UM Enrollment Tops 23,000 Students for Fall Semester

State's flagship university sees improvement in freshman ACT scores, GPAs

Students gather for class outside of Holman and Connor Halls.

Students take advantage of beautiful weather by gathering for class outside Holman and Conner halls.

OXFORD, Miss. – Enrollment at the University of Mississippi surged this fall for the 20th consecutive year, making history with more than 23,000 students across all its campuses for the first time.

Preliminary enrollment figures show a total unduplicated headcount of 23,096, largest in the state. That’s up 805 students from last fall, or 3.6 percent. The figures include the largest freshman class ever for any Mississippi university, a class that sports the highest ACT scores and high school GPAs in Ole Miss history.

“We are very pleased that students and families across Mississippi and throughout America continue to recognize the quality education and outstanding college experience we offer at the University of Mississippi, all at a very competitive price,” Chancellor Dan Jones said. “Our faculty and staff work very hard to deliver the very best academic programs for students, and it’s truly rewarding to see those efforts being acknowledged with extraordinary interest in attending our university.”

The incoming freshman class swelled to 3,814 this fall, up 6.5 percent from 3,582 last year. Student retention also remains near record levels, with preliminary reports showing 84.6 percent of last year’s freshmen have returned to campus this fall, the second-highest retention rate in school history.

“While we’re very happy with the endorsement of so many new freshmen this fall, we’re particularly pleased with the success of the first-year programs we have in place to help freshmen adjust to the rigors of a world-class university,” Jones said. “Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college, so we try to give them all the tools they need to be successful during their time on campus and then as they launch their careers.”

Nearly two-thirds, 61.2 percent, of Ole Miss students are from Mississippi, including students from all the state’s 82 counties. The university also attracts students from across the nation and world. Overall, the student body includes representatives from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 92 foreign countries.

Ole Miss By the Numbers.

Ole Miss by the Numbers.

This year’s freshmen are better prepared for college course work, with an average ACT score of 24.3, compared to an average of 24.1 last fall. Their high school GPA increased too, from 3.46 to 3.49. Both measures have increased every year since 2010.

This year’s freshman class includes 57 class valedictorians, 52 salutatorians, 73 student body presidents, 83 Eagle Scouts and 10 Girl Scouts who achieved the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting.

“Student leaders are an important component of our campus community,” said Morris Stocks, UM provost. “The University of Mississippi has a long history of attracting top students with demonstrated leadership skills. We have the wonderful opportunity to provide a leadership training ground and to influence these young people for a short but important period of time. We are thrilled that this freshman class is filled with future leaders.”

Minority enrollment totaled 5,488 students, or 23.8 percent. African-American enrollment is 3,285 students, or 14.2 percent of overall enrollment.

The student body also is diverse in age and national origin, ranging from four 15-year-old students to an 87-year-old pursuing a bachelor’s degree in French. Two of the 15-year-olds are dually enrolled at Oxford High School and the university. One of the other students, from Vietnam, has not declared a major, and the other is an international studies major from Lee County. The youngest graduate student is an 18-year-old from China who is pursuing a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences.

The university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College continues to expand, enrolling 1,210 students this fall, a more than 15 percent increase since fall 2012. The acclaimed Honors College has a record 373 incoming freshmen, with 54 percent being Mississippi residents. This fall’s honors freshmen have an average ACT of 30.2 and an average high school GPA of 3.93. The college’s facility on Sorority Row is undergoing a major expansion and renovation to accommodate its larger student body.

The university’s undergraduate schools of Accountancy, Engineering, Nursing, and Journalism and New Media all enjoyed double-digit growth. The number of undergraduate students in accountancy hit a record of 962, up from 869 last fall, and enrollment in the School of Journalism and New Media topped 1,000 for the first time – 1,044 this fall, compared to 886 last year.

Students travel across campus in between classes.

Students travel across campus between classes.

In the School of Nursing, based on UM’s Medical Center campus in Jackson, enrollment is up by 18.4 percent this fall, from 685 to 811 students. That follows a 28 percent spike last year. The dramatic growth reflects the school’s emphasis on lifelong learning, from the undergraduate level through its doctoral programs, said Marcia Rachel, the school’s associate dean for academics.

