Pharmacology anniversary promotes collaboration while highlighting history

(Edmonton) At a pharmacology symposium hosted by the University of Alberta 25 years ago, most attending researchers couldn’t have predicted where their field would be in the next 25 years. Now many of those researchers are back to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Department of Pharmacology and taking the time to reflect on advancements in the field over the last half century.

Edwin Daniel, the first chair of the department, came back to Edmonton as part of the celebration. He was a part of the symposium 25 years ago, and says he has learned so much and given so many talks since then it’s tough to remember exactly what was talked about, but he says the field has come a long way.

“Molecular pharmacology is a big important item,” said Daniel, who retired at the age of 85 last year. “It opens all kinds of new fields because now we can actually look at individual molecules chemically and sometimes even in their native state; structurally we can even label them and follow them. We can do things that were impossible 25 years ago.”

“I think the big change in thinking was the human genome project,” said interim chair of the department Sandy Clanachan. “Genomics held a lot of promise and made people think more details about molecular mechanisms. There’s a lot of hype with genetics and pharmaco-genetics but it hasn’t quite reached its full potential.”

Both men were a part of the department’s 50th anniversary celebrations held Aug. 5 and 6 in the Katz Group Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research.

They had numerous speakers, many of whom were graduates or former faculty from the U of A, including Chris Triggle, who Clanachan says is an international star in the field; Daniel, who is renowned after spending almost 60 years in the field, and Terry Kenakin, who has written numerous textbooks in the field and currently works as a professor at the University of North Carolina.

This type of event is good for the field because it can help foster collaborations, says Clanachan because it brings together researchers from across the world to talk about their individual pharmacology research, which can spark ideas.

“Pharmacology is a relatively small community worldwide,” said Clanachan. “Something like this anniversary celebration brings in people from the United Kingdom, the United States and people from all over Canada,” explaining that attendees from Calgary had raised discussions around collaborations with colleagues who also attended the event.

With the updated technologies in the field, there’s a lot of room for advancement, agree Daniel and Clanachan. Clanachan thinks the big thing will be personalized medicine.

“There’s a lot of buzz about pharmaco-genetics where drugs can be tailored to individual’s genomes,” which is different that the current standard of drug therapy that is based on larger cohort, said Clanachan.

“This time in the pharmacology department is a good time to reflect on past successes,” said Clanachan. “It’s an opportune time for us to look at what we’re doing right now and what our objectives should be in the future.”