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Construction begins on state’s first proton therapy center

Milestones in the construction of the facility include the topping out, expected to take place around August 2018, and the installation of the cyclotron and other major equipment in early 2019.

Proton International, in conjunction with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has broken ground on the first proton therapy facility in the state. The facility, Proton International at UAB, is expected to be ready to treat cancer patients in 2020.

“Establishing the first proton therapy facility in Alabama is one more way that UAB Medicine is improving health care for the residents of our state and region,” said Will Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System. “This advanced cancer-fighting radiation technology, coupled with the skill, experience and resources of Proton International, the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology, School of Medicine and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, will be a life-changing resource for cancer patients throughout our region.”

Proton therapy uses highly precise proton beams instead of traditional X-rays to attack tumors. It is available at only 25 locations in the United States, most associated with academic medical centers. The therapy delivers a more precise dose of radiation to a tumor and can avoid damage to healthy surrounding tissue better than conventional X-ray radiation.

Proton International at UAB, on 20th Street South between Fourth and Fifth avenues, will consist of a three-story building to house the proton therapy system, manufactured by Varian, a longtime partner with UAB in the delivery of radiation therapy. UAB will lease the property to Proton International, which will build and manage the facility.

Proton International is a leader in the field of proton therapy. The UAB center will be its fourth project in the United States, with two already treating patients and one under construction. The company also has two centers in Europe underway.

The facility’s first patients should be treated in early 2020.

“Proton therapy has proved itself as a front-line treatment for multiple forms of cancer,” said Chris Chandler, CEO of Proton International. “Experts conservatively estimate that about 250,000 cancer patients in the United States alone could benefit from proton therapy. We are excited to partner with UAB and the Department of Radiation Oncology to put this outstanding tool into the hands of the best oncologists in Alabama.”

Planning and pre-treatment will continue to be done at UAB’s Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Center. The medical staff, including radiation oncologists, cancer physicians, medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapy technologists and nurses, will be exclusively from UAB.

The facility’s first patients should be treated in early 2020.

Proton therapy will allow us to treat deep-seeded cancers and minimize the radiation dose delivered to surrounding normal structures,” said James A. Bonner, M.D., the Merle M. Salter Endowed Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. “It can be particularly efficacious in the treatment of children, who are particularly sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy. Because of its precision, proton therapy greatly reduces damage to nearby healthy tissue, which is the cause of most short- and long-term side effects, including cancer recurrence later in life.”

Proton therapy is used to treat tumors of the brain and central nervous system, spine, head and neck, lung, prostate, liver, gastrointestinal tract and colon, and some breast tumors. While it treats primarily single-site tumors, it can, in some cases, be used for treating cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to surrounding tissue because of its focused dose capabilities.

Brasfield & Gorrie is general contractor for the project, and Stantec is the architectural firm. Milestones in the construction of the facility include the topping out, expected to take place around August 2018, and the installation of the cyclotron and other major equipment in early 2019. The first patients should be treated in early 2020.

UAB will also be involved in clinical research studies on the use of proton therapy, to discover the full utility of the therapy and produce best practice parameters on its use.

Cancer Center faculty among those recognized as 2018 Pittman Scholars

Five faculty members in the UAB School of Medicine have been named the 2018 class of James A. Pittman Jr., M.D., Scholars, a program created to recognize the contributions of junior faculty and support the recruitment and retention of highly competitive scientists and physician-scientists.

The Pittman Scholars, named for the late James A. Pittman, M.D., longtime dean of the School of Medicine from 1973 to 1992, are nominated by their department chairs based on their research achievements and their potential for continued discovery in the basic or clinical sciences. Pittman is considered a principal architect of the School for his ability to recruit top scientists and physicians to UAB.

Five Pittman Scholars are selected each academic year. The selected class of scholars receive $12,500 per year for five years to support the faculty member’s research-related activities or scholarly enrichment.

The 2018 Pittman Scholars are:

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Daniel Chu, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery. Chu joined UAB in July 2014 after completing a fellowship in colon and rectal surgery at the Mayo Clinic. He graduated from Yale University with an undergraduate degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology in 2002, attended medical school at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and completed his general surgery residency at Boston University. Dr. Chu’s primary research interests are focused on identifying, understanding and reducing health disparities in surgical patients.

