The UAB Civitan International Research Center (CIRC) was founded in 1990 through a process in which several universities competed for a $20-million grant from the Civitan International Foundation. The CIRC represents a unique partnership between a major research university and a progressive volunteer organization, operating in 34 countries to improve communities and help people with developmental disabilities.
This major grant has been the cornerstone in the CIRC's efforts to develop world-class research, training and service programs related to human development and developmental disabilities. The annual contribution from the Civitan Foundation enhances the CIRC's competition for funded research awards and recruitment of leading scientists, while creating opportunities to respond rapidly to scientific developments.
The CIRC's founding directors are Drs. Sharon and Craig Ramey, who came to UAB from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Under their leadership, the CIRC became an innovative interdisciplinary initiative to expand the scientific knowledge base about human development and developmental disabilities. Dr. Michael Friedlander, chair of the department of neurobiology, succeeded the Rameys as Center director in 2002. Under his leadership the CIRC focused on basic research in neurodevelopmental disorders.
Dr. Harald Sontheimer, a renowned neuroscientist, became the third director of the CIRC in 2005 after the retirement of Dr. Friedlander. Dr. Sontheimer has made it his mission for the CIRC to become an international leader in translational research in neurodevelopmental disorders. In addition, he has chosen autism as a thematic focus for the CIRC - a disorder that has become a serious public health concern because of the increasing number of children diagnosed each year. Dr. Alan Percy, a noted child neurologist and medical director of the CIRC brings many years of experience in clinical research to the CIRC. The partnership between clinical research and basic science at the CIRC will continue to expand under the leadership of Percy and Sontheimer.