Friday, October 29, 2010

Diet drugs not shaping up; UAB doc says it could be a loss for patients

Another potential obesity drug fails to gain federal approval, which could cause pharmaceutical companies to rethink their commitment to developing diet drugs, says a UAB researcher involved in the clinical trials of Qnexa. The FDA yesterday rejected Qnexa, which some experts considered the most promising obesity drug developed in the past decade.

As quoted in the New York Times Friday, Tim Garvey, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, said, “It’s going to put the brakes on all obesity drug development for a decade.”

In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Garvey said, “Why would a company put all that investment into developing a drug if the FDA signals they aren't willing to approve it.”

Garvey conducted two clinical trials of Qnexa at UAB and served as a consultant for its manufacturer, Vivus. According to a statement from Vivus, the FDA asked for more information on its possible health risks, particularly for cardiovascular events and risks for women of childbearing age.

It’s been a rough stretch for obesity drugs. The FDA also rejected a drug called lorcaserin last week, citing safety concerns, and early in October demanded the recall of Meridia, in use for years, because of evidence of increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Another diet drug, Contrave, goes before the panel soon. As Garvey points out, it could bring obesity drug development to a screeching halt if that drug fails to win FDA approval, which does not bode well for a state such as Alabama, sitting squarely in the gut of the Fat Belt.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Can I hear an alumnus?! UAB Gospel Choir seeks alumni for sweet refrain

The UAB Gospel Choir is searching for former members to help them celebrate their 15th anniversary. The choir is planning a reunion concert Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 at UAB's Alys Stephens Center. If you have ever performed with the choir, as a singer, dancer or a musician, then call 'em up and get ready to get back on stage!

Gospel Choir Director Kevin P. Turner has planned four rehearsals for the UAB Gospel Choir 15th Anniversary/Reunion Concert. They will be held in the UAB Hulsey Center Recital Hall, 950 13th St. South. The rehearsal times will be: Sunday, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m.; Monday, Nov 8 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov 14 at 6 p.m.; and Monday, Nov 15 at 7 p.m. The concert will feature a full horn section, band, decorations and a souvenir book, which will be available for purchase. WAGG Heaven 610 AM will broadcast the concert live.

Additional information is available at and For those coming from out of town, arrangements have been made to get music to them. Just contact Turner at or 205-934-6155.

The choir also will debut songs from their new “Mirrors” CD. The CD, enhanced with web links to videos, will be available for purchase at the concert, two months before the national release. I saw a sneak peek of a video and thought it was amazing! If you love UAB or the Gospel Choir, you're going to love it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween candy not as scary as parents might think, dentist says

Trick or Treat! from uabnews on Vimeo.

Sam's Halloween costume? Check. Big orange pumpkin to hold his candy? Check. Two fall festivals and trick-or-treating meticulously planned? Check. November visit to the dentist to fill cavities? Maybe not.
While my son, like so many other trick-or-treaters, will be on a mission to cram as much candy as possible into his plastic Jack-o'-lantern, as a mom I will be worrying about all of the candy he is consuming on Halloween and the following few days.
Will it rot his teeth? Am I contributing to a 3-year-old's permanent dental damage? Not likely, says UAB dentist John Ruby, D.M.D.
Ruby says let your kids eat all the candy they want, provided it's just on special occasions like Halloween, Christmas, Easter or birthdays, and not every day. It's eating candy every day and consuming other things sweetened with fructose, including some juices, that cause tooth decay. Decay is chronic and occurs over time, not just one day out of the year.
But, beware of sour candies. Their highly acidic ingredients mixed with the fructose that sweetens them is a scary dental combination. Ruby says the acid that makes you pucker when you eat sour candies also erodes your teeth, providing a double dental whammy.
Looks like Sam will have to forgo the Lemonheads for a few more Dum-Dums.
For Ruby, the candy answer is simple.
"If everyone just ate candy three or four days each year on special occasions, we wouldn't have a problem with cavities," he says.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Watch fire-breathing pumpkins, courtesy of UAB chem students

Grab your eye goggles, it's time to get your beaker and burner on!

Chemistry majors in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences are celebrating National Chemistry Week. Coordinated by the American Chemical Society, National Chemistry Week was developed to build interest in chemistry and science in grade school classrooms. This year's theme is "Behind the Scenes," and activities related to the week are exploring how chemistry helps bring special effects in movies to life.

The U.S. isn't doin' too hot in science and math on the global stage. But you wouldn't know it at UAB. Our chemistry majors and faculty are hosting three days of experiments at the Galleria Mall in Hoover to show off the cool side of science as we wrap up National Chemistry Week. They'll have a booth by the first-level food court, and families are welcomed to stop by and make slime or watch chemistry experiments conducted live and in person by UAB students.

This morning, bright and early, some of the UAB chemistry majors who will be at the Galleria Mall appeared on CBS 42 News "Wake Up Alabama" to showcase some of the cool experiments that they will be conducting at the Galleria, including a fire-breathing pumpkin, squeezing an egg into a bottle with heated air and combining selected liquids to create a rapidly expanding "toothpaste-like" substance.