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Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, joined UAB in 2013. She is a clinician-investigator focused on HIV and sexually transmitted infections in women. She is funded by the National Institutes of Health & Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to investigate novel ways to prevent malaria and STI during pregnancy in Cameroon. Dionne-Odom earned her medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School, and completed her residency in internal medicine at New York University, followed by a fellowship in infectious diseases at Emory University.

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Jeremy Herskowitz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, was recruited to UAB as a core member of the UAB Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics team. He earned a bachelors degree in Chemistry at the University of North Carolina and completed his doctoral training at Emory University, studying gammaherpesvirus pathogenesis. Remaining at Emory as a postdoctoral fellow, Herskowitz switched fields and became an accomplished neuroscientist. His primary research interest is in understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Anita Hjelmeland, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology has been on the UAB faculty since 2013. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from North Carolina State University followed by a Ph.D. in pharmacology and cancer biology from Duke University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in brain tumor research at Duke University. Her research focuses primarily on developing new methods to control and treat glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor.

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Kelly Hyndman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Nephrology, came to UAB in January 2014 as part of the division’s Section of Cardio-Renal Physiology. Hyndman earned a bachelor’s degree in marine and freshwater biology from the University of Guelph in 2001 and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Florida in 2008. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship in experimental medicine at Georgia Regents University. Hyndman’s research interests are focused on how the body regulates salt and water.

Cancer Center’s Darley-Usmar is 2017 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer

Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., says,”often the biggest impact we have is how we influence our trainees and how they effectively train other people.”

Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., says,”often the biggest impact we have is how we influence our trainees and how they effectively train other people.”Working in academia is where Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., always figured he’d land. After earning his doctorate from Essex University, he worked as a postdoc at the University of Oregon and an assistant professor at the University of Tsukuba Medical School in Ibaraki, Japan.

But then he took what he says some in his field would call a diversion — he accepted a job at Wellcome Research Laboratories in his native England, where his team made the landmark discovery that the beneficial free radical nitric oxide can control mitochondrial respiration. When the company was merged with GlaxoSmithKline, he reached out to then-UAB Professor Bruce Freeman, whom he’d met during a collaborative research project, and asked if any academic positions were available here. The Department of Pathology, under the leadership of Jay McDonald, M.D., offered him an opportunity as an academic researcher. That was in 1995, and he’s called UAB home ever since.

Darley-Usmar’s record of success since joining UAB more than two decades ago proves he took the path right for him: He is now the endowed professor of Mitochondrial Medicine and Pathology, vice chair for research within the Department of Pathology and associate dean for Research for the School of Medicine.

These successes have earned him an invitation to deliver the 2017’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture, the highest honor bestowed by the Academic Medical Center on a faculty member who has advanced the frontiers of science and made outstanding contributions to education, research and public service. Darley-Usmar will deliver an invitation-only lecture 6 p.m. March 5 in the Florentine in downtown Birmingham and receive a $5,000 stipend.

Radical research
Darley-Usmar is an expert in translating basic research in redox biology and bioenergetics to clinical settings, and his research focuses on the contribution of mitochondrial dysfunction to the pathophysiology of human disease. He said two points of his research are of specific interest — the ways metabolism and mitochondrial function change in health and disease and how that translates to a clinical setting.

His studies boil down to one primary tenet: Our bodies use oxygen to kill bacteria and create energy to form cells and to send signals from one part of a cell to another. If clinicians can measure how oxygen is used in patients with various diseases, then they can discover how to improve a patient’s bioenergetic health.

“If you set fire to something, you get a lot of heat out of it. If you want to put a fire out, you put a blanket over it to cut off the oxygen. If you can control that energy you get out of the fire, cells can use that to perform whatever functions are needed. That’s what the mitochondria in your body do,” Darley-Usmar said.

Darley-Usmar’s lab developed the Bioenergetic Health Index, a blood test that measures the functionality of both nuclear and mitochondrial genes, which now is being tested as a potential gauge for assessing a patient’s condition in obesity, HIV, alcoholic hepatitis and age-related diseases.