“Faculty members in the School of Nursing have worked hard to make sure all programs are current and relevant, and that the classroom and clinical experiences are distinctive, dynamic and engaging,” Rachel said. “We have excellent pass rates on national licensure and certification exams, and our reputation in the community is solid.

“In short, we are committed to our mission – to develop nurse leaders and improve health through excellence in education, research, practice and service.”

After seven consecutive years of growth, the UM School of Engineering ranks as one of the nation’s fastest growing. The undergraduate enrollment, which topped 1,000 for the first time in 2012, is 1,419 this fall, up from 1,285 last year.

“The UM School of Engineering has always been somewhat of a hidden treasure with small classes and personable faculty,” said Alex Cheng, the school’s dean. “But lately, more and more students from across the country and around the world are discovering just what we have to offer: a first-rate engineering education with the added liberal arts element, preparing our students for leadership positions in their careers.”

The numbers of students majoring in mechanical engineering, geology and geological engineering, and chemical engineering have more than doubled in the past five years. During that time, the school renovated many classrooms and laboratories, and moved its administrative offices into the renovated Brevard Hall. The university also added the Center for Manufacturing Excellence to complement and enhance existing engineering programs.

Another area experiencing rapid growth is the university’s professional pharmacy program, which leads to a Pharm.D. degree and professional certification. The number of students pursuing their Pharm.D. after earning a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences grew from 232 in 2013 to 290 this fall.

“The growth in our professional program is directly related to the quality pharmacy education that we provide,” pharmacy Dean David D. Allen said. “We’re proud of our program’s accessibility and affordability for both Mississippi students and out-of-state students. Not only do we have a tuition ranked in the country’s lowest 20 percent, but our graduates also have top scores for the national pharmacy licensure exam. I think students are additionally encouraged by our high job placement rate. Nearly 100 percent of our graduates are employed by the time they receive their degrees.”

To help accommodate the growing student population, the university has opened Rebel Market, a totally new dining facility in Johnson Commons, replacing the old cafeteria, as well as several satellite eateries across campus. Construction began this summer on a new residence hall in the Northgate area of campus, and Guess Hall is slated to be demolished soon to make way for two new five-story residence halls on that site.

Construction is continuing on a new facility for the School of Medicine, which will allow the university to increase class sizes, helping train more physicians to serve the state’s health care needs. A major expansion is underway at Coulter Hall, home of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and a new water tower is nearly complete near Kinard Hall. Work to renovate and modernize locker rooms and other fitness facilities at the Turner Center should wrap up by the end of the fall semester. Also, a three-year project will begin soon to expand and modernize the Student Union.

For more information on enrollment and programs at UM, go to http://www.olemiss.edu.

Incoming Pharmacy Students Honored at White Coat Ceremony

Students recite Pledge of Professionalism at event

Dean David D. Allen congratulates Suman Ali on receiving her white coat at the Aug. 15 ceremony.

Dean David D. Allen congratulates Suman Ali on receiving her white coat at the Aug. 15 ceremony.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s Class of 2018 participated in the school’s White Coat Ceremony Aug. 15 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The annual ceremony marks the students’ completion of their pre-pharmacy curriculum and entry into the professional program. The school has 120 first-professional-year students enrolled this fall.

“It is an honor to participate in our White Coat Ceremony,” said David D. Allen, the school’s dean. “The event allows us to recognize our students’ commitment to professionalism and, in turn, recognize the commitment that the School of Pharmacy has to provide an innovative and quality education.”

Provost Morris Stocks delivered the ceremony’s keynote address.

“The White Coat Ceremony symbolizes the transition from pre-clinical to clinical education, but it also symbolizes much more,” Stocks told the students. “The bestowing of the white coat will serve as a reminder to you of the expectations that society has placed upon you. More specifically, it will serve as a reminder that you are embarking on a journey, and you are becoming a member of a profession that society holds to a high standard of trust and responsibility.”

Laurie Warrington Fleming, immediate past-president of the Mississippi Society of Health-System Pharmacists and clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, led the students in taking the Pledge of Professionalism. Leigh Ann Ross, the school’s associate dean for clinical affairs, presented each student with a copy of the pledge, which they each signed during the ceremony.

