This page was last updated on 09/08/2015.
If you are looking for a third year pharmacology paper similar to what MEDSCI 204 was like, you will not find what you seek in this paper – they are completely different (try looking into MEDSCI 303 or 305).
You are very much thrown in the deep end, but luckily there is plenty of chance to interact with Assoc. Prof. Michelle Glass and Dr Deanna Bell who are in charge of the course. They are very approachable and very open to answering your questions (speaking of which, you will have many, so don’t be afraid to ask). The majority of the concepts taught in this course are centred on very new or ongoing research (a lot of what Michelle is researching) so you are exposed to what it is like being at the very edge of scientific understanding, which is something you don’t get in many other papers. This is reinforced in the laboratory component of the paper.
Don’t get put off by the first few lectures – this paper is not necessarily harder than others, just different and requires a different way of thinking. Don’t hesitate to kick your brain into gear and learn a few more skills – these are the kind of things you’d be needing for proper research.
Good news – there is only one lab report. Bad news – it is worth 20% of your grade. Don’t let this put you off – you have the entire semester to work on it and help is abundant. Again, it isn’t like the other lab reports you will have written up till now; it’s more like a simulation of you writing an article as if you were going to send it away to be published in journal, but much shorter in length and far fewer experiments. This is why it is important to read the core papers provided, as once you can understand them (at first it is like trying to read a whole other language) they will prove invaluable in the writing up of your report. When you first try reading them, use Google for any terms you don’t understand; there is no point struggling.
They will also aid in the designing of your experiments. Yes. You design experiments and then you actually complete them by yourself. This is nothing like your standard BIOSCI pipette-and-forget, designed-in-the 70s lab. You work with live cells, drugs you’ve never heard of and equipment you’ve probably never touched before. You must be free in the mid-semester break to come in and spend a couple of days in the lab doing your experiments if you want to take this paper.
All of this experimental design and core paper reading is thoroughly guided with a very worthwhile tutorial every week to ask questions and get individual help. There are also many, many office hours available.
On top of that, there are a couple more tests assessing your laboratory knowledge. The theory test assesses how much you actually took in and understood from the experimental design process and reading of the core papers. It is very manageable. The practical test is nothing to worry about either – an unweighted run-through is done in the first couple of weeks as a practice run for the one that is weighted at the end of the semester. The exact process you have to do is uploaded long before the first run so you are well acquainted with it before you go in. The main purpose of this part is so they are able to tell how good your skills are before they let you loose in the lab with material that actually costs a lot of money, and gives them a chance to correct your technique before the lab intensive in the holidays.
Lecturers in 2015 were Michelle Glass, Natasha Grimsey, Jack Flanagan and Debbie Hay. The very first lecture is on experimental design so you can get yours underway as soon as possible, and after that there are a few of lectures on general concepts of pharmacology which would have been covered in 204.
You are introduced to different experimental procedures like radioligand assays, cAMP assays, etc, and what they measure on a molecular level. Again, this will help you in choosing which experiments you want to do in the lab component. There also are some new concepts introduced to you, such as beta-arrestins and receptor dimerization.
In 2015, Debbie Hay gave 5 lectures on family B GPCRs which covered general structure, the three subtypes, and different examples to do with each, such as diabetes, treatments for it (like Byetta and Pramlintide) and how they came about creating such treatments.
Following Debbie Hay is Jack Flanagan’s section, which has more of a biochemical flavour to it. He covers the discovery processes of new molecules which could potentially be useful drugs, how to tell if such molecules are useful, and the different technologies, databases and screening methods used in the process. Prepare yourself for a little bit of PyMol – to be fair, in a course called ‘Molecular Pharmacology’ I thought it would be used so much more than it was. For that, I am thankful.