UAB’s Center for Free Radical Biology, led by Darley-Usmar, became an international hub for redox biology research and a recruiting tool for investigators coming to UAB. He was president of the Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine (2009-10) and earned its Lifetime Achievement Award in Redox Biology. He also was the inaugural editor-in-chief of the new open-access journal Redox Biology.

At UAB, he was vice chair of research and interim co-chair for the Department of Pathology, chaired the Council of Center Directors and the Conflict of Interest Board and was associate dean for postdoctoral education (2003-07), during which time UAB received national recognition as one of the best places to work for postdocs.

“Victor is seen as an important personality who is well known by all the major players in mitochondrial and free radical biology, said Michael Murphy, Ph.D., program director of the Medical Research Council Mitochondrial Biology Unit at the University of Cambridge. “In this, his outgoing and enthusiastic personality is a major part of his appeal and influence. He is certainly not dull or bland! This enables him to act as a great ambassador for free radical and mitochondrial research at UAB, and he is the face of UAB in these international research communities.”

Leaving a legacy
Darley-Usmar credits the skills he learned during his decade working in the private sector with the level of success he’s achieved at UAB. Freeman, the faculty member who helped recruit Darley-Usmar to UAB, said colleagues appreciated the new associate professor who “masterfully applied many of the management and strategic principles he acquired in industry to an academic environment.”

“It helped me learn how to train people and how to manage groups and projects before coming back to the university environment,” Darley-Usmar said. “I think management skills or learning how to work with people and provide the best working environment is something of value to all research-intensive environments in the public or private sector.”

One way Darley-Usmar has translated those skills is through mentorship. The expanded opportunities UAB provided were a motivating factor when he was considering a move from the private sector. He has mentored or trained more than 30 pre- and postdoctoral researchers, and served on numerous dissertation committees. He also has spearheaded training courses on grant-writing, interview and presentation skills, elevator pitches, tenure and promotion process and academic leadership.

Darley-Usmar has published more than 250 original research papers and an additional 100-plus reviews, editorials and book chapters and organized national and international conferences. He is an internationally known lecturer and recipient of significant National Institutes of Health and other industry research grants. Still, he said, leaving a legacy is more than just doing good research, being well known or earning grants.

“There are two ways you can have a legacy,” Darley-Usmar said. “One is by making important discoveries that change how other people think, but you have to be both fortunate and lucky to do the right thing at the right time. The other is through the people you train in your way of doing science. It’s like a school or apprenticeship, and its impact is amplified way beyond what you yourself and the people in your group can do. Often the biggest impact we have is how we influence our trainees and how they effectively train other people.”

Victor Thannickal, M.D., professor of medicine and pathology and director of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, has heard much of Darley-Usmar’s impact on trainees and mentees.

“They all share common themes. They describe Victor’s commitment to mentoring, his dedication to his role as a scientific ambassador and his passion for effective leadership,” Thannickal said. “His trainees describe his ready availability to make time to assist with their presentations, scientific papers and grant applications with thoughtful and insightful critiques of their work. Those who have worked in his laboratory describe the inspiring workplace he creates where everyone is encouraged to share ideas freely.”

“What I learned from Victor was much bigger than any specific mechanism of disease or cellular process,” one of Darley-Usmar’s mentees wrote. “I learned how to learn and how to solve problems. This mentorship shaped the course of my career by allowing me to tackle big, new ideas and explore areas I don’t have specific expertise in, all because I was mentored to learn.”

Measuring success
Even a lengthy list of Darley-Usmar’s contributions to his field of research “just scratches the surface of how [he] has provided service and improved the UAB landscape,” said Professor Rakesh Patel, Ph.D., director of the UAB Center of Free Radical Biology.

But none of that would have been possible if UAB hadn’t taken a chance on hiring him, Darley-Usmar said — an act directly in line with what he sees as UAB’s continuous spirit of entrepreneurship and boldness.

“It was a risk to take someone mid-career, from another country, who had never written a grant in their lives,” he said. “That entrepreneurship has always been there at UAB. It changes with new technologies, but the willingness to be supportive of each other is still the main characteristic, I think.”