Allen and pharmacy student body president-elect Stephanie Sollis presented the coats. She urged her new classmates to be dedicated in all aspects of their education.

“You have all been dedicated in your studies by making it this far,” said Sollis, a native of Corning, Arkansas. “May the white coat remind you to continue that diligence in your studies to become the best pharmacists in the world. May the white coat also remind you to remain dedicated to the field of pharmacy. Strive to promote pharmacy, remain open to change and be willing to work to improve the profession.”

Stocks concluded by asking students to wear their white coats with “honor and humility,” while ensuring that the profession remains highly trusted by society.

For a list of the students (and their hometowns) who received their white coats, visit http://www.pharmacy.olemiss.edu/studentaffairs/whitecoat.html.

Medicinal Plants Topic for August Science Café

Director of National Center for Natural Products Research is inaugural fall speaker

The August Science Cafe will take place on August

The August Science Cafe is set for Aug. 19.

OXFORD, Miss. – The use of medicinal plants in disease treatment is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the UM Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The fall semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Café is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 19 at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 West Jackson Ave. Larry Walker, director of the National Center for Natural Products Research at UM, will discuss “Plants as Medicines: New Insights for Old Remedies.” Admission is free.

“Medicinal plants have been staples in most human societies for all of recorded civilization,” Walker said. “Plants and plant-derived preparations shaped the medical pharmacopeias of Indian, Chinese, Arabic, native Americans and many other ancient cultures.”

Walker’s 30-minute presentation will review how 19th and 20th century experimental pharmacology has evolved in the 21st century.

“Pharmacology was largely based on observations of the effects, often toxicity, of plant-derived alkaloids,” he said. “Our constructs of the sympathetic nervous system, neuromuscular transmission, pain pathways and cardiac contractile mechanisms, among many others, were developed in this way. In the post-genome era, a number of exciting developments, new therapeutics are being developed based on plant-derived products.

“Understanding these elegant and complex pathways and their modulation by natural products holds rich promise for the future.”

Walker earned his bachelor’s degree from Oglethorpe University, a degree in pharmacy from Mercer University and a doctorate from Vanderbilt University. His other UM appointments include research professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and professor of pharmacology. He is also associate director for basic sciences at the Oxford campus of the UM Medical Center Cancer Institute.

Walker’s research interests include renal and cardiovascular pharmacology, drug discovery techniques for natural products and evaluation of the safety and efficacy of medicinal plants.

For more information about Oxford Science Café programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-5311.

Pharmacy Practice Professors Named ASHP Fellows

Designation recognizes excellence in pharmacy practice

OXFORD, Miss. – Two Mississippi pharmacists were named fellows of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists this summer.

Kristopher Harrell, director of experiential affairs at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, and Wesley Pitts, clinical pharmacy manager at North Mississippi Medical Center and clinical assistant professor at the pharmacy school, were presented with the title at the ASHP Summer Meeting and Exhibition in Las Vegas.

ASHP recognized 32 fellows this year. The designation is given in recognition of excellence in pharmacy practice.

“I am sincerely humbled and honored to be selected as a fellow and recognized nationally for my contributions to health-system pharmacy,” Harrell said. “It was even more special because I received the recognition during the same year as another faculty member.”

Harrell received his Pharm.D. in 1998 from the UM School of Pharmacy. He has served numerous roles in health-system pharmacy, from practicing in ambulatory care to serving as president of the Mississippi Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

“Of all of my experiences, though, I am proudest of my role as an educator,” Harrell said. “I have been an ambulatory care preceptor of students and residents, and I have been the pharmacy school’s experiential education director for the past seven years. I have mentored students and residents who have gone on to become excellent practitioners, faculty members and leaders all over the nation.

“Just as I was fortunate to have a preceptor who introduced me to the world of health-system pharmacy and led me to a fulfilling career in ambulatory care and academia, I hope to continue to do the same for others for many years to come.”

Pitts graduated from the UM School of Pharmacy in 2000 and joined NMMC’s pharmacy department immediately after receiving his PharmD. He has served as a clinical assistant professor for the UM pharmacy school since 2001.

