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Stefanie Robel, Ph.D.

Stefanie Robel, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Warren K. Bickel, Ph.D. headshot

“If we can understand what astrocytes do in the context of glioma, brain trauma, or even autism, maybe these patterns will help us identify new diagnostics, therapies, and treatments for a wide range of diseases.”


Investigating the role of astrocytes in brain health

How do these star-shaped glial cells respond to injury, disease and cancer? 

Dr. Robel focuses her research on the role of astrocytes -- star-shaped glial cells in the brain -- in the development and progression of central nervous system diseases. She investigated the role and function of astrocytes in penetrating head injury, epilepsy, glioma and Alzheimer’s Disease as a doctoral student in the laboratory of Dr. Magdalena Götz in Munich, Germany, and as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Harald Sontheimer’s laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her independent line of research seeks to elucidate the role of astrocytes after repeated mild traumatic brain injury.

In the United States, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs every seven seconds and is the major cause of long-term disability. About 75 percent of these injuries are classified as mild TBI or concussion. Patients who experienced a TBI not only suffer immediate and/or lifelong consequences for cognitive function, but increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases later in life. Improved imaging techniques have revealed microbleeds in a majority of these patients indicative of blood-brain barrier damage. Mild TBI is also associated with reduced cerebral blood flow in patients. The brain is critically dependent on a sustained blood flow, and its reduction might initiate a cascade of detrimental events that can lead to slowly progressing tissue damage.

Astrocytes are part of the neurovascular unit modulating the regulation of blood flow and likely contributing to blood-brain barrier integrity and maintenance. Yet, little is known about the astrocyte-vascular interface and its functionality in the context of CNS disease. To study the role of astrocytes in CNS pathology after repeated mild TBI, we use state-of-the-art models of TBI in transgenic mice in combination with confocal and in vivo 2-photon imaging.

  • Assistant Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Assistant Professor, School of Neuroscience, College of Science  
  • Assistant Professor, Departments of Surgery and Basic Science Education, School of Medicine  

Heithoff, BP, George, KK, Phares, AN, Zuidhoek, IA, Munoz‐Ballester, C, Robel, S. Astrocytes are necessary for blood–brain barrier maintenance in the adult mouse brainGlia. 2020; 1– 37.

Shandra O, Winemiller AR, Heithoff BP, Munoz-Ballester C, George K, Benko MJ, Zuidhoek I, Besser MN, Curley DE, Edwards GF 3rd, Mey A, Harrington AN, Kitchen JP, Robel S. (2019). Repetitive Diffuse Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Causes an Atypical Astrocyte Response and Spontaneous Recurrent Seizures. Journal of Neuroscience : 1067-18.

Robel S, Buckingham SC, Boni JL, Campbell SL, Danbolt NC, Riedmann T, Sutor B, Sontheimer H. (2015). Reactive astrogliosis causes the development of spontaneous seizures. Journal of Neuroscience 35(8): 3330-45.

Robel S, Sontheimer H. (2015). Glia as active players in acquired epilepsy. Nature Neuroscience.

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Instructor, Department of Neurobiology
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neurobiology

Ludwigs-Maximilians University, Institute for Physiological Genomics
Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Potsdam University: B.S., Biology
  • Humboldt University: M.S., Biology, Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine: Master's Thesis, Molecular Medicine
  • Institute for Physiological Genomics, Ludwigs-Maximilians University: Ph.D., Neurobiology
  • Institute for Stem Cell Research, Helmholtz Zentrum München: Ph.D., Neurobiology
  • Chair, Executive Board UAB Postdoctoral Association, June 2014-May 2015
  • Research Award of $10,000, Alzheimer's of Central Alabama, 2013
  • Research Fellowship of $100,000 for two years, American Brain Tumor Association, 2013
  • Research Fellowship of $45,000, Epilepsy Foundation, 2012
  • Emerging Scholar Award, Civitan International Research Center, 2011
  • Postdoctoral Scholar Award, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2011
  • Research Fellowship, German Research Council, 2011
  • GLIA Travel Stipend, 2009


News about Stefanie Robel, Ph.D.