is a little less clear.” He suggested the study was notable mainly for its methods. “I do think this is a very interesting paradigm of examining, in a formal neuropsychological construct, excitability that allows you to do nice studies on mood, attention, executive function, and a variety other cognitive and behavioral tasks,” he said. “It provides a really neat approach that can take you to the lab. It provides a paradigm to measure things that could potentially help us understand better the seizure disorder and its comorbidities.”


The lab responsible for launching hundreds of high-tech research careers carries the faint whiff of old fish. Open the door, and you’ll understand why: white sand beach, blue waves, sea breezes, spectacular sunsets. For two decades, Dauphin Island Sea Lab on Alabama’s Gulf coast has been the summer home for UAB’s Introduction to Neurobiology. That’s the course that acquaints new neuroscience graduate students with classic experiments, state-of-the-art equipment, UAB research luminaries, and—perhaps most important—each other. The three-week Introduction to Neurobiology covers a lot of ground, “everything from molecules to behavior—DNA to reflex circuitry,” says course co-director Christianne Strang, Ph.D., a research instructor in the Department of Psychology. Strang took the course as a first-year UAB student in 1998. She returned two years later as a teaching assistant, and has been part of the course every summer since. “We’ve gotten very good at taking students from disparate backgrounds and helping them come to a place where they have a shared language and shared experience,” she says.


Illuminating subjects Every morning there’s a lecture led by a UAB expert on electrophysiology, neurochemistry, cell signaling, or a related subject. Every afternoon there’s a lab, where students observe these phenomena in action and learn to use the right research equipment. Meals and accommodations are communal, with students and faculty side by side. At night, there are study sessions, the occasional break on the beach, and often trips back to the lab to explore experiments in more detail. When scientists are in charge, time matters little. On a recent trip, someone noticed the arrival of bioluminescent plankton, or dinoflagellates, in the waves at night. Soon enough, a crowd was wading into the surf to enjoy the magical glow—and then scampering into the lab to put a sample of the tiny creatures under a high-resolution microscope. The average beach trip doesn’t include an impromptu lecture on autofluorescence at 3:00 a.m. But this is definitely not an average beach trip.

Immersion learning The course began in 1997 as the brainchild of two young faculty members, Kent Keyser, Ph.D., and Paul Gamlin, Ph.D. They modeled it on a legendary summer course at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “As a graduate student and teaching assistant, I had the opportunity to help with that course,” says Keyser, now UAB’s associate vice president for research. “When I was recruited to UAB and learned about the Sea Lab, we decided to put together something similar.”

Ryan Vaden of Florence, Alabama, who is in his fifth year in the UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences, was a teaching assistant for the Introduction to Neurobiology course in the summer of 2017. He took the course when he arrived at UAB and says that the historical context and summer-camp camaraderie help students “start on the right foot,” building a foundation for more advanced classes. “It puts everyone on the same playing field.”

“We realized it was valuable for students to learn these techniques in an immersive environment, and we wanted to replicate that,” says Gamlin, a professor in the Department of Ophthalmology.

In many cases, the students won’t regularly use this equipment once they reach their home labs nearly 300 miles away in Birmingham. “They may never touch an electrode again,” Strang says. “But they will collaborate with others who do, and that knowledge will be useful.”

Having a course at the seaside is an opportunity to practice science “outside the normal environment,” Keyser explains. “You don’t have to worry about cooking, going to class, walking the dog—you can focus on one topic exclusively for three weeks. I’ll meet former students at scientific meetings who took the class 15 years ago, and they still talk about it.” “It’s tough to be a Ph.D. student,” adds Lori McMahon, Ph.D., dean of the UAB Graduate School, director of the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center, and Jarman F. Lowder Professor of Neuroscience. “You need a support network to succeed, and our students are able to develop lifelong friendships here.”

Island time “Students come to graduate school at different levels,” Strang adds. “Some have lots of experience in labs, some none at all. This gives them a common experience and knowledge base. You know that everyone knows how to use a dissecting scope and a pipette.”