“It is truly an honor and humbling to be recognized by my peers for sustained practice excellence,” Pitts said. “I count it a blessing and am excited to get to do what I do every day for our patients and our profession.”

Pitts has contributed to the advancement of pharmacy practice in numerous ways; some of those include sharing best practices through networking with and educating other pharmacy professionals.

“I have found it very rewarding to volunteer and get involved with professional associations on the state and national level to help promote the profession of pharmacy and to be a preceptor to pharmacy students and pharmacy residents,” he said. “Being an advocate for pharmacy as it relates to public policy has also been passion of mine.”

Leigh Ann Ross, the UM pharmacy school’s associate dean for clinical affairs and chair of pharmacy practice who became an ASHP fellow in 2012, congratulated the two new fellows.

“Dr. Harrell and Dr. Pitts are very deserving of this recognition,” Ross said. “Both have provided outstanding service for patients through their clinical practices, for pharmacy students and residents through educational opportunities and mentorship, and for the profession of pharmacy through leadership in state and national organizations.

“Many individuals work hard every day to improve health care for patients, and it is rewarding for two of our Mississippi pharmacists to be recognized for their accomplishments in this regard.”

Pitts and Harrell join a number of other Mississippi ASHP fellows, including David D. Allen, Phil Ayers, Kristie M. Gholson, Harold J. Kornfuhrer, Dianna H. McGowan, Sara L. Noble, Thomas R. Brown, H. Joseph Byrd and Barbara G. Wells.

Pharmacy Residency Program Graduates Fifth Class

Program emphasizes patient care, teaching and research skills

Lauren Freeman (left), Liz Cannon and Erin Latendresse

Lauren Freeman (left), Liz Cannon and Erin Latendresse

OXFORD, Miss. – Elizabeth Cannon, Lauren Freeman and Erin Latendresse are the most recent graduates of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s Community Pharmacy Residency program.

The graduates completed their year of postgraduate residency training in June and received certificates of program completion.

Created six years ago, the Community Pharmacy Residency program provides Doctor of Pharmacy graduates with the knowledge and skills to become competent practitioners in community and academic settings. The program provides opportunities to implement patient-care services and to develop research and teaching skills.

“I was drawn to the residency due to my areas of clinical interest, which include diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia,” said Cannon, who earned her Pharm.D. at UM in 2013. “I was able to gain ample experience in the management of these disease states in multiple health care settings throughout the year.”

Helping a diabetic patient was one of Cannon’s most memorable experiences as a resident.

“He was one of my first ‘new-to-service’ patients as a resident,” she said. “After our first meeting, Dr. Laurie Warrington Fleming (residency preceptor) and I enrolled him in a diabetes education course taught by dietitians, physicians and pharmacists. In December, he had greatly improved and almost reached his targeted diabetes goals.

“Interventions like these remind me of my ultimate career goals and why I wanted to initially go into health care.”

After graduation, Cannon plans to begin a postgraduate year-two residency in ambulatory care with Kaiser Permanente in Denver, Colorado.

Freeman, another 2013 Pharm.D. graduate, completed her residency at Funderburk’s Pharmacy in Hernando.

“My residency experience helped me increase my confidence as a new pharmacy practitioner and grow tremendously professionally,” Freeman said. “I learned the importance of communication and teamwork when implementing new pharmacy services.”

During her time at Funderburk’s, she worked on the pharmacy’s medication synchronization process, expanded its immunization program, marketed services to schools and businesses, and collaborated with the Mississippi State Department of Health to expand the Vaccines for Children program.

“As a resident, I was highly involved in many facets of academia that included both didactic and experiential teaching and participation in various committees,” she said. “I organized and led community service events involving student pharmacists, which included health screenings and immunization clinics.”

As a pharmacist for Funderburk’s and Walmart, Freeman plans to pursue certification in ambulatory care from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties and serve as a pharmacy preceptor. Her long-term goal, however, is to be involved in education.

Erin Latendresse, a 2013 Pharm.D. graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy, said she enjoyed the patient interactions she encountered during her residency.

