2011 Back of the Envelope Award Winners

2011 Award Winners


Giuseppe Squadrito, PhD       

Dietary thiocyanate modulates inflammatory response

Department of Environmental Health Sciences


It has been recently recognized that thiocyanate (SCN) at sufficiently high concentrations can effectively compete with the canonical substrates (chloride, bromide, nitrite) to become the preferred substrate for mammalian peroxidases (myeloperoxidase (MPO), lactoperoxidase (LPO), and eosinophil peroxidase (EPO)), that are associated with innate immune response.  When SCN is the preferred substrate, these peroxidases produce hypothiocyanous acid (HOSCN) rather than the commonly recognized HOCl, HOBr or nitrogen dioxide.  This switch in oxidant product to HOSCN has major consequences.  While HOSCN reacts to almost exclusively oxidize thiol groups of protein cysteines residues, the other enzymatic oxidants react indiscriminately with many targets.  Thiol oxidation of signaling elements is pivotal to redox cell signaling.   We plan to facilitate this “biochemical switch” by dietary supplementation with SCN.  The study results are anticipated to elucidate a previously unrecognized mechanism of differential susceptibility to environmental, and perhaps other, insults. but also as to whether SCN is a key determinant factor in the differential susceptibilities observed with underlying metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes.

Xiao Zhang, PhD

Multiple imputation using Baysesian latent variable models

Department of Biostatistics

In the last three decades, substantial improvement has been developed in statistical procedures to analyze incomplete data, such as the EM algorithm, data augmentation, and multiple imputation. We will develop a Bayesian multiple imputation method for mixtures of incomplete continuous, ordinal, and categorical data. We will investigate our method in comparison with joint modeling method by Schafer (1997) and switching regression technique through a simulation study and two real data application.

Nir Menachemi, PhD

Do urban parks really have an effect on pediatric obesity rates?

Department of Health Care Organization and Policy

The recent establishment of Birmingham’s Railroad Park coupled with an existing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) in use in the 6 Jefferson County Health Department (JCDH) primary care centers creates a unique ‘natural experiment’ that allows for the rigorous study of how the park has impacted the obesity rates among inner-city, mostly minority, children.  By using a “difference in difference” approach commonly used to study the impact of policies, it is possible to compare the longitudinal change in BMI rates (before and after the establishment of Railroad Park) of children living very close to the park (for example within 1 mile) to the BMI of a children living further away from the park (e.g., 2 miles or more).  This study will be among the most rigorous in the literature to assess the impact of parks on childhood obesity rates—and will be generalizable to the US South were obesity rates are highest.

Kathryn Kaiser, PhD

Is there racial disparity in the association of obesity and depression?

Department of Biostatistics

Depression and obesity are reciprocally related – each can lead to the other, yet paradoxically, a genetic risk factor (BDNF gene polymorphism) and observed prevalence rates for depression are five times lower in African Americans while obesity rates are higher as compared to other racial groups, primarily in women.

This project will use the REGARDS dataset and biological sample repository to compare (between African Americans and European Americans) relative risk for the depression and obesity phenotypes using two key gene variants (BDNF and FTO – both associated with obesity) and one biomarker (serum BDNF level-associated with both depression and obesity) in order to determine whether non-genetically associated lower BDNF levels are present in obese African Americans.

Identifying a differential function of this key obesity and depression related gene product will inform future studies of biologically-based treatments for depression and obesity, especially when there may be a simple biological/genetic explanation for differences in risk factors or treatment responses.


Vinodh Srinivasasainagendra   

Research Reproducibility

Department of Biostatistics

Reproducible research is important as a minimum standard, particularly for studies involving diverse collaborative network of knowledge, data and computer code. Although readymade infrastructure for reproducing research is limited, we can still demonstrate successful execution of future research inspections by aggregating some of the best practices of data management, software engineering and collaborative computing. In this effort, a computing toolkit comprising of a collection of workflows, tools and informatics frameworks will be showcased as a possible solution to accept the challenge of reproducible research in the computer age.  A data analysis case study involving information from diverse domains of bioscience - Bioinformatics, Genomics and Biostatistics - will be used to drive the proposed computing solution.

Emily Tubergen                      

Stipends for unpaid & international internships

Dean’s Office

While there are excellent internship opportunities with local nonprofits and international organizations, many go unfilled because our student population is working to pay for their graduate education and cannot afford to commit the number of required hours to an unpaid internship or international experience.  This BOTE award will fund $500 stipends to students pursuing unpaid or international internships.  These stipends will offset some of the student’s costs during the semester of his/her internship, thus reducing the financial barrier to accepting an unpaid/international internship most relevant to their career path in public health.