Not that everything always goes according to plan. “Students see that real science doesn’t always work,” says Mark Bevensee, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology. “They have a better sense of what life is like for a working scientist.” “They see us get excited — doing it over and over again until we get it to work,” adds Robin Lester, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurobiology. “It’s more relaxed. This is tough knowledge, but we can take our time. And then after class, we’re available to answer questions. We don’t have anywhere else to go.” Keyser has come to Dauphin Island year after year since he helped launch the course. He says he wouldn’t miss it. “In our day-to-day lives, we get jaded,” he says. “But even if the world seems to be going down the drain, you get to Dauphin Island, and there’s a new crop of students, so smart and inquisitive. It recharges me every time.”

It came from the sea Neuroscience and oceanography have been linked for decades, McMahon explains. “The field of neuroscience really started in the mid-1950s with the discovery of how action potentials [the electrochemical “firing” of neurons] work in the squid giant axon [nerve fiber],” she says. “No one knew how it happened until they saw it in action on a large scale in the squid.” Likewise, many discoveries about human retinas and circadian rhythms, for example, sprang from examinations of the horseshoe crab, Strang adds. “Students can see light responses in the eye, how stretch receptors work, and what happens at the neuromuscular junction. In certain preparations, they can see down to individual ion channels.”



THE ROLE OF DIET IN CHRONIC PAIN: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT? by Stephani Sutherland | in Relief News

By now, most people realize that diet can have a dramatic influence on health. From diabetes to heart disease and even cancer, poor diet can be a major risk factor, whereas a healthy diet reduces the likelihood of those conditions. But what about chronic pain? Recent evidence suggests that diet can indeed influence pain conditions. In November 2017, tens of thousands of researchers gathered in Washington, DC, at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), the world’s largest neuroscience conference for scientists and physicians seeking to understand the brain and nervous system. Among them were young researchers presenting their latest findings on the links between diet and pain. American diet shifts the microbiome—how SAD In 2017, Robert Sorge of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, US, showed that a Standard American Diet (with the apt acronym, SAD)—high in carbohydrates, fats and omega-6 PUFAs—delayed recovery after an experimental injury in mice that causes inflammation. Animals were fed the SAD, a regular diet (REG), or an Anti-Inflammatory Diet (AID) packed with known anti-inflammatory foods and healthy omega-3 PUFAs. Mice fed the SAD grew fatter. After the injury, the SAD mice took twice as long to recover as the mice on REG, whereas animals on AID recovered several days sooner. 22 PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE // SPRING 2018

Unfortunately, mice that ate the REG or AID during the week and were allowed to consume the SAD on weekends—like many people do—were no better off than those who ate SAD all week. At the SfN meeting, graduate student Stacie Totsch, who works in Sorge’s lab, provided an update to those findings, along with some hints about the roots of these dietary effects on pain. In looking for a link between food and inflammation, Totsch turned to the microbiome, which is made up of all the bacteria found in the gut. The microbiome has been gaining ground as a key connection between diet and the immune system, and it has now been implicated in diseases ranging from diabetes to Alzheimer’s. Totsch examined the bacterial species in the mouse gut and found that animals fed the AID had more of a broad category of bacteria called actinobacteria—what Totsch called “good bacteria.” Mice fed the SAD diet, in contrast, harbored more proteobacteria, which potentially can be harmful. Bacteroidetes is another broad category of bacteria affected by the diet. “Bacteroidetes, a major population of bacteria found in the healthy gut, was significantly decreased with the SAD diet,” Totsch said, perhaps because “the gut’s living space is taken up by more harmful bacteria.”



Five graduate students in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences were awarded the 2018 Federal Highway Administration’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship. Awardees include Tyler Bell, Emma Sartin Goodman, Maria Lechtreck, Ben McManus and Austin Svancara. The Eisenhower Fellowships are awarded to individuals who are pursuing a degree in transportation-related disciplines, are conducting ongoing research in one or more transportation-related disciplines, and plan to enter the transportation profession after completing their higher-level education. UAB fellows will be mentored by Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., director of the UAB Translational Research of Injury Prevention Lab, and Jessica Mirman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Psychology.




