Where in the World Is Pharmacology Headed?

(And Where in the World Is It Coming From?)

As pharmacology continues to carry out and re-consolidate its mission, taking into account both established and novel approaches to research, open communication among pharmacologists has become more crucial than ever. And pharmacologists have more than ever to say! This philosophy was certainly the major impetus when the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) initiated, just over a year ago, the publication you are now reading. molecular interventions is committed to exploring pharmacological perspectives of biomedicine and all its many important subdisciplines. This philosophy is also why molecular interventions is proud to take part in the Fourteenth World Congress of Pharmacology (July 7–12, San Francisco), sponsored by ASPET and IUPHAR.

In July 2002, the answer to the question “Where is pharmacology headed?” is, resoundingly: The World Congress in San Francisco! And to the question as to where Pharmacology is coming from: Everywhere! Not only in terms of geography, but also in terms of science. The Fourteenth World Congress offers a wonderful venue for pharmacologists to experience and share the exhilaration and pride that continue to typify the breadth of their discipline. This expressly international forum occurs only once every four years, and is taking place in the US for the first time in thirty years.

What to look for at The World Congress—A Venue for Pharmacology Now

A unique feature of international pharmacology congresses is the inclusion of sessions on topics not usually found within the program of a single biomedical meeting. Several such sessions are a part of the Fourteenth World Congress of Pharmacology in San Francisco.

  • Malaria affects almost ten percent of the world’s population and causes more than a million deaths per year. While mosquito-transmitted malaria is rare in North America and Europe, its prevalence is increasing in tropical areas, primarily due to increasing resistance to the pharmacological agents used to treat the disease and to the insecticides used to kill the vector. A vaccine against malaria has been the holy grail for scientists for many years, but the ability of the parasites to hide from the immune system has made this search difficult. The recent sequencing of the plasmodium genome now provides an opportunity not only for vaccine development but also for the identification of new pharmacological targets. Dr. Wilbur Milhous (Walter Reed Army Medical Institute) and Dr. Ayoade Oduola (World Health Organization) will be chairing a symposium on Tuesday afternoon, July 9, entitled, “New Approaches to the Treatment of Malaria.” This session will cover the mechanisms underlying drug resistance, new drug treatments under development, and the potential for using the genomic information of the parasite and its hosts to develop new treatments and preventions.

  • Pharmacology has its roots in medicinal plants. Some of the earliest drugs were plant extracts and, to this day, drugs such as digitalis, quinine, and morphine are closely identified with their natural plant sources. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in identifying drug candidates from plants, not only because of the increased interest in herbal medicine, but because it has become apparent that there frequently is a pharmacological basis for cures handed down as old wives’ tales. Professor Vernon Heywood (Reading, UK; President of the International Council for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants) will be chairing a session on Thursday morning, July 11, entitled, “From Biodiversity to New Drugs: Potential and Problems.” This session will provide an overview of the diversity and distribution of medicinal plants, the intellectual property issues involved in bioprospecting, and the role of indigenous knowledge in identifying pharmacological candidates. Both the problems and some solutions for conservation and sustainable use, ranging from botanic gardens to gene banks and plant genetics, will be explored. Speakers will also address some of the issues involved in quality control of phytopharmaceuticals.

  • A related session, “Pharmacology of Natural Products,” chaired by Dr. Ryan Huxtable (Tucson, Arizona) will explore the role of ethnopharmacology in identifying potential drug agents. This symposium will also focus on a sample strategy for developing new drugs from natural products, with several specific examples of natural product development, including niprisan for the prophylactic management of sickle cell anemia and ganoderma lucidum polysaccaribe B as an antitumor agent. Presented by speakers from Nigeria, China, India, and Hawaii, this session truly captures the international essence of natural product pharmacology and its roots in ethnopharmacology. Dr. Huxtable will not only give a historical overview of the field, but will provide a summation of both the great promise and peril in this area.

  • The recent outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad Cow Disease) in Great Britain brought the class of agents called prions to the public’s attention. Spongiform encephalopathies caused by prions include not only mad cow disease, but also scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in mule deer and elk, and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, fatal familial insomnia, and Kuru in humans. Recently identified cases of variant Creutzfeld-Jacob disease implicate the transmission of prions from cattle to humans by consumption of infected beef. However, there may also be an autosomal dominant genetic component to spongiform encephalopathy that further complicates matters. The apparent role of protein mis-folding in the prion diseases suggests a possible relationship to other major neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. On Wednesday, July 10, Fred Cohen (San Francisco) and Dr. John Collinge (London, UK) will chair a session on “Therapeutic Approaches to Prion Diseases.” Leading researchers from the UK, France, Switzerland, and the US will discuss strategies for disabling this novel infectious agent.

  • “Analgesic and Gastrointestinal Pharmacology of Opioids” will be held on Monday afternoon, July 8. This symposium is in memory of Thomas F. Burks, President of the Fourteenth World Congress of Pharmacology, from its inception as a bid to IUPHAR in 1994 until his untimely death in 2001. Speakers in this session, former colleagues and students of Dr. Burks, will cover the latest research in the area where Dr. Burks made his mark, with particular emphasis on pain therapy and gastrointestinal disorders. Colleagues from the Universities of Texas and Arizona will address Dr. Burks’ impact in teaching and administration, as well as his impact on the discipline of pharmacology itself.

  • Rapid advances in knowledge of the human genome and the genomes of other species since the last IUPHAR Congress in 1998 are reflected in the plenary lectures (including Claire Fraser’s lecture, “Microbial Genome Sequencing: Insights into Physiology and Evolution”), in many of the symposia (e.g., “Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in Drug Metabolism,” “Cardiovascular Functional Genomics,” “Rat Genetics and Genomics,” and “Genetic and Other Determinants of Vascular Responses”), and several workshops (e.g., “Receptor Classification in the Postgenomic Era” and “Alliance for Cell Signaling”).

  • Among many outstanding plenary lectures, the Second IUPHAR Lecture in Analytical Pharmacology will be given by David Colquhoun (University College, London, UK), entitled “Binding, Gating, Affinity, and Efficacy: The Effects of Changing Structure of the Agonist or the Receptor,” a topic of fundamental importance to all areas of pharmacology.

  • Other sessions over the course of the four-and-a-half days will look at new developments in antiviral research, pharmacological interventions in ovarian function, new approaches to the treatment of asthma, and the newly developing field of pharmacological strategies for the treatment of obesity. A total of fifty-one symposia and workshops will be presented in cardiovascular pharmacology, clinical pharmacology, behavioral and neuropharmacology, toxicology, drug metabolism, and molecular and cellular pharmacology. In addition, plenary lectures by eighteen of the world’s foremost researchers in these areas will lead off each morning and afternoon.

Welcome to a World of Pharmacology…

Whether you typically refer to yourself as a physiologist, geneticist, or biochemist or some other biomedical moniker, we are sure that you will find your interests served well at the Fourteenth World Congress. We also hope that you will find molecular interventions to be a publication that will sustain your interests throughout the course of the year—and years to come. Pharmacology continues to be a vibrant, interdisciplinary current that runs the gamut of biomedicine. Who knows?—in time, you may even join the ranks of biomedical specialists who proudly call themselves pharmacologists!

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