UAB has provided a space and culture for Darley-Usmar to flourish and given him the opportunity to train young researchers to succeed, but the definition of success, he said, is up to them.

“When you’re doing something, don’t evaluate it by saying, ‘Am I successful?’” he said. “That’s one piece of advice I often give: Don’t compare yourself to other people. Only be the person you want to be. Many people are into, ‘This person’s got more grants’ or ‘This person has more students or money,’ but you don’t know whether that’s truly working for them or not.

“The main thing is to get the most out of what you’re doing and enjoy that, and make sure that other people around you get that benefit if you can,” Darley-Usmar said. “Share what you have: ideas and resources.”

FreshStart! program is available at UAB for cancer survivors

fresh start image 2018Beginning Thursday, Feb. 1, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center will present FreshStart! a free eight-week lifestyle program specifically geared to help cancer survivors adopt healthier behaviors. With the help of supporters like Cooking Light magazine and the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation, the program is designed to help cancer survivors make healthy diet and exercise choices and manage their stress.

Cancer survivors now make up 4 percent of the population in the United States and are more likely to have health issues like obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, lung disease and cardiovascular disease after a cancer diagnosis.

“FreshStart! is designed to support positive behavior change that is so important for healthy outcomes and survival,” said Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., director of Education and Support Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Research indicates that survivors are more willing to consider behavior changes following a cancer diagnosis. However, in many communities, they lack the support and resources needed to do this. We are very fortunate to have UAB in our own community and, with that, the research, resources and expertise it offers to survivors. And, programs like FreshStart! help connect survivors to support and services needed for a permanent shift toward a healthier lifestyle.”

Meetings will be held by trained professionals every Thursday beginning Feb. 1-March 22 at 5:30 p.m. Topics and locations include:

Feb. 1: Basic nutrition and meal planning for cancer survivors, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1824 Sixth Ave. South, Room 237

Feb. 8: The skinny on super foods, supplements, herbs and vitamins, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1824 Sixth Ave. South, Room 237

Feb. 15: Cooking classes at Cooking Light test kitchens, 4100 Old Montgomery Highway

Feb. 22: Transitional physical activity and exercises, Lakeshore Foundation, 4000 Ridgeway Drive, Room TBD

March 1: Energizing ways to incorporate slow movement into an exercise program, Homewood Community Center, 1632 Oxmoor Road

March 8: Gentle restorative and completely supportive floor work, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1824 Sixth Ave. South, Room 220

March 15: Guided imagery for relaxation and stress relief, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1824 Sixth Ave. South, Room 220

March 22: Therapeutic roundtable group discussion on self-assessment, strategies and resources that can help with stress and anxiety management, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1824 Sixth Ave. South, Room 220

Registration is required online. For detailed information and directions, please call 205-934-5772.

Grant expands patient navigation to caregivers of children with cancer, sickle cell

pediatric patient navigators

The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama look to adapt the Patient Care Connect Program — which has proved successful in decreasing distress and improving quality of life for adults diagnosed with cancer — to children.

Using non-clinical navigators, the Family Navigation Program will provide support and services to children diagnosed with cancer and sickle cell disease, as well as to their families. The interdisciplinary team led by the UAB Department of Pediatrics was awarded a grant from the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation to create the Family Care Connect Program, an adaption of the PCCP, and test its effectiveness.

“Families face extreme amounts of stress when they learn their child has been diagnosed with a tumor,” said Avi Madan-Swain, Ph.D., principle investigator and professor in the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. “By allowing these families access to the Family Care Connect Program, we hope to improve quality of life for the child, decrease stress/distress for the parent/primary caregiver, and increase satisfaction with the health care team.”

Leveraging insights from Anthony Hood, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Collat School of Business, the team will support collaborators to develop a sustainable business model for adapting the program in the future. “By collaborating with the Collat School of Business, we expect to show that the program will be cost-neutral, making it an attractive option for other pediatric chronic illness populations,” Madan-Swain said.