The dates and times for UAB Chemistry's celebration of National Chemistry Week are:
Friday, Oct. 22 -- 3 to 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 23 -- 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 24 -- 12 to 6 p.m.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Order up! UAB Hospital does room service

For years, UAB Hospital has been able to fix what ails ya. Now we've fixed one of the last bastions of patient complaint ... the food. UAB Hospital has moved to a hotel-style room service system for feeding patients. It's real room service, from a real menu with choices ranging from salads to pizza to burgers to pork loin. Oh, and breakfast all day.

You can read what the Birmingham News had to say about it.

As meal time approaches, patients call the room service operators....ordering from a large and varied menu in their room. The meal is cooked to order...just like in a fine restaurant...and delivered hot and fresh within 45 minutes.

The system flags special diets or dietary restrictions...and the operators are then quick to offer alternative choices. It's designed to let the patients make their own decisions on when and what they want to eat.

Just back from a test and not feeling too hungry? Order a salad. Don't like to eat at 4pm? UAB room service is open til 7, so you can eat later if that's your style.

The room service system cuts down on uneaten and wasted food. It makes the hospital experience that much more pleasant. Nobody wants to be in a hospital. But at UAB, at least you'll eat well.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Maya Angelou's "Traveling Shoes" came to UAB

Maya Angelou at UAB Minority Health Luncheon from uabnews on Vimeo.

Maya Angelou is amazing. If you've read her work you probably have an idea what I'm talking about. But seeing her in person, reciting one of her poems, telling one of her stories and listening to her commentary on life is the best way to understand how truly amazing this American icon is. There is something melodic and comforting about her speaking voice and her singing voice when she turns her poetry into a song that is a step above her written words. She inspires you to want to be a better person, to be more compassionate, to want to take on the world to make it a better place for everyone.

Maya Angelou was in Birmingham today to help support the mission of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center in eliminating health disparities through outreach, education and research. Today's fundraising luncheon, "Rewriting Her Story: Put Yourself in Her Shoes," supports one of the center's most important missions-- helping minority women throughout Alabama overcome obstacles to good health.

For those of us blessed with good health and the resources to maintain our health it's hard to imagine that in today's society, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are more likely to suffer from disease and disability and are more likely to die from preventable and treatable diseases than other women. Lack of health care and the knowledge about one's health play large parts in some of the medical disparities. It's something the UAB MHRC is working to change.

S0 Maya Angelou not only shared her poetry, life stories and songs, she also she lauded the important work the MHRC is doing in health education and research in the minority community. She commended the 650 people who attended for their "courage to care for someone else" and for being the kind of people who "care enough to raise money to keep an organization going."
From the looks on the faces of most of the people in the room when she received her final standing ovation, those who came because they were a fan of her writing were left inspired by her voice to help end health disparities.

See what The Birmingham News had to say about the event: Poet Maya Angelou helps raise money for minority health issues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Back to the ice: UAB wins funds to study ocean acidity in Antarctica

Being the major research university we are, UAB's Department of Biology is home to several of the world's leading experts on Antarctica. Jim McClintock, Ph.D. and Chuck Amsler, Ph.D., for instance, are key members of the UAB in Antarctica team and have logged more than 30 trips to the ice between them, most recently in spring and early summer of this year. Now the two scientists have received a new three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to extend their Antarctic research and explore the effects of ocean acidifcation.

Research done at UAB and other universities has shown that over time the world's oceans are becoming more acidic due to the planet's increasing levels of carbon dioxide. More CO2 is moving into, or being absorbed by, marine systems, which increases the level of acidity in the water. Under their $625,000 grant, McClintock, Amsler, and a third UAB biologist, Robert Angus, Ph.D., will investigate the individual and combined effects of rising ocean acidification and sea surface temperatures on shallow-water calcified benthic organisms in Western Antarctic Peninsula marine communities. Calcified benthic organisms use hard protective shells to survive and live along the sea floor, like the amphipod pictured above. One concern of ocean acidification is that increasing water acidity can wear away, or eat through, calicified organisms' protective shells, which could impact survival rates and ultimately influence the ocean's food web.

Read more about the goals of the ocean acidification research at the NSF website where the UAB team's research was recently a featured article. You can also learn more about UAB in Antarctica through the team's website archives by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

War without end

Superbugs are back in the news, most recently with a report in yesterday’s Washington Post about the rise of NDM-1. This antibiotic-resistant gene is now present in germs that cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and other common conditions and "is apparently widespread in parts of India," per the Post. Only three U.S. patients have experienced NDM-1-caused illness—and all of them had recently returned from India (where they were successfully treated). But the spread of NDM-1 has many experts concerned. The Post article quotes a UCLA researcher who calls NDM-1 “in some ways our worst nightmare.”

But there’s probably no need to head for the panic room just yet. Although NDM-1 is a concern, in many ways it’s just the latest in a long line of microbial threats to humankind. In the words of this UAB Magazine feature on the myths and facts about antibiotic resistance, “physicians can now describe a dozen doomsday scenarios in which multi-drug-resistant bacteria, immune to all of our antibiotic weapons, could sweep through the population, killing thousands.”

