Career and professional development is an important part of your graduate student and postdoctoral training. At UAB’s Office of Postdoctoral Education Ph.D. Careers, we aim to offer a variety of programs and services to help you make the most of your tenure here. Whether you are just starting out in your graduate program or postdoc career or moving on to the next phase in your professional career, we can help.

The Office of Postdoctoral Education and the Graduate School are here to service as resources for you as you plan, develop, and implement the strategy for your career. As I’m sure you are aware, this is not something that you can do overnight, and this is not something that anyone expects you to have figured out. But that is ok! So take the time you need. Explore yourself, explore your options, and explore what we have to offer. You have spent a significant portion of time pursuing education, so preparation is no stranger to you. Career development also requires planning and preparation. We have a variety of options and resources to help you get prepared for taking that next step, and achieving your goals.

We look forward to helping you, partnering with you, and seeing you succeed.

UAB Research News

  • REGARDS data show diabetics who use verapamil have lower glucose levels
    Lead author of paper published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice journal says, while causal relationship cannot be inferred, findings are “absolutely encouraging.”

    A new University of Alabama at Birmingham research paper published in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice shows for the first time that there is an association of verapamil use and lower fasting glucose levels in humans with diabetes. It is a promising finding at UAB, where the Comprehensive Diabetes Center is currently conducting a first-of-its-kind, JDRF-funded clinical trial using verapamil, a drug that researchers in the School of Medicine have shown completely reverses the disease in mice models.

    Yulia Khodneva M.D., Ph.D., a research associate and postdoctoral scholar in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine and junior member of the Comprehensive Diabetes Center, examined the association of calcium channel blockers and verapamil use with fasting serum glucose among almost 5,000 adults with diabetes who were part of the REGARDS study. The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, is a national study focusing on learning more about the factors that increase a person’s risk of having cardiovascular disease.

    The sample of diabetic adults included 1,484 calcium channel blocker users, of whom 174 were verapamil users. The findings showed that calcium channel blocker users had 5 mg/dL lower serum glucose compared to non-users. Verapamil users had on average 10 mg/dL lower serum glucose compared to calcium channel blocker non-users. And the numbers showed a substantially greater difference among insulin users who also took verapamil. Verapamil users who took insulin in combination with oral medication had a 24 mg/dL lower serum glucose, and verapamil users who took insulin alone to manage their diabetes showed a 37 mg/dL lower serum glucose.

    “This is a cross-sectional observational study unlike the current prospective randomized UAB verapamil clinical trial, so we can’t infer causal relationship between using verapamil and lower glucose levels; but we can say there is an association with lower glucose levels, and that is absolutely encouraging,” Khodneva said.

    About the verapamil clinical trial

    • Recruitment for the UAB verapamil clinical trial began in early 2015.
    • The trial will enroll 52 people between the ages of 19 and 45 within three months of receiving a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. MORE ENROLLEES ARE NEEDED.
    • Patients enrolled will be randomized to receive verapamil or a placebo for one year while continuing with their insulin pump therapy.
    • Patients will receive a continuous glucose monitoring system that will enable them to measure their blood sugar 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    • Talk to your primary care physician if you are experiencing excessive thirst, excessive urination or unwanted weight loss in association with fatigue.
    • For more information or to enroll, contact UAB at 205-934-4112 or T1DM@uab.edu. To speak to a physician, contact Fernando Ovalle, M.D., at 205-934-4171.
    • Support this and other diabetes research at UAB by visiting the Comprehensive Diabetes Center.

    Khodneva says the findings in the final subgroup, which used insulin alone and included participants who had mostly Type 1 or severe Type 2 diabetes, were quite striking.

    “The change in glucose for that group compared to those not taking verapamil — 37 mg/dL — is almost four times higher than when you look at the whole sample of diabetic adults,” Khodneva said. “That made us think that verapamil is predominantly active for participants who have Type 1 diabetes or those with Type 2 diabetes who have really damaged beta cells. There seems to be something that works on the structural level, especially for those who have stronger beta-cell damage.”

    “Dr. Khodneva has done a tremendous job analyzing these large data sets and discovering for the first time that verapamil use is associated with lower glucose levels in patients with diabetes,” said Anath Shalev, M.D., director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center and principal investigator of the verapamil clinical trial. “Strikingly, the observed difference in glucose levels is comparable to an approximately 1 percent reduction in HbA1C and to what would be expected from the addition of an approved diabetes drug. Moreover, the large difference in glucose levels especially in the groups taking insulin is consistent with our underlying hypothesis that verapamil promotes functional beta-cell mass.”

    UAB announced its verapamil clinical trial in November 2014 and began enrolling patients in January 2015. The first results that will assess verapamil’s effectiveness on Type 1 diabetes are still approximately 18 months away.