“It has been a rewarding experience to know I had an impact on patients’ lives,” she said.

Latendresse was involved in a variety of projects during her tenure as a resident.

“In the community and ambulatory settings, I served as a member of interdisciplinary health care teams and participated in the collaborative management of multiple chronic disease states by recommending initial pharmacotherapy, identifying therapeutic goals, modifying current medication regimens and providing medication therapy management services,” she said. “Affiliated with a prestigious school of pharmacy, I had ample opportunity to develop as an academician as well.”

Latendresse is completing a postgraduate year-two residency in ambulatory care with an academic emphasis at the UT College of Pharmacy. She eventually hopes to work at an ambulatory care practice site that is affiliated with a pharmacy school.

Three new residents recently began their tenure in the Community Pharmacy Residency program. They are Josh TerKeurst (PharmD 14), Jeanna Sewell, a 2014 Auburn University Pharm.D. graduate, and Frank Yu, a 2014 University of Tennessee Pharm.D. graduate.

Natural Products Center Hosts Joint Pharmacognosy, Botanicals Events

Event to bring largest crowd in Oxford Conference Center history

Guests check in at the ICSB regulatory meeting held at the Oxford Conference Center in April.

Guests check in at the ICSB regulatory meeting held at the Oxford Conference Center in April.

OXFORD, Miss. – Nearly 500 scientists from around the world will travel to Oxford this weekend to attend the joint American Society of Pharmacognosy Annual Meeting and International Conference on the Science of Botanicals.

“The 55th annual ASP meeting will showcase a number of disciplines relating to natural medicines, including the discovery, characterization, synthesis, biosynthesis and mechanism (of action) of natural product chemicals with druglike properties from a diversity of natural resources, including plant botanicals, which is the focus of ICSB,” said Bradley S. Moore, ASP president. “By joining these conferences, we hope to synergize these two natural product communities that naturally overlap and foster new research opportunities.”

Hosted by the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s National Center for Natural Products Research, the Aug. 2-6 conferences will be held at the Oxford Conference Center. Hollis Green, the conference center’s general manager, said the event will be the venue’s largest.

“We are delighted to host this joint conference,” Green said. “I speak for the city of Oxford when I say that the number of people being brought in will certainly impact our tourism taxes. It’s exactly the type of event (for which) this facility was built.”

Ikhlas Khan, NCNPR assistant director, is looking forward to the event.

“This is our third opportunity to gather scientists from the U.S. and abroad to share their discoveries and new challenges,” Khan said. “The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Contribution of Natural Products to Human Health, Agriculture and the Environment.’ We will have prominent speakers from each respective field who will discuss past achievements and where we should go from here.”

Khan hopes that visitors will enjoy the conference while learning more about the university and pharmacy school.

“This event will have a major impact,” he said. “Our school is renowned in natural products research, and this is an opportunity to show off our facilities and the kinds of research we can do here. Additionally, our campus is beautiful, and people who visit always talk very positively about their experience.”

To register for the event or for more information, visit http://asp2014.org/.

Valentines Provide Unrestricted Gift to Pharmacy School

Funds designated for skills laboratory renovation

OXFORD, Miss. – Jimmie and Carrie Valentine of Ocean Springs have pledged $25,000 in unrestricted funds to the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.

“My wife and I are at a position in life where we wanted to share our financial blessings with the school that gave me an opportunity to acquire the necessary skills to have an exciting career in science,” said Jimmie Valentine, who graduated in 1968 with a doctoral degree in medicinal chemistry.

During Valentine’s tenure at the pharmacy school, he formed strong friendships with faculty and students.

“My late wife, Clarene Valentine, was a research assistant to the late dean Charles Hartman during our graduate days at Ole Miss,” he said. “At that time, there were about 25 graduate students in medicinal chemistry, and we all became great friends and shared many fun times together. Many of those graduate students went on to academic positions all over the United States, as well as key positions in various pharmaceutical companies. We all were well prepared for the positions by the outstanding education and mentoring we received.”

Valentine, who retired in 2008 from the University of Arkansas as professor of pediatrics, pharmacology and myeloma research, is a medical pharmacology and toxicology consultant. He and his wife, Carrie, had a strong desire to spend their retirement years in Mississippi.