The interdisciplinary team will work collaboratively to develop and test the effectiveness of the Family Care Connect Program. The team includes Kimberly Whelan, M.D., interim director of the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology; Jamie Aye, M.D., fellow at UAB; Jeffrey Lebensburger, O.D., professor of pediatrics; Brandon Rocque, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Neurosurgery and grant co-principal investigator; Betsy Hopson, program coordinator for UAB’s Spina Bifida Program; Beth Clark, director of Care Coordination at Children’s of Alabama; Katy McMullen, hematology-oncology social worker at Children’s of Alabama; Lori Moler, vice president of Customer Service at Children’s of Alabama Amado Santos, director of Patient Relations at Children’s of Alabama; Barbara Lovvorn, Critical Care Nursing director; Jennifer Deneke, director of Family Services; Terri Salter, administrative director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Sharon Likos, parent educator at Children’s of Alabama.  

 

 

UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center to host ArtBLINK Gala 2018

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Artists will create spectacular works of art in the blink of an eye during the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 33rd annual ArtBLINK Gala 2018 at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, in The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, 2000 Sixth Ave. South.

Birmingham’s local artists will work with a variety of media to create masterpieces in 90 minutes that can be purchased during the silent auction. Funds from the gala go toward the Cancer Center’s Fund for Excellence, which supports high-priority research efforts for specific projects, including the Deep South Network initiative, which works to eliminate cancer health disparities through prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Often referred to as Alabama’s cancer center, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is a national leader in research and treatment. Its “comprehensive” designation, awarded by the National Cancer Institute, is held by only 49 institutions in the country. UAB’s cancer program was one of the first eight comprehensive cancer centers in the United States and has held this designation continuously for the past 45 years.

artblink logo mw“One of our objectives is to facilitate breakthrough discoveries through drug development. We want to bring therapies faster, and in the safest way possible, to our patients,” said new Cancer Center Director Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D. “We not only want to expand our clinical trial enterprise, but also increase participation, especially from diverse populations.”

Birrer, who came to UAB from Massachusetts General Hospital, would also like to continue the Cancer Center’s work in cancer health disparities. “We are perhaps one of the few cancer centers in the nation that engage underserved populations effectively,” he said. “To implement the vision of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, we simply couldn’t do it without community support.”

Returning local artists include Ahmad Austin, Sally Waldrup Boyd, Carol Carmichael, Gary Chapman, Amy Collins, Joan Curtis, Barbara Davis, Carol Misner, Linda Ellen Price, Michael Swann, Paul Ware, Robine Wright and Natalie Russo Zoghby.

As one of Birmingham’s premier events, the elegant evening with this year’s English Garden theme will feature a cocktail dinner provided by IZ Catering and a silent auction with participating artists. The gala will include an Artists Gallery, where guests can view and purchase additional artwork created by the ArtBLINK artists to support the Cancer Center.

Admission is $150 per person. For more information, visit www.artblink.org. Purchase tickets online, or call 205-934-1603. Dress is black-tie-optional. Valet service and deck parking are available for guests.

Presenting partners include AutoTec and Regions Financial Corp.

Seeking better quality of life in older adults with cancer

Pisu says patients that lack sufficient emotional support often have more difficulty adjusting and coping with a cancer diagnosis.

A new study from University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers sheds light on the factors that affect health-related quality of life in older adults with cancer. Published online in CANCER — a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society — the findings support the importance of addressing persistent symptoms, managing comorbidities, promoting leisure-time physical activity and addressing financial challenges.

Of the 15 million people living with cancer in the United States in 2016, 62 percent were 65 years or older. This proportion is growing, and soon three-quarters of cancer survivors will be in this age group. Understanding the most important factors that contribute to improving or maintaining good quality of life beyond the initial treatment period can help identify survivors who are most vulnerable and at risk for poor health outcomes.

To investigate the issue, Maria Pisu, Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, Gabrielle Rocque, M.D., assistant professor of hematology and oncology and associate scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, and their colleagues at UAB surveyed 1,457 adults 65 years or older. Most of the respondents were not actively receiving cancer treatment at the time of the survey and were one year or more past their diagnosis. The survey explored factors in physical, psychological, social and spiritual domains that could impact quality of life.

Findings show that the physical and mental components of quality of life were likely affected by factors across different domains. The most important contributors associated with worse physical quality of life included more severe symptoms of pain, fatigue and disturbed sleep in the week leading up to the survey, as well as other medical conditions patients had besides cancer.