Graduate students Sam Gonzales and Doris Pu received international travel scholarships from UAB Sparkman Center for Global Health for their summer research in Spain.

AUSTIN SVANCARA Join UAB Graduate School students and postdoctoral fellows every second Tuesday of each month at Ghost Train Brewing Company in Birmingham. This is an opportunity to share the exciting discoveries graduate students are working on with the general public.

First year LDPP graduate student (and TRIP Lab Graduate Research Assistant), Austin Svancara, was selected for the 2018 Summer Internship program at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington, DC. He was selected as 1 of 3 interns among a pool of hundreds of applicants. SPRING 2018 // PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE 23

JOANNE LIN POSTDOC SPOTLIGHT Kelsey Campbell left, Joanne Lin right


Kelsey Campbell was panicking. It was her first week as a Ph.D. student in medical clinical psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)—a program she had chosen because she was excited about training to rehabilitate patients with traumatic brain injuries. But she was also required to conduct lab research as part of the program, and she now faced the prospect of working in a lab that didn’t excite her. Then, at a presentation to recruit students, she chatted with postdoc Joanne Lin. Lin talked about her work studying brain inflammation and described how Campbell would fit into the lab’s projects if she joined. Campbell liked the lab’s focus and Lin’s friendliness. Her worries evaporated and she joined the lab in 2014, working directly with Lin. Lin’s support started on day one, Campbell says. In the beginning, Lin walked her through the basics of the lab’s research, from how the techniques work to analyzing and interpreting the data. Then Lin showed her the ropes of writing grants and manuscripts and looked over her drafts before she sent them to the principal investigator. Later, Lin offered guidance for running a patient study, including recruiting participants and managing the paperwork. Lin also gave more than technical support, Campbell says. Campbell recalls how stressed she felt writing her thesis proposal. One day, while she battled writer’s block and fretted that her adviser would be frustrated by her slow progress, Lin surprised her with cookies from a local bakery. The small gesture captures Lin’s personality, Campbell says. “She was incredibly empathetic, which was really important in what made her an amazing mentor,” Campbell says. Campbell didn’t know that all of this was to come when she saw her university’s call for nominations to recognize its postdocs in 2015—but she had worked with Lin for a year by then and knew enough. Seven people from the lab and classes Lin taught joined Campbell to nominate Lin in the congeniality and mentorship categories. 24 PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE // SPRING 2018

When Lin won the congeniality award, the attention was “really unexpected,” Lin says. “I think we just go through life thinking, ‘Oh, do what I can for whoever I can at the time.’ I just didn’t know it had such a profound effect on so many people.” The Office of Postdoctoral Education at UAB launched its Postdoc Awards in 2015 to commend its postdocs for their roles as mentors and peers and for “all the good things that they do,” says Jami Armbrester, director of career development, who runs the award program. “The research enterprise can’t survive without postdocs, so we want them to know that and how much we value them.” As this year’s National Postdoc Appreciation Week kicks off today, individuals and institutions across the country will share this message of recognition. Lin, now starting her fourth year as a postdoc, admits that sometimes when a student working on her project comes to her for help, she feels that she would save time and energy if she just did the work herself. But she’s found that teaching mentees is worth the investment. On a practical level, training students means that she has been able to run multiple projects simultaneously and greatly increase the lab’s productivity, Lin says. But she values most the connections she has forged with her mentees. “Watching them enjoy what they do and understand things that they didn’t understand before—it’s always rewarding,” she says. “You always want to push them to be good, almost better than you can be. You want to help them that way. You want to watch them succeed—that’s kind of the main thing for me.” Lin’s mentoring of junior lab members also allows her adviser Jarred Younger, associate professor of neuropsychology at UAB, to focus on helping students with what his experience can uniquely offer, he says—which is crucial given that his time is spent juggling meetings, writing and editing papers and grants, and performing departmental functions. For example, when a student’s grant already has the right structure and key elements in place, he can turn his attention to the higher points of grant writing, such as making sure the science flows logically and the text reads smoothly. Without Lin, he wouldn’t be able to have his lab of 25 members and the level of productivity that he has now. “The lab would be unrecognizable,” he says. Lin is just one of the many postdocs who play a crucial role in helping junior scientists and colleagues get through the daily grind. If you’re grateful for the ones in your life, take the time this week to let them know.