“We selected Ocean Springs for our home and have loved the almost five years we have been there,” he said. “There is a strong group of Ole Miss alumni on the coast, and both the chancellor (Dan Jones) and Dean (David D.) Allen make regular trips to visit these alums. In fact, we first met Dean Allen at a noontime luncheon in Pascagoula. We immediately felt a kinship with him and have enjoyed our visits when he comes to the coast.”

Likewise, Allen has enjoyed getting to know the Valentines.

“In addition to being delightful individuals, they are so passionate about helping our school in any way possible,” Allen said. “We are very thankful for their support.”

The Valentines’ gift has been designated to support renovation of the school’s skills laboratory, which will be in use this fall.

“We wanted Dean Allen to have the flexibility to use the funds as he deemed appropriate,” Jimmie Valentine said. “We know the skills-lab renovation has been a project that he saw as being extremely important to the student body. So we are happy if our giving has helped that effort.”

Raina McClure, pharmacy’s development director, emphasized the need for unrestricted gifts.

“Unrestricted gifts are so incredibly important,” McClure said. “These funds are allocated for the most important projects that the pharmacy school is undertaking at the time. We are extremely thankful for the Valentines’ generosity.”

To learn more about ways to support the pharmacy school, contact McClure at 662-915-6967 or rmcclure@olemiss.edu.

Research Program Has Staying Power

UM search for antifungal antibiotics marks 30th year

Alice Clark prepares for a lab experiment (circa 1995).

Clark and Charles Hufford began UM’s search for antifungal antibiotics in 1984.

OXFORD, Miss. – What began in 1984 as a contract to screen compounds for activity against opportunistic infections that threaten the lives of people with suppressed immune systems has become one of the longest continually funded antifungal research programs in the history of the National Institutes of Health.

The program’s principal investigator is the University of Mississippi’s vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, Alice Clark, who first received funding for the work from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, 30 years ago.

At the time, a host of opportunistic infections were ravaging the bodies of people with suppressed immune systems due to AIDS, cancer chemotherapy or immune-suppressing drugs, but treatments were sorely lacking.

With that first NIH-NIAID funding, Clark, co-principal investigator Charles Hufford and others in the university’s School of Pharmacy focused on finding new drugs to treat fungal infections such as systemic candidiasis. Candidiasis is caused by Candida albicans, which produces localized yeast infections (i.e., oral thrush, vaginitis and diaper rash) that are not a problem for people with healthy immune systems. But in people with suppressed immune systems, the organism can invade the whole body and attack the organs.

During the project’s early years, Clark and her team found and patented several compounds that kill or inhibit C. albicans, and the compounds represented totally new and different classes of antifungal antibiotics. That’s because, rather than synthesizing analogs of existing drugs, which were likely to have the same toxicities and resistance problems as the parent drug, the researchers focused on isolating compounds from higher plants – trees, shrubs and flowers – as well as microorganisms, the traditional source of antifungal antibiotics.

Because of such progress, Clark and Hufford received a $1 million contract renewal in 1987 (one of only three awarded nationwide) to continue their work for five more years. Two years later, they received a grant from NIAID for similar work. With Clark as its principal investigator, that grant (RO1-AI-27094) has been renewed four times and been funded with nearly $5.9 million since 1989.

“I believe this is probably the longest antifungal research program in NIH history,” said Hufford, Clark’s spouse and the pharmacy school’s associate dean for research and graduate programs.

“It has been an honor to be supported by NIH, and through NIH by my peers in the scientific community, for 30 years,” Clark said. “I feel extremely fortunate to have had such a long and successful relationship with them. I am also grateful to Chris Lambros, my program officer at NIH, who has been extremely engaged, knowledgeable, helpful and visionary. He has been an incredible resource to my group and to the whole scientific community.”

Today, drugs such as fluconazole and caspofungin are frequently used to treat infections caused by Candida and other fungi (e.g., lung infections caused by Aspergillus and meningitis caused by the yeast Cryptococcus), but resistant strains of these pathogens are diminishing the drugs’ utility and effectiveness. Because of that, Clark and her colleagues are not only evaluating natural products for antifungal activity but also their ability to work in combination with fluconazole and caspofungin to restore their effectiveness.