Being physically active appeared to be an important contributor to better physical quality of life. The most important contributors linked with worse mental quality of life were again the severity of symptoms such as fatigue and disturbed sleep. Other likely contributors included the need for emotional support and having financial hardship events.

“Quality of life studies tend to focus on one cancer at the time, on the period during treatment, and on specific cancer drugs or treatments,” Pisu said. “However, as people live longer after a cancer diagnosis, it is important to understand the contributions of other factors to quality of life regardless of cancer type or treatment.”

Pisu says cancer type and treatment received were not among the most important factors affecting quality of life in the group of survivors. She notes that the contribution of financial hardship to the mental component of quality of life was somewhat unexpected.

“Financial and economic hardships have usually been found to be less concerning for older adults,” she said.

Pisu says the approach to care for this population has to be one of comprehensive health promotion that includes appropriate management of symptoms and comorbid conditions and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.“Their care should recognize the importance of older survivors’ social contexts and the support needs they may have, including those related to financial challenges,” Pisu said.

Improving sleep quality for breast cancer survivors

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Laura Q. Rogers, M.D.

A study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, connects traditional aerobic physical activity — like walking — to better sleep for post-primary treatment breast cancer survivors.

The study, titled “Physical Activity and Sleep Quality in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Trial,” is the first large randomized controlled aerobic physical activity study of its kind in breast cancer survivors who had completed primary cancer treatment. This study found participants who received a physical activity program focused on achieving 150 weekly minutes of physical activity — approximately 20 minutes per day — reported better sleep quality, fewer sleep disturbances and less daytime dysfunction related to fatigue.

“Nearly one in three breast cancer survivors suffers from poor sleep, and poor sleep is associated with greater breast cancer mortality,” said Laura Q. Rogers, M.D., principal investigator of the study and professor at UAB. “So research in this area is critical for survivors and those who care about them. Our findings are significant because the benefits were of sufficient magnitude to reach and exceed the clinically important threshold.”

The study, conducted by UAB, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, included 222 breast cancer survivors. Of those participating, 112 received typical care while 110 went through the Better Exercise Adherence after Treatment for Cancer (BEAT Cancer) program.

beat study verticalCancer survivors are encouraged to engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, like walking.The BEAT Cancer program, based in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, began with six weeks of personal coaching from an exercise specialist. After the six weeks, participants were responsible for maintaining their own exercise regimens at home while checking in with the exercise specialist every two weeks. Participants also attended six discussion group sessions with other program participants. Study measurements were obtained at the three-month and six-month marks.

The findings — in which results came from perceived responses rather than an accelerometer — showed that BEAT Cancer significantly improved global sleep quality due to improvements in several global sleep quality components, including perceived quality of sleep, reduced sleep disturbances and less fatigue during the day.

Rogers, a senior scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, acknowledged that the inclusion of more current sleep measurement options such as bed sensors and sleep recorders in future studies could overcome some of the limitations of measuring self-report sleep quality. She says additional research is needed to determine how the support provided by research staff and other cancer survivor participants may have influenced the sleep improvements.

Nevertheless, Rogers is hopeful about the impact of their findings on improving cancer survivorship care and third-party financial support of such programming because of the randomized controlled design, multicenter enrollment and high retention rates.

“This study reinforces the importance of providing physical activity programming as a fundamental part of the cancer survivor care plan,” Rogers said. “It is currently recommended that cancer survivors engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking. This study suggests that doing so can potentially help a breast cancer survivor sleep better. Hence, cancer survivors can add another benefit to the list of reasons to find a physical activity they enjoy and get moving.”

This project was supported by the National Cancer Institute.

UAB Proton Therapy Center construction to start in early 2018

proton graphicThe University of Alabama at Birmingham and Proton International have secured funding for the UAB Proton Therapy Center, a significant step toward beginning construction. The facility will be the first proton therapy center in the state of Alabama. With the financial closing complete, UAB and Proton International expect to break ground in January 2018 and open the facility in approximately two years.

The UAB Proton Therapy Center will be an important addition to existing cancer therapies at UAB and the Comprehensive Cancer Center. The center will be a two-story 29,000-square-foot facility equipped with the Varian Probeam proton technology.

Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment available at only 25 locations in the United States. It is conservatively estimated that some 250,000 cancer patients in the United States alone could benefit from the therapy, which uses highly precise proton beams instead of traditional X-rays to attack tumors.

Proton therapy is used to treat tumors of the brain and central nervous system, spine, head and neck, lung, prostate, liver, and gastrointestinal tract and colon, and some breast tumors. While it treats primarily localized tumors, it can, in some cases, be used for treating cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to surrounding tissue because of its focused dose capabilities.

Proton therapy is widely used to treat children, who are particularly sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy. Because of its precision in targeting tumors, proton therapy greatly reducesdamage to nearby healthy tissue, which is the cause of most short- and long-term side effects,including cancer recurrence later in life.

“The UAB Proton Therapy Center will bring one of the most advanced cancer-fighting therapies to thousands of cancer patients throughout Alabama and the Southeast,” said James A. Bonner, M.D., the Merle M. Salter Endowed Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. “It is exciting to know that we have achieved another milestone in the development of this center, and we are thrilled that we can begin construction just a few weeks from now in the beginning of the new year.”

“Proton International is pleased to be working with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Department of Radiation Oncology, one of the premier oncology programs in the country,” said Chris Chandler, CEO of Proton International. “The department has a long and rich history of contributing to the science of radiation therapy and the adoption of clinically relevant technology.”

Proton International is currently participating in the development of several centers in the United States and abroad. PI’s turnkey development model significantly lowers project risk and provides access to long-term funding.

Cancer Center’s Pam Alverson named UAB Employee of the Year

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Pam Alverson, program director for the Office of Program Review and Monitoring Systems in UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center

Pam Alverson, program director for the Office of Program Review and Monitoring Systems in UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named UAB Employee of the Year. Alverson was chosen from the Employee of the Month award-winners selected during the 12-month period ending July 2017.

Alverson will be the guest of honor at an invitation-only ceremony and reception honoring her with the highest non-academic employee award in January.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition,” Alverson said. “To be awarded for a job you enjoy and working with people you love and respect is incredible. I am proud to work for UAB and be a part of the on-mission Comprehensive Cancer Center team.”

Alverson, who was selected December 2016’s Employee of the Month, was praised for her calm attitude that provides stability in an overwhelming system and for her dedication — she even sometimes plans vacations around important meetings — to her position.

In her role, Alverson oversees the administrative tasks of the scientific review process for cancer-related clinical trials, interacting with investigators, working groups and related committees and essentially moving clinical research protocols through the center’s process.

“She has incredible intention to detail working with scores of physicians and scientists performing clinical trials,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., then-director of the Cancer Center said in nominating her. “In spite of this challenge — akin to herding not cats, but tigers — I have never once seen her look frustrated or irritated, much less lose her temper. She is simply unbelievable.”

Alverson said that the biggest lesson she has learned in her 30 years at UAB is that everyone has a story, she said. “Everyone wants to be heard and respected; each person is important.”

For her, this was especially personified one spring, when she dressed as the Easter Bunny for the patients at Children’s Hospital. “I still clearly remember looking through the mesh eyes of the costume,” Alverson said, “and seeing sick children smile.”

Congratulations to the monthly award-winners

August: Kristen Dubose “embodies all that is genuinely good about working at UAB”

Each month, UAB recognizes an outstanding employee for their dedication, hard work and contributions to the university’s success. If you know of a great employee, you can learn how to nominate them for this recognition at uab.edu/humanresources.

September: Debby Frazer is “a champion of patients and their families”

October: Cynthia Helms “gets the job done” with a smile

November: Joy Lewis is a master of everything thrown at her

April: Will Callans brings enthusiasm and positivity to an oft-overwhelming field

May: Sharon Johnson “is a beacon of light” for Facilities division

June: Amie Traylor creates positive environment in nephrology lab

July: Rachel Schwartz “is always a team player” both with colleagues and patients

Pam Alverson, program director for the Office of Program Review and Monitoring Systems in UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named UAB Employee of the Year. Alverson was chosen from the Employee of the Month award-winners selected during the 12-month period ending July 2017.

