UAB professors honored for scientific contributions and outstanding mentorship

Three University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) professors have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Election as a fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. The new fellows from UAB are David Allison, Ph.D., of the Department of Biostatistics; Etty "Tika" Benveniste, Ph.D., of the Department of Cell Biology; and Ruiwen Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Toxicology and Pharmacology.

Benveniste, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and associate director for basic-science research at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Zhang, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology and director of the cancer-pharmacology laboratory at UAB, both were selected for their distinguished contributions to their field of study. Allison, director of UAB's Nutrition and Obesity Research Center and a professor in the School of Public Health, was selected for distinguished contributions to his field of study and for outstanding training and mentorship of young scientists.

This year 531 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New fellows are announced in the Dec. 18 issue of the journal Science and will be honored in February at the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego.

Allison runs the biostatistics department's Section on Statistical Genetics. He is a renowned obesity researcher in the fields of quantitative genetics, clinical trials and research methodology. He also is a National Science Foundation-honored professor recognized for his interdisciplinary training and mentoring approach to young investigators interested in statistical methodology, clinical-nutrition research, genomics, obesity, longevity and many other data-driven projects.

Benveniste is a professor of cell biology, physiology and biophysics, neurology and neurobiology. She also is a senior scientist at UAB's Arthritis Center, Center for AIDS Research and the Cancer Center. Her research is focused on immune-system and central-nervous-system inter-communication, discoveries which improve the understanding of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and AIDS-dementia complex. She is particularly interested in a class of inflammatory and regulatory proteins called cytokines and chemokines present in both the immune and nervous system. Recently, Benveniste has turned her attention to the inflammatory processes that promote brain-cancer growth.

Zhang serves as a senior scientist at UAB's Center for Aging, Center for AIDS Research, Gene Therapy Center and Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was among the first to discover DPD deficiency, an inherited metabolic disorder wherein limited enzyme activity can impact a cancer patient's response to chemotherapy. Zhang also is a leader in studying drugs that work by antisense, which are genetically engineered agents to target the double-stranded structure of DNA for cancer prevention and to deactivate disease-causing genes. Recently, Zhang has been studying a particular gene called MDM2 that helps regulate cancer sensitivity to drug treatment.

The tradition of AAAS fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank if nominated by the steering groups of the association's 24 sections, or by any three fellows currently AAAS members, or by the AAAS chief executive officer. Each steering group then reviews the nominations of individuals within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council for a vote.

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