With the help of pharmacy school research scientists such as Ameeta Agarwal, Xing-Cong Li and Melissa Jacob, Clark’s team has identified a small number of compounds that do just that. Some help keep fluconazole inside fungal cells, where it can do its work, while others prevent fungal cells from repairing the damage to their walls that caspofungin causes.

“Over time, microbes and other pathogens develop resistance, so it is important to continually develop new drugs that kill them or that restore the effectiveness of existing drugs in resistant strains of the pathogens,” Clark said. “We evaluate thousands of samples of plants and microorganisms from all over the world to see if they can do either or both of these things. We then isolate, purify and determine the chemical structure of the individual natural product compound most responsible for the effect and determine its mechanism of action.”

Unravelling just what makes fungal pathogens susceptible, or resistant, to drugs is the key to devising new ways to kill them and treat the infections they cause.

“From that information, we can design new biological tests to help discover other new compounds,” Clark said.

For these particular studies, the researchers use the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, because of its simple genetics and biochemistry, and a host of sophisticated genomic, genetic and proteomic (analysis of structure and function of proteins and/or enzymes) technology.

“We use technology that shows how an organism’s genes respond after exposure to the natural product,” Clark said. “First, we use transcript profiling technology to identify biological pathways that respond to the candidate drug. Once a target pathway is identified, we conduct follow-up studies to pinpoint the precise drug target.”

Those follow-up studies include testing to determine whether mutant strains of yeast that lack those biological pathway genes are more sensitive to the potential drug, or to search for specific enzymes or metabolites in the target pathways, Clark said. Finally, the researchers test the effectiveness of the potential drug against fungal pathogens, using similar approaches to what they use in model organisms.

Restoring the potency of existing antifungal drugs presents multiple advantages, Clark said. “Increasing the intracellular concentration of the primary drug, for example, can lead to shorter durations of therapy, reduced dosages and fewer side effects.”

Although the goal of Clark and her team is to improve the quality of life of millions of people with immune disorders worldwide, their work is a continual cycle of concurrent and interrelated studies.

“Collaboration is the key to success of this project,” Clark said. “The work simply could not be done by any single investigator, and we benefit from collaborations with researchers in other academic institutions, government labs and companies.

“I have had the great privilege of working with many outstanding collaborators throughout my career but none more so than my UM colleagues on this project: Drs. Agarwal, Li and Jacob, who lead our efforts in molecular biology, natural products chemistry and antifungal screening, respectively.”

Pierron Gift Establishes Scholarship for Pharmacy Students

Endowment created in conjunction with alumnus’ 60-year reunion

Pierron family members attend Pharmacy Alumni Weekend.

Pierron family members attend Pharmacy Alumni Weekend.

OXFORD, Miss. – Walter J. Pierron Jr. has a longtime appreciation for the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi.

“I have many fond memories from the pharmacy school,” said Pierron (BSPh 54), a native of Monroe, Louisiana. “I made a lot of friends with the faculty and students. The university has an atmosphere that is so enjoyable, and that’s one of the things I remember most.”

In honor of that appreciation, Pierron’s daughter and son-in-law recently established a scholarship in his name. Their $25,000 gift created the Walter J. Pierron Jr. Pharmacy Scholarship Endowment for pharmacy students.

Recipients of the Pierron scholarship will be full-time students in their final year of the professional pharmacy program who excel academically, demonstrate qualities of leadership and conduct community service.

Pierron’s daughter, Melanie Pierron Patrick (BBA 83), was thrilled to honor her father.

“Dad has always spoken of his time at Ole Miss as some of the best years of his life,” she said. “He loves young people and has been a mentor to so many pharmacy students.”

Pierron’s love of the pharmacy profession began in high school while working at a local pharmacy. After graduating from Ole Miss, he worked for 45 years as a pharmacist in Louisiana. He also taught at the University of Louisiana at Monroe School of Pharmacy for 14 years. He was president of the Louisiana Pharmacists Association and served on the state’s Board of Pharmacy.