    The trial is testing an approach different from any current diabetes treatment by focusing on promoting pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin the body needs to control blood sugar. UAB scientists have proved through years of research that high blood sugar causes the body to overproduce a protein called TXNIP, which is increased within the beta cells in response to diabetes, but had never previously been known to be important in beta-cell biology. Too much TXNIP in the pancreatic beta cells leads to their death and thwarts the body’s efforts to produce insulin, thereby contributing to the progression of diabetes.

    But UAB scientists have also uncovered that verapamil, which is widely used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches, can lower TXNIP levels by decreasing calcium concentration in the beta cells — to the point that, when mouse models with established diabetes and blood sugars above 300 milligrams per deciliter were treated with verapamil, the disease was eradicated. See an animation of how this works here.

    The trial will enroll 52 people between the ages of 18 and 45 who are within three months of receiving a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. More than 20 people have enrolled so far, and more participants are needed. For more information or to enroll, contact UAB at 205-934-4112 or T1DM@uab.edu.

  • UAB researchers identify protein that plays key role in brain cancer stem cell growth and survival
    New UAB research study shows therapeutic promise in targeting MLK4 in brain cancer patients.
    Front row, from left: Ichiro Nakano, Sunghak Kim, Terry Hamby, Tesha Sherpa, Mutsuko Minata, Shinobu Yamaguchi; Back row: Jun Wan, Zhuo Zhang, Svetlana Komarova, Marat Pavliukov, Jia Wang

    A team of physicians and scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that a kinase protein, mixed lineage kinase 4, also known as MLK4, plays a crucial role in survival of patient-derived brain cancer stem cells in pre-clinical animal models. The findings suggest that MLK4 could potentially be a useful target for cancer treatment.

    Protein kinases are key regulators of cell function that constitute one of the largest and most functionally diverse gene families. Until recently, MLK4 was considered a poorly characterized kinase. The UAB team, however, identified this gene from a stepwise screening of molecules that are elevated in cancer stem cells isolated from brain cancer patients.

    The findings, published this week online in Cancer Cell, nailed down the novel molecular mechanisms for which MLK4 is essential in cancer stem cells and not in normal cells in the human body. Most importantly, brain cancer patients with higher MLK4 expression have shorter survival despite the current intensive therapies including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Nonetheless, there are no MLK4-targeting therapies or clinical trials currently available for patients.

    “There is no doubt that society desperately needs new and effective therapies for this life-threatening brain disease. Improvement of patient survival for the past 50 years has been counted by months and not years,” said Ichiro Nakano, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Neurosurgery and principal investigator of the study. “We, as an international collaborative team centered at UAB, focus on cancer stem cells as a therapeutic target in brain cancers.”

    “There is no doubt that society desperately needs new and effective therapies for this life-threatening brain disease. Improvement of patient survival for the past 50 years has been counted by months and not years. We, as an international collaborative team centered at UAB, focus on cancer stem cells as a therapeutic target in brain cancers.”

    In early 2000, Nakano was involved in a team that isolated cancer stem cells from brain cancers at the University of California at Los Angeles. This discovery gained attention from physicians and scientists because accumulating evidence suggested that cancer stem cells are relatively therapy-resistant and appear to contribute to re-generation of recurrent tumors that subsequently kill affected patients.

    “Cancer stem cells share many of the properties of normal stem cells but have also gained transformed cancerous phenotypes,” said Sunghak Kim, Ph.D., an instructor in the UAB Department of Neurosurgery who has led much of the research. “We have been trying to identify the cancer stem cell-specific Achilles heel that could make all the difference.”

    While conducting this study, the investigators also found that MLK4-high tumors appear to have Mesenchymal signature, considered to be one process cancers use to become aggressive and therapy-resistant.

    “Approximately 35 to 40 percent of glioblastoma patients appear to have Mesenchymal signature. It is also interesting that some non-Mesenchymal cancers seem to shift their phenotype to a Mesenchymal one after therapeutic failure,” Kim said. “We are still collecting more data on this additional piece of information to prove that this is a universal event in brain cancers.”

    It is important to note that MLK4 is not expressed in all brain cancers. But now that research indicates that MLK4 is elevated in a subset of brain cancer patients and plays a key role in brain cancer stem cell growth, the next step is to identify targeted therapies that affect the MLK4 in the cancer stem cells.

    “We have begun to collaborate with Southern Research Institute to screen drug candidates that selectively target MLK4 in brain cancers,” said Nakano, also a senior scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Targeting strategies for MLK4 may work for other cancer types, as we already know that MLK4 is highly expressed in some other malignant types of cancers.”

    Nakano added, “Ultimately, we want better outcomes for patients with brain cancer. There’s no question that this is not an easy battle. But by further understanding the molecular mechanisms and applying new targeted therapeutic strategies including MLK4, we are hoping to provide brain cancer patients with more promising and tailored therapeutic approaches.”

    Collaborative participants on this project include M.D. Anderson, Ohio State University, University of Texas, Northwestern University, Cincinnati Hospital Medical Center, and a variety of German and Japanese research departments and institutes.

    The work was supported by the American Cancer Society, the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Takeda Science Foundation.

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