Alverson will be the guest of honor at an invitation-only ceremony and reception honoring her with the highest non-academic employee award in January.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition,” Alverson said. “To be awarded for a job you enjoy and working with people you love and respect is incredible. I am proud to work for UAB and be a part of the on-mission Comprehensive Cancer Center team.”

Alverson, who was selected December 2016’s Employee of the Month, was praised for her calm attitude that provides stability in an overwhelming system and for her dedication — she even sometimes plans vacations around important meetings — to her position.

In her role, Alverson oversees the administrative tasks of the scientific review process for cancer-related clinical trials, interacting with investigators, working groups and related committees and essentially moving clinical research protocols through the center’s process.

“She has incredible intention to detail working with scores of physicians and scientists performing clinical trials,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., then-director of the Cancer Center said in nominating her. “In spite of this challenge — akin to herding not cats, but tigers — I have never once seen her look frustrated or irritated, much less lose her temper. She is simply unbelievable.”

Alverson said that the biggest lesson she has learned in her 30 years at UAB is that everyone has a story, she said. “Everyone wants to be heard and respected; each person is important.”

For her, this was especially personified one spring, when she dressed as the Easter Bunny for the patients at Children’s Hospital. “I still clearly remember looking through the mesh eyes of the costume,” Alverson said, “and seeing sick children smile.”

Congratulations to the monthly award-winners

August: Kristen Dubose “embodies all that is genuinely good about working at UAB”

Each month, UAB recognizes an outstanding employee for their dedication, hard work and contributions to the university’s success. If you know of a great employee, you can learn how to nominate them for this recognition at uab.edu/humanresources.

September: Debby Frazer is “a champion of patients and their families”

October: Cynthia Helms “gets the job done” with a smile

November: Joy Lewis is a master of everything thrown at her

April: Will Callans brings enthusiasm and positivity to an oft-overwhelming field

May: Sharon Johnson “is a beacon of light” for Facilities division

June: Amie Traylor creates positive environment in nephrology lab

July: Rachel Schwartz “is always a team player” both with colleagues and patients

Pam Alverson, program director for the Office of Program Review and Monitoring Systems in UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named UAB Employee of the Year. Alverson was chosen from the Employee of the Month award-winners selected during the 12-month period ending July 2017.

Alverson will be the guest of honor at an invitation-only ceremony and reception honoring her with the highest non-academic employee award in January.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition,” Alverson said. “To be awarded for a job you enjoy and working with people you love and respect is incredible. I am proud to work for UAB and be a part of the on-mission Comprehensive Cancer Center team.”

Alverson, who was selected December 2016’s Employee of the Month, was praised for her calm attitude that provides stability in an overwhelming system and for her dedication — she even sometimes plans vacations around important meetings — to her position.

In her role, Alverson oversees the administrative tasks of the scientific review process for cancer-related clinical trials, interacting with investigators, working groups and related committees and essentially moving clinical research protocols through the center’s process.

“She has incredible intention to detail working with scores of physicians and scientists performing clinical trials,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., then-director of the Cancer Center said in nominating her. “In spite of this challenge — akin to herding not cats, but tigers — I have never once seen her look frustrated or irritated, much less lose her temper. She is simply unbelievable.”

Alverson said that the biggest lesson she has learned in her 30 years at UAB is that everyone has a story, she said. “Everyone wants to be heard and respected; each person is important.”

For her, this was especially personified one spring, when she dressed as the Easter Bunny for the patients at Children’s Hospital. “I still clearly remember looking through the mesh eyes of the costume,” Alverson said, “and seeing sick children smile.”

Congratulations to the monthly award-winners

August: Kristen Dubose “embodies all that is genuinely good about working at UAB”

October: Cynthia Helms “gets the job done” with a smileSeptember: Debby Frazer is “a champion of patients and their families”

November: Joy Lewis is a master of everything thrown at her

April: Will Callans brings enthusiasm and positivity to an oft-overwhelming field

May: Sharon Johnson “is a beacon of light” for Facilities division

June: Amie Traylor creates positive environment in nephrology lab

July: Rachel Schwartz “is always a team player” both with colleagues and patients