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Building a Community of Research

Published on 05 December 2019

St. Louis College of Pharmacy is rapidly transforming into a major research institution. Faculty across the College pursue innovative research projects, both in individual laboratories and through the College’s academic and research centers, and many faculty collaborate with students, introducing them to a variety of projects and methodologies. New student programs are providing even more opportunities for students to gain real-world experience, which gives them a competitive edge in the job market.

In February 2018, the College welcomed Tom Burris, Ph.D., FAAAS, FAHA, as Alumni Chair in Pharmaceutical Education and vice president for research. With his extensive background in research and leadership in industry and academia, Burris’ appointment marked a pivotal moment in the College’s efforts to advance its research agenda. Today, laboratories across campus are teeming with activity, leading to new discoveries.

“My vision for the College is to become one of the top 20 colleges of pharmacy in terms of research funding,” Burris said. “A few years ago, we were in the top 80, and by next year, we’ll be in the top 30. We’re working to develop a prestigious reputation for research and drug discovery that will benefit our current students, faculty and alumni.”

Research rankings are based on extramural funding, which has greatly increased since Burris arrived. At that time, the College was receiving approximately $300,000 annually in research grants, and Burris brought another $2.3 million with him to finance groundbreaking research at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology. Today, the College as a whole receives $3.7 million in annual funding through granting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Defense.

In spring 2019, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy released its “Annual Funded Research Grant Institutional Rankings” report for the 2017-18 fiscal year, ranking the College among the top 50 colleges of pharmacy in the country for total federal research awards.

In the Center for Clinical Pharmacology, the dramatic increase in funding sponsors state-of-the-art projects in the areas of metabolic diseases and opioid addiction. Researchers in the center, who hold faculty appointments at both the College and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, are developing innovative collaborations to explore new approaches to the treatment of pain and diseases that deliver precision therapeutics with reduced side effects. They are also working on treatments that tackle multiple diseases at once by focusing on a common cause, such as inflammation or obesity.

Burris’ team, for example, is developing treatments for metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis and fatty liver disease. College faculty Bahaa El-Gendy, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicinal chemistry, and Kristine Griffett, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology, are focused on creating treatments that target these and other diseases related to inflammation.

Also working in the center are College faculty Ream Al-Hasani, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical science, and Susruta Majumdar, Ph.D., associate professor of medicinal chemistry. Al-Hasani and Majumdar are collaborating with Jordan McCall, Ph.D., assistant professor at the School of Medicine, to tackle the problem of opioid addiction from multiple angles.

“The center is our starting point to get momentum, create infrastructure and build a community of research across the College,” Burris explained. “As we grow, we’ll see more high-caliber, high-impact research being conducted across the institution. I see us becoming a community where we can build expertise and become competitive in developing innovative research in diverse areas of inquiry.”

The College’s focus on research also is expanding opportunities for students. Through its Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, the College is pairing elite research experience with financial aid support for students selected through a competitive process. By providing hands-on research opportunities, the program is helping the College recruit high-caliber students looking for laboratory experiences.

Across campus, students have opportunities to work on faculty-led research, and students interested in an immersive experience may pursue the Summer Research Scholars Program sponsored by the Center for Clinical Pharmacology. Through the summer experience, students can live on campus and conduct research full time.

“We’re training the next generation of scientists,” Burris stated. “Students have the opportunity to see what state-of-the-art science really looks like and learn from faculty who are at the leading edge of their fields. Working with faculty at the College or in one of our centers, students can develop real-world skills they will carry into their careers.”

To learn more about research at the College, visit stlcop.edu/research.

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