TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A husband and wife professorial research team, who developed a microscopic worm as an animal model for studying human neurological diseases, are winners of The University of Alabama’s Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor award.
Drs. Guy and Kim Caldwell, UA faculty members, will be honored in a ceremony in the University’s President’s Mansion Nov. 21.
This award is presently annually to a UA faculty member, or members, judged to have made extraordinary contributions that reflect credit on the individual, on his or her field of study, on students, and on the University. It was created by Frederick Moody Blackmon of Montgomery to honor the memory of his grandmother, Sarah McCorkle Moody of Tuscaloosa.
“The Caldwells are at the forefront of therapeutic development for these (human movement disorder) diseases, and their work has been widely recognized by both the academic and industrial research communities,” wrote Dr. Susan Lindquist, a molecular biologist at both the Whitehead Institute and M.I.T., in support of the Caldwells, with whom she collaborates.
“The development of the worm model by Drs. Guy and Kim Caldwell, the discoveries that have come from its use, and the promise that it holds for future treatments for these devastating diseases fulfill the criteria for this award …,” wrote Dr. Harriett Smith-Somerville, interim chair of biological sciences at UA, in her nomination of the Caldwells for the award.
Earlier this year, the couple’s research with the worm, a nematode known as C. elegans, identified five genes that protect against the death of dopamine neurons, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. This work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January.
Their efforts have led to the development of a licensing agreement with QRxPharma to test existing drug therapies for the treatment of neurological diseases, including both dystonia and Parkinson’s.
“Through their leadership and mentoring, the Caldwells have built a world-class undergraduate and graduate research team that is working at the forefront of medical discovery,” wrote Dr. John W. Holaday, managing director and CEO of QRxPharma and an internationally recognized neuropharmacology research scientist.
The worm’s simplicity – it contains only 302 neurons, in contrast to the 100 billion neurons located in the human brain alone – lends itself to manageable tracing, by researchers, of impacts on specific neurons. Despite its simplicity, the worm has key neurotransmitters, like dopamine. And, more than 50 percent of all human hereditary diseases have been linked to genetic components also found in the worm, making it an appropriate model on which to study human diseases.
During the last six years, five of UA’s nation-leading 31 USA Today All-USA College Academic team members have been mentored and conducted research in the Caldwell Lab. The Caldwells have also personally trained five Goldwater Scholars in the past six years.
Guy Caldwell, an associate professor of biological sciences, earned his bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University and his doctoral degree from The University of Tennessee. He joined UA in 1999.
As a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, Guy Caldwell worked alongside Dr. Martin Chalfie, who was awarded, along with two other researchers, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last month. Chalfie was selected for the discovery of the Green Fluorescent Protein in jellyfish and for his work in developing ways to use the protein to light up processes inside animal models, like C. elegans, that were previously invisible. The Caldwells routinely use the jellyfish protein in their research.
Kim Caldwell, an assistant professor of biological sciences, earned her bachelor’s degree at the State University of New York at Fredonia, and her master’s and doctorate at The University of Tennessee. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University and Columbia University. She joined UA in 1999.
The Caldwell Lab has drawn support from such organizations as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Parkinson Association of Alabama, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, the National Parkinson Foundation, the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation, Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, National Science Foundation, March of Dimes and the National Institutes of Health.
UA’s biological sciences department is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today All-USA College Academic team.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.