ARTS & SCIENCES ALUMNI BOARD The College of Arts and Sciences is proud to introduce the new alumni board members for 2018. These eleven board members graduated from a variety of programs at UAB and were students during different eras. They’ve also pursued careers in a wide range of fields. • • • • • • • • • • •

Johnny (Rusty) Bates: Founder, President and CEO, QCHC, Inc. Math, 1979; M.D., 1983 Kristin Chapleau: Program Specialist II, UAB Biomedical Sciences Program. Communication Studies, 2004; M.A. Education, 2005 Kathleen Drake: Head of School, Foundations Early Learning & Family Center. Social Work, 1992 Mike Guest: CEO and President, Guest Associates. Individually Designed, 1987 Joe Maluff: President, JAM Food Company. Psychology, 1996 Natasha Moore: Banker, Hometown Bank of Alabama. Criminal Justice, 2010 Tim Meehan: Vice President of Senior Services, Always Best Care. Communication Studies, 1986 Alexander Shunnarah: President and CEO, Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. Political Science, 1991 Tim Stephens: CEO, Tim Stephens Media LLC. Individually Designed, 2015 Tom Walker: Associate Attorney, Maples, Tucker & Jacobs, LLC. Political Science, 2002 Stephen Walsh: Partner, Adams and Reese. Math, 1995

This scholarship is one of the most selective nationally-competitive awards with an estimated acceptance rate of fewer than 10% of applicants. CLS recipients receive full funding for 8-10 weeks of intensive overseas language immersion. They also participate in cultural excursions throughout the host country. Ala’a Abu-Spetani Language: Arabic Ala’a Abu-Spetani is a senior honors student majoring in neuroscience. Lillian Chien Language: Chinese Lillian Chien is a senior honors student majoring in neuroscience and international studies. Ayla McCay Language: Korean Ayla McCay is a sophomore honors student majoring in psychology and international studies. A fourth student, Kaitlin McLeod (neuroscience) has been named an Alternate for the Bangla language study program. Should other students decline their scholarship, Kaitlin may receive funding.



This year’s Ost Research Competition will be held on Wednesday, April 11, from 3:00-5:00 PM, in the Green & Gold Room, Bartow Arena. During the competition, undergraduate students will present posters describing their research. Students, faculty, and the general public will be invited to view the posters and discuss the results with students. A keynote address will be made at 3:30 PM, along with presentations of the 2018 undergraduate and graduate student awards in the UAB Department of Psychology. All UAB undergraduate students are eligible and encouraged to present their psychology-related research at the Ost competition. The deadline to submit an abstract is Friday, March 23, at 5 PM. The submission should be sent by email, to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Maria Hopkins, at mhopkins@uab. edu. SPRING 2018 // PSYCHOLOGY UPDATE 25

DEAR GRADUATES OF THE UAB DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY CLASS OF 2018, Please accept my warmest congratulations to you on your upcoming graduation! We hope that your experiences and education at UAB have prepared you well for the next step in your academic or professional career. Before you move on, please consider joining the UAB Psychology Alumni Chapter. Here are just a few great reasons to join: • It’s free! As a new graduate, you can join at no cost for the first year. • Networking. The UAB Psychology Alumni Chapter is a terrific vehicle for keeping up with your classmates, professors and others at UAB. • Events. Each year we have a number of events to which you will be invited, including the Distinguished Alumni Awards, the John Ost Undergraduate Research Competition, and Homecoming. • Stay informed. As a member, you will stay updated on UAB and departmental news. • Support the department. Alumni involvement is a key factor in our Department’s success and growth.




Best wishes for the future! Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., Professor and Chair


phone: 205.934.3850

fax: 205.975.6110

address: Campbell Hall 415, 1300 Univ. Blvd. | Birmingham, AL 35294



UAB Psychology Update  
UAB Psychology Update