Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences program designated as one of the best national programs

The Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences (MSPS) program in the College of Pharmacy has been recognized as a top national program and “hidden gem” at the MS level, according to an external peer review.

As part of Western University of Health Sciences’ review process, the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (IRE) selected a pool of reviewers and oversaw the review process for the MSPS program.

From left: (1) Nicole Hensch worked with Dr. Fadi Khasawneh researching platelet interactions in the cardiovascular pharmacology-based lab. (2) Osman Farhad is studying neuropharmacology in Dr. Kabir Lutfy’s lab, researching drug addiction and how it impacts the brain using animal models. (3) Mindy Kha from Dr. Stephen O’Barr’s lab analyzes the possible role of the a7 nAChR-mediated cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway (CAP) in modulating the immune response of a cardiac event. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

The team identified the MSPS program as successful, well established, and a leader in its field. Faculty were well qualified and committed to students’ success. The program recruits high potential, diverse students through a personalized admissions process that provides high-quality career outcomes for graduates, a large percentage of whom enter a doctoral program or the pharmacy industry, according to the academic program review.

External review team members were led by Chair Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, RPh, MAPP, PhD, Director of Programming in Faculty Affairs, Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, University of Georgia; Stephen C. Bondy, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine; and Ian S. Haworth, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of Assessment, School of Pharmacy, University of Southern California.

Shane Anderson works in Dr. Bradley Andresen’s lab doing research in a molecular pharmacology-based lab, studying structure-function relationships of angiotensin receptor blocker resistance for the Angiontensin Type 1 Receptor in cardiovascular diseases. Sherry Liang works in Dr. Ying Huang’s lab, researching the molecular mechanisms of the β-adrenergic receptor antagonist, carvedilol, and its effects on the prevention of UVB induced skin carcinogenesis.

“The review team highlighted the diversity of research, instruction, and the high level of financial support given to graduate students,” said Stephen O’Barr, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair for the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Our program’s diversity of instruction and research opportunities, along with significant financial support for teaching assistantships, tuition waivers and student research supplies and travel, is unique among Master of Science programs.

"Being able to offer $40,000 of annual financial support to each of the 16 full-time students is why the review team called the program ‘most impressive.’”

First-year MSPS student Jaaziel Castro, a Pomona native, said the tuition waiver and TA stipend, along with its location, are huge perks to being an MSPS student.

Jaaziel Castro works in Dr. Kabir Lutfy’s lab researching the role of PACAP in nicotine addiction.

“Essentially, it comes down to a free education, you get trained, and you’re able to move on from there to a career in government work, private industry or continue on to higher education,” Castro said. “This program is special — it’s a very intimate program, allowing students to have close connections to their faculty advisor, as well as other faculty. This leads to amazing latitude to grow, expanding our knowledge base and technique base.”

As TAs, graduate students in the MSPS program help College of Pharmacy faculty run the curriculum for the PharmD students, providing instruction for the laboratory and compounding lab. They also help grade exams, quizzes, and lab reports, and provide proctoring during exams.

From left: Charles Zhang works in Dr. Peter Oelschlaeger’s lab and the research focuses on bacterial mechanisms for antibiotic resistance. Qin Qin Fei works in Dr. Maria Lambros’ lab researching drug delivery using liposomes as carriers, targeting pancreatic cancer cells which is characterized by its extreme aggressiveness leading to metastasis. Priyanka Kunamaneni works in Dr. Guru Betageri’s lab and their research focuses on novel formulation development of various drug molecules to augment their oral bioavailability.

The ratio of faculty to students is nearly 1:1, with a diverse student population, said Jeffrey Wang, PhD, Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of Graduate Education. Wang supervises the program and coordinates recruitment, admissions, curriculum improvement, and program assessment.

“The program has no difficulty recruiting high-potential, highly diverse students through a personalized admissions process,” according to the External Review Report. “This is time-consuming, but seems to save time in the long term by recruiting students who are well matched to the research environment and the labs. The students in the MSPS program are eloquent and strongly motivated. The student body is very diverse and has a sufficiency of minority and women students.”

Dr. Wang said student and faculty interaction begins early during the admission process, when a student comes for an interview. He or she interviews with all of the faculty who will be taking on new students, and each faculty member interviews available students. A match is finalized during this process.

Felicia Onyeabor works in Dr. Jeffrey Wang’s lab doing research on using nanotechnology for improving drug delivery. Her lab is working on the combination of traditional Chinese herbal compounds triptolide and celastrol loaded silk fibroin nanoparticles to treat pancreatic cancer.

The report also praised the program’s low attrition rate for students and faculty, reflecting an overall supportive environment; excellence and support from administrative staff; solid funding; and research output that is at the highest level achievable in a two-year program.

The MSPS program was established in 2003 to train the next generation of pharmaceutical scientists with a mission statement to “produce scientists who receive extensive training in pharmaceutical sciences with the aim of discovering and advancing scientific knowledge that will lead to improving human health and quality of life.”

Students have a strong science background with an interest in furthering their careers in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry, private or public academic research, or government research. Many students go on to get their PhD or professional degree.

Buyuan He works in Dr. David Sanchez’s lab studying immune responses to a virus, focusing on pathways that KSHV virus block the innate immune system. Jae Kyung Yeon works in Dr. Bradley Andresen’s lab doing research in a molecular pharmacology-based lab, studying structure-function relationships of angiotensin receptor blocker resistance for the Angiontensin Type 1 Receptor in cardiovascular diseases.

Research fields include cardiovascular pharmacology, computer-aided drug design, immunology, microbiology, neuroscience and neuropharmacology, pharmaceutical formulation and drug delivery, pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenomics, toxicology, and virology.

“This program is a hidden gem because it’s well-funded and our graduates have been successful in getting jobs or going to PhD or professional programs,” Wang said. “To date, the program has graduated 55 students with the MSPS degree, and based on a 2014 alumni survey, the average salary was $74,000.”
Payal Chatterjee works in Dr. Lyna Luo’s lab. She utilizes modern tools of Computational Chemistry to study proteins such as Kinases, Proteases and channel proteins. Quang Ly works in Dr. Sunil Prabhu’s lab. The lab focuses on preclinical development of novel nanotechnology-based orally administered drug delivery systems for the chemoprevention of digestive cancers.

College of Pharmacy Dean Daniel Robinson, PharmD, said he is proud of the MSPS program and the strong commitment to high-quality education and training provided by its faculty.

“We are very pleased with the findings of the external review team. However, we are anxious to turn our ‘hidden gem’ into a paragon for master’s level pharmaceutical sciences training,” Robinson said. “I believe with the program’s success, this is quite achievable.”

Credits:

Jeff Malet, @WesternUNews

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