Heather White, PhD               


Sparkman Center

The idea is to use Facebook as an educational tool to engage students during their MPH program of study to learn about the pubic health core competencies. Students who opt in will be invited to participate in a series of group trivia-style questions generated via a FB page. Questions will be auto-generated 1-2x/wk, and those with the highest number of correct answers will accumulate prizes, e.g., coffee/food cards and other small prizes. This is also a means by which students can prepare for the PH certification exam.

Cheryl Johnson                       

Task Stream for ePortfolio

Dean’s Office

The BOE award is for a 1 year subscription of a TaskStream ePortfolio’s for the incoming MPH students in Fall 2012. The purpose of the ePortfolio is to help evaluate the SOPH degree programs, their competencies and learning objectives using a cohort of students each term.  These assessments will be used to determine the school’s measures and findings for each program while creating yearly action plans and achievement targets.

Jason Avery

Charity begins at home

Department of Epidemiology

The first annual UAB School of Public Health Fitness Day will be an event which focuses on the promotion of physical and mental fitness for faculty, staff, and students. There will be many activities including live exercise, cooking demonstrations, a speaker seminar, contests, health screening, and many more activities.  Although the major part will occur on a single day, there will be  many activities leading up to the SOPH Fitness Day such as introductory fitness classes, a walking club, and the opening of the “closet”  where one can check out fitness equipment in attempt to make the entire program sustainable.


Frank “Will” Williams

Social media and epidemics

Department of Health Care Organization of Policy

Exhibiting rapidly shifting epidemiological patterns, dengue is a tropical disease that is emerging as one of the world's most important vector-borne illnesses.  Computational epidemiologists have used infodemiology, the analysis internet-based information to study disease trends, to track dengue incidence in Brazil based on user-generated Google search terms.  We hypothesize that mining user-generated data on Orkut, Brazil's rapidly popularizing social network, can likewise estimate dengue's temporal and geospatial trends in near-real time while providing detailed information regarding outbreak.

Melonie Walcott                     

Miehiw: An assessment

Department of Health Care Organization of Policy

This project is designed to assess the acceptability and feasibility of the use of the Moringa Oleifera plant to improve economic independence and retention in care for HIV positive women in Jefferson County. Using focus group discussions and in-depth interviews, the assessment will explore:  1) Women’s willingness to work together as a corporate body to grow and harvest moringa, and manufacture products such as tea, pasta and cookies to be marketed in the community; 2) resources available in the community (sites for growing, building, equipment, skills, transportation); 3) training needs; 4) management and sustainability. Research has shown that the moringa plant is highly nutritious and is an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, thus the findings from this assessment could guide the development of an intervention for this target population.

Divvy Uadhyay           

Health economics made simple

Department of Health Care Organization and Policy

Dzigbodi Doke                       

Daphnia in Ghana

Department of Environmental Health Sciences

Daphnia, a freshwater crustacean, has been used to study the effects of various metals and PAHs. These tests assess several parameters that may be useful in determining human health effects. The plan is to characterize Daphnia in Ghana and assess its feasibility to provide a cheap alternative for environmental testing.

Katie Haralson                       

Hoop Houses

Department of Health Behavior

In hopes of encouraging local urban agriculture, I plan to use my Back of the Envelope Award funds to construct several hoop houses for interested Birmingham community or school gardens. A hoop house is essentially a type of non-electric greenhouse that can protect plants from harsh weather and extend growing seasons by trapping in heat. Using PVC piping and transparent plastic sheets to create a tunnel over crops, hoop house construction can be adjusted to fit a small raised bed or even a larger, more diverse plot.

Gabriel Tajeu

Healthcare staff implicit attitudes

Department of Health Care Organization and Policy

Racial bias and discrimination has been studied among physicians (MDs), but has yet to be studied in non-physician healthcare staff (receptionists, licensed practical nurses [LPNs], or medical assistants [MAs]).  As patients spend more time, on average, interacting with non-physician staff than with physicians, this research will explore the hypothesis that racial bias among non-physician healthcare staff is a significant source of health care discrimination.  Social psychology literature reveals that focused interventions can mediate the negative influences of racial bias among medical students and physicians, and if bias is established among non-physician healthcare staff, we hope to use the findings from our research to influence the design of an intervention and future research aimed towards mediating bias, and consequently its negative effects on the health of minorities, in non-physician healthcare staff.

Virginia Chu

Humans v. Zombies

Department of Epidemiology

Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) is a physical game of tag that is played for roughly a week on several college campuses across the U.S., including the Georgia Institute of Technology. Students sign up to play, all start out as humans and are given an anonymous code, with one original zombie, whose goal is to turn as many humans into zombies to create two groups, a Zombie Horde and the Human Resistance. I plan on using the coded data from this game to model disease transmission on a college campus.