Are those scenarios likely, however? As UAB infectious disease specialist Craig Hoesley points out in that article, hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide could do much more to combat the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. [Read the article for more on steps UAB is taking to tackle antibiotic resistance in its hospitals and click here to see a gallery of microbial villains.]

But even with that extra effort, “this is a problem that hospitals are always going to have,” Hoesley notes. And he takes a sanguine view of doomsday scenarios. “We’ll make better and better antibiotics, and we’ll survive—we’re not going to get killed off by these guys.”

Metabolic syndrome markers taken before pregnancy could predict gestational diabetes

Metabolic syndrome markers, such as elevated blood sugar and low HDL (good) cholesterol before pregnancy can be used to predict whether a woman will develop gestational diabetes in later pregnancies, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The study, co-authored by UAB Professor Cora E. Lewis, in the Division of Preventive Medicine, suggests that metabolic screening of all women prior to pregnancy could help identify those at a greater risk for developing gestational diabetes in subsequent pregnancies and give women the preventive steps necessary to combat the metabolic syndrome prior to conception.
Among overweight women, 26.7 % with one or more metabolic syndrome risk factor before pregnancy developed gestational diabetes versus 7.4 % who did not have these risk factors. The researchers studied 1,164 women without diabetes before pregnancy who had 1,809 live births from 1985-2006 as part of a Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study.
Gestational diabetes, which affects about 7% of the pregnancies in the U.S., is dangerous because it can lead to early deliveries and Cesarean sections, as well as put the baby at greater risk for developing diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases later in life. Previous research by Lewis and others also has shown women who have gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as they get older.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Need a solution to unemployment? Come to UAB's grad school expo!

UAB will host a Graduate and Professional School Expo today from 3 to 6 p.m. in the UAB Campus Recreation Center, 1501 University Blvd. The coolest part about this event is that participants can explore graduate and professional programs at UAB, Samford, Montevallo, Miles and Birmingham-Southern, all in the same place at the same time.

The event is part of a consortium between the five area universities and colleges. Representatives from more than 80 graduate and professional schools will participate. The expo is hosted by UAB Career Services, which provides job search assistance and assistance to students seeking graduate and professional school. The event is open to the public and UAB staff, students and alumni are invited, so if you are interested in continuing your education but haven't decided how or where yet, you should be there. Walk around, look at posters, meet professors, all that fun stuff.

We'll post a postscript for those who can't make it.

P.S. The expo was a great success, and even featured graduate and professional school programs from as far away as Mexico and Canada. Clearly an asset for students to have this kind of expo happening on campus!

Grabbing the brass string(s)

If it's true that architecture is "frozen music," as Goethe once claimed, then MASS Ensemble's Earth Harp is the key to setting those melodies free (making them "unchained," you might say). The adaptable mega-instrument uses buildings, valleys, and other nouns as part of its own resonating board to make music that sounds vaguely cello-like but is definitely unique. MASS brought the Earth Harp to Birmingham as part of its week-long residency at UAB's Alys Stephens Center at the end of September (check out the installation here), but when the group's members moved on, they left this particular instrument behind. In a few weeks, UAB students will pack it up and ship it back to MASS's home base in California, but until then students, staff, and members of the public are free to stop by the ASC to try their collective hands on the Earth Harp's brass strings. All it takes is a visit to the ASC Box Office from 9:30-5:00, Monday through Friday, to sign up and pick up a pair of gloves and a jar of rosin.

It does take a fair amount of courage to play a building in front of the world, but in the name of journalism this reporter (not pictured at right—that's MASS Ensemble-r Andrea Brook) gave it a shot yesterday, and feels compelled to report that it was a blast. An audience of pigeons and various passersby (members of the women's soccer team included) seemed impressed. The harp didn't sound exactly like it did when MASS was stroking the strings, but it was certainly a blast to play. And how many other chances will you get to jam on stage at the Alys? Act now, or the only sounds you hear will be the haunting chords of regret.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Too much coffee linked to urine leakage

Ladies, watch your caffeine intake if you want to help keep urinary incontinence at bay.

A new study by UAB Fellow Jon Gleason, in the Division of Women's Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, showed that women who drink more than 329 milligrams of caffeine a day, which equals out to about three cups of coffee, are 70 percent more likely to suffer from urinary incontinence than those who don't.

Gleason's findings, which he is presenting at the American Urogynecologic Society's annual meeting in Long Beach, Calif., are reported today in an article on WebMD.

Gleason said prior research had reported conflicting results about caffeine's effects on urinary incontinence because the studies were so small. He evaluated more than 1350 women ages 20 to 85 who participated in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The women kept food diaries and answered questions about bladder function.

Gleason found no link between body mass index, vaginal childbirth or high water intake. Only higher levels of caffeine were associated with urinary incontinence.

So what makes caffeine hard on the bladder? Gleason said there is evidence that shows caffeine is a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine you make and that it also stimulates the muscles that make you void.