In April, Pierron attended his 60-year class reunion at the UM pharmacy school’s annual Alumni Weekend and was pleased to reconnect with a handful of former classmates.

“We’ve been friends a long time, and we stayed in touch over the years – mainly through the pharmacy school,” he said. “I was in the Air Force with Clovis Burch (BSPh 54). We go way back.”

David D. Allen, the pharmacy school’s dean, said he has enjoyed phone conversations with Pierron and was “delighted to finally meet him in person” at the event.

“It’s obvious that he has a genuine passion for the University of Mississippi and our school,” Allen said. “I am so thankful for his family’s generous gift. Education is our top priority, and this scholarship will provide many new opportunities for pharmacy students.”

William Patrick, Pierron’s son-in-law, said that Pierron was “very supportive” of students.

“Since I’ve known him, he has been interested in pharmacy and particularly pharmacy students,” Patrick said. “He’s also been interested in continuing education and other matters related to pharmacy. We wanted to do something in his honor, and we thought this would be an appropriate way to do that.”

For Pierron, it was an emotional gift.

“I’ve always been involved in academics because students are so important,” he said. “This scholarship means a lot to me. The university does a great job, and it’s always been a place I’ve been proud of. It just does something to you.”

To contribute to the Walter J. Pierron Jr. Pharmacy Scholarship Endowment, mail a check made payable to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the fund noted in the memo line to the UM Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677. Online gifts can be made at http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift. For more information, contact Raina McClure, director of development, at 662-915-6967 or rmcclure@olemiss.edu.

UM Pharmacy School Introduces New Structure

Departments reorganized to support renowned research enterprise

The Thad Cochran Research Center anchors the pharmacy school's academic and research enterprise.

The Thad Cochran Research Center anchors the pharmacy school’s academic and research enterprise.

OXFORD, Miss. – A process to evaluate research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has come full circle with a reorganization of the school’s departments.

The school recently changed from six departments to four.

“The School of Pharmacy is continually finding ways in which we can better support our world-renowned research enterprise,” said David D. Allen, the school’s dean. “We discovered that reorganizing was the perfect way to do just that. I applaud our faculty members for their efforts in making this vision a reality.”

The departments of Medicinal Chemistry, Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology, as well as the environmental toxicology research program, have been combined to form the Department of BioMolecular Sciences. Despite this change, students can still pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in medicinal chemistry, pharmacognosy, pharmacology and environmental toxicology.

The new department’s core mission is to educate pharmacists and scientists at the undergraduate, professional, graduate and postdoctoral levels to deliver health care and conduct research in basic, applied and translational pharmaceutical sciences in order to improve human health.

Also, the Department of Pharmaceutics was renamed the Department of Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery. The departments of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmacy Administration remain unchanged.

In 2012, the school completed a research visioning process to drive research collaboration and focus. The process identified four target areas of research: cancer, cardiometabolic disorders, neuroscience/drugs of abuse and infectious diseases.

Following input from consultants and faculty members, a need was identified for departments that better support those research areas. A School of Pharmacy Reorganization Committee was appointed to recommend reorganization models. The committee was composed of pharmacy faculty members and administrators.

“I am so pleased with the committee’s work,” Allen said. “They did a great job of evaluating our current structure and providing input on how we could improve.”

The reorganization provides opportunities to advance the school’s teaching and research missions, said Stephen Cutler, chair of the Department of BioMolecular Sciences.

“This new design will allow us to map our professional curriculum beginning with anatomy/physiology through pathophysiology, medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, thus developing a solid foundation for pharmacy students,” Cutler said. “The graduate program will be strengthened through the integration of the basic science disciplines; pharmacology students will be learning side-by-side with medicinal and natural products chemists.

“Our research mission will be strengthened as we leverage the resources among the former departments into one cohesive unit. We are already beginning to see new collaborations with this restructure.”

The new name helps the public understand more about the faculty’s work, said Mike Repka, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery.

“Though pharmaceutics somewhat implies drug delivery, our department has developed a unique specialty in that area,” Repka said. “Many of our faculty members are researching various delivery strategies for the skin, eye and oral mucosa, including novel technology associated with these targets. I’m pleased that we are able to articulate that to the public through our new name.”