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Showcasing School science and change at Alumni Weekend 2018
By Grant Burningham / Fri Jun 15, 2018
For UCSF School of Pharmacy alumni who attended the event, Alumni Weekend 2018 offered a chance to explore how science connects the School’s research, education, and patient care agendas; learn about the lives and professional accomplishments of pharmacy school graduates; and get a glimpse of what’s under way at UCSF beyond the School. The annual campuswide event was held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco on June 1 and 2.
An afternoon session titled “The Science Thread,” hosted by B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, School of Pharmacy dean, showed off some of the most exciting research directions in the School and offered pharmacy alumni a sneak peek at the new doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) curriculum, which welcomes its first class in July.
Opening the panel was chemical biologist Michelle Arkin, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Arkin spent the early years of her career in the private sector as a pharmaceutical industry scientist. Now, as co-director of the School’s Small Molecule Discovery Center, she is creating fast and effective new ways to identify molecules that show potential as drugs.
About 9 in 10 molecules fail in the lab. Then, in clinical trials, another 9 in 10 fail, she explained. “We look at the top of the pyramid to have fewer failures at the bottom,” Arkin said. “One problem is that we pick the wrong biological targets.”
Her research aims to change the status quo.
Using computer models and “organoids”—tiny bundles of organ cells that can be used to test some of the functions of whole organs—Arkin speeds the process of finding molecules that might actually work in patients.
“If we can bring together the efficiency of the private sector and the innovative edge that we have [here in academia], we can really make things happen,” Arkin said.
Next up was Francesca Aweeka, PharmD ’85, a clinical pharmacologist and faculty member in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy who directs the School’s Drug Research Unit and specializes in improving access and treatments for AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
Aweeka joined the School’s faculty in the late 1980s, not long after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved AZT, the first drug to treat AIDS. She spent much of her time working on how to get AIDS drugs to the people who needed them.
“Over time, I went global,” Aweeka said. “I went to Uganda… and I got involved in malaria.” Despite the invention of a reliable cure and the near-total eradication of malaria in much of the world, there are still 216 million new cases each year. “Twenty percent of the kids who get it die,” Aweeka said.
Aweeka’s research is now focusing on how malaria can hide in the placentas of pregnant women, where the disease silently passes to unborn babies, without visible signs in their mothers. “We’ve made great strides,” Aweeka added hopefully.
Aweeka said it was her UCSF education that opened the door to her work in science. “I realized that as a PharmD, I could do research that is very meaningful.”
Pharmacy law expert and educational policy leader, Marcus Ferrone, PharmD, JD, a faculty member in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, joined Sharon Youmans, PharmD, MPH, the School’s vice dean, in a discussion of the School’s new PharmD curriculum.
The key aim of the new curriculum, Youmans explained, is to get students “to think scientifically” and to be ready to lead in a time of unprecedented change in science and health care access as the scope of pharmacy practice continues to widen.
She explained that the goal is for students to learn how to effectively question the status quo, identify problems, and pose solutions—all so they’re equipped to guide and drive change in pharmacy when they graduate—and, ultimately, to improve the health of patients.
“As the profession of pharmacy evolves and practice expands, it’s going to be about pharmacists who can function and make decisions when there’s nowhere else to turn. If we just emphasize knowledge acquisition,” Ferrone said, “it will stifle creativity and imagination, which are key components of this scientific mindset.”
Ferrone explained that the School’s PharmD students will develop and hone their inquiry skills while exploring new ideas and innovations at the frontier of science, taking full advantage of the unique expertise of UCSF’s pioneering research faculty. At the same time, they’ll build their core knowledge in science and therapeutics and experience pharmacy practice as they develop patient care skills.
Youmans explained that coursework in the new PharmD curriculum integrates and builds on itself from one concept to the next. Students meet a real patient on the first day of class, and patient cases build in complexity over time. Although lectures will still be a key teaching model, the larger focus will be on group learning, and on group problem identification and problem solving.
Youmans added that as the new curriculum evolves, the faculty is also making changes in the current curriculum. She emphasized that the School is equally committed to the success of students in both curricula.
Guglielmo further explained that the same kind of scientific thinking that prompts faculty members such as Aweeka and Arkin to ask “why” and “why not” is key part of the School’s academic mission. He added that a scientific mindset, curiosity, and a willingness to explore the unknown have always characterized the alumni.
Youmans had a chance to discuss some of the School’s plans for pharmacy education at a UCSF-wide Alumni Weekend session titled “Classes Without Quizzes: Emerging and Enduring Trends in Health Professions Education.” She shared the stage with five UCSF health education experts and focused her comments on the need to prepare PharmD students for a world where biomedical information will soon double every six months. “Every drug they (pharmacy students) learn today could change overnight,” she stated while emphasizing the importance of students learning how to think instead of learning how to memorize today’s facts.
With changes in learning come expected new stresses on students, she said. With the anticipated stresses that accompany change, comes a continuing School commitment to student wellbeing, she added. As an example, the School has added a voluntary “Let’s Talk” program with a mental health professional to its resources for student success. And it will also offer resiliency training, the science of using skills like mindfulness and relaxation to effectively deal with stress and adversity whether in or beyond pharmacy school.
A milestone for the class of ’68
The Class of 1968 was honored at the Half Century Club Luncheon, which welcomed all alumni who graduated 50 years ago or earlier. The class graduated at a unique time in the history of the profession, Guglielmo noted, as pharmacists began the transformation from drug experts to experts in the safe and effective use of medications in patients.
Guglielmo inducted the 1968 graduates into the Half Century Club with a certificate and a medal. The graduates remembered tough quizzes, good friends, a student band, and Robert Day, PharmD ’59, a fellow Half Century Club member who was also a beloved professor. Day, who had a long career at the School, was remembered more than once by alumni for his “Christmas Spirits,” a class on elixir preparation that seemed to provide two definitions of the word “spirits.”
A reminder of the power of education
The weekend concluded on a high note at the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association (PAA) gala dinner as Kathleen B. Kennedy, PharmD ’78, dean of the College of Pharmacy, Xavier University of Louisiana, accepted the PAA’s 2018 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award. The award honors alumni who have made “outstanding contributions to the profession of pharmacy, to society, and/or to UCSF.”
Kennedy, who is a national champion of health equity, gave a deeply personal and moving speech recounting her own journey in education, from grade school in the segregated South, to pharmacy school at UCSF. She reminded the audience of the power of pharmacy as a profession and explained how her life was changed through education.
Kennedy has spent her career extending the power of education to others and bringing health care to more people, especially the neglected and underserved.
Joining Kennedy at the gala were friends and colleagues, including her daughter, Dauri Kennedy; LaToya Cantrell, who took office in May as the first African American woman to serve as mayor of New Orleans; and Karen Carter Peterson, a Louisiana state senator.
“My mission,” Kennedy said, “is to get more people, my students in particular, to pay more attention to their breadth of life”—a term quoted from Martin Luther King Jr., which he defined as “outreach, and outward concern for the welfare of others.”
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.