Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Pharmacology is the study of the mechanisms by which drugs alter physiological, biochemical, and cellular activities in living organisms. Toxicology is focused on understanding how chemical and physical agents that we are exposed to in the home, the workplace, or the environment adversely affect human health. There is a constant interchange between these disciplines; as Paracelsus once stated, “All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”
Faculty in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology lead the scientific community in advancing research in these two related disciples and their inter-relationship. Underlying our research is a goal of understanding the interaction between external agents, such as drugs and chemicals, and biological systems, such as the human body. In pursuing this research goal, our faculty capitalize on recent advances in molecular and cellular biology, genomics, structural biology, and chemistry.
Debra Laskin, PhD
Distinguished Professor and Roy A Bowers Endowed Chair
Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Faculty in the department are internationally recognized for their accomplishments in areas of immunotoxicology and inflammation, renal toxicology, wound repair in the skin and cornea, nitric oxide biochemistry, nuclear receptor signaling, drug transport, and heavy metal toxicology. They have active research programs supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling more than $2.5 million; these programs involve multidisciplinary collaborations with investigators at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI), the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and other institutions around the world.
Some notable faculty research advances include:
- elucidating the role of macrophages and inflammatory mediators in tissue injury, with a focus on liver toxicity induced by acetaminophen and lung toxicity induced by inhaled pollutants;
- assessing the role of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species in the regulation of blood flow and the development of diseases such as pulmonary inflammation, sickle cell disease, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia;
- developing medical countermeasures for skin injury caused by chemical weapons such as sulfur mustard;
- evaluating the metabolism and transportation of foreign substances in the kidneys and placenta;
- investigating the regulation of bile acid signaling between the intestines and liver and bile acid toxicity;
- illuminating the role of specialized collagens in the development of the cornea and corneal diseases and injury; and
- assessing the role of heavy metals in causing developmental defects of the brain.
Faculty from our department are core members of the CounterACT Research Center of Excellence, a federally funded initiative to develop medical countermeasures against high-priority chemical weapons. The center, funded with a five-year, $19.2-million grant from the NIH, is a joint effort of Rutgers and RWJMS.
Our faculty members also hold key university positions, including: director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Training Grant in Toxicology, acting director of EOHSI, deputy director of the NIEHS Center for Environmental Exposures and Diseases, deputy director of the CounterACT Research Center of Excellence, and director of the university’s Analytical Cytometry/Image Analysis Core Facility.
The department’s faculty also serve as members or chairs of national and international review committees, meeting organizing committees, and journal editorial boards and hold leadership roles in various scientific societies. A number of departmental faculty have also received awards for their research and service efforts.
Undergraduate and High School Education
The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology is dedicated to teaching PharmD students in the classroom and the laboratory about the molecular mechanisms by which compounds interact with biological systems. In this way students learn how drugs can alleviate or cure diseases, what side effects can result from their usage, and the basis of synergy and antagonism in drug combinations. In addition, students learn how other agents, such as pollutants, can cause harm regardless of when or where we are exposed to them.
The department offers a two-year sequence of basic science courses to pharmacy students, including, in the first professional year, Introduction to Pharmacology and Pathophysiology; and, in the second professional year, a two-semester course series teaching pharmacology on a systems basis. Elective courses are also offered by the department; these include Introduction to Research, Principles of Pharmacy Research, Pharmacogenetics, and Theoretical Pharmacology.
Students can participate in laboratory research training with faculty in the department for elective credit or through two undergraduate research programs at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy: the Research Honors Program and the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program. Through their increasing interest in original research, today’s student pharmacists are taking on significant roles in scientific discovery.
The department also hosts a 1-week course that teaches principles of toxicology to high school students. Students in the Toxicology, Health and Environmental Disease Program participate in laboratory activities, learn about different careers in research and medicine, and develop team building and presentation skills
The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology is home to the Joint Graduate Program in Toxicology, an interdisciplinary program jointly sponsored by Rutgers and EOHSI. Since 1981, more than 125 trainees have earned an MS, a PhD, or both degrees in toxicology within the program. Many postdoctoral fellows have also trained. These graduates now hold prestigious positions in academia, industry, and federal and state government; notable among our graduates is Christopher J. Molloy, PhD, RPh, Vice President for the Office of Research and Economic Development and former dean of the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. The program is supported by a highly prestigious NIEHS training grant.
A new joint PharmD/PhD program, directed by faculty in the department, has been developed for students interested in advanced training in pharmacology and toxicology. This dual-degree program will allow high-achieving students with a strong research interest to enter the toxicology graduate program at the end of their second professional year in the PharmD program, thus completing both degrees in approximately nine years.