UCSF Students Share Love and Knowledge of Pharmaceutical Sciences

UCSF students from the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics (PSPG) graduate program and School of Pharmacy recently organized a science fair directed at elementary and middle school students. This program, funded by the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS), had the unique focus of introducing the children to the concepts involved in the successful design of new drugs. During the program, themed “Demystifying Drugs,” the children were led through a tour of the body, and learned about different processes that enhance and hinder a drug’s getting to its site of action. The UCSF students offered the young students hands-on experiments to demonstrate how drugs can be delivered to the lungs, what types of compounds might be soluble in gut fluids, the barriers to absorption of drugs across the gastrointestinal tract, and how drugs might be broken down inside the body to facilitate their elimination.

Matthew Silverman and his friend, foreground, learn about DNA while performing DNA extraction from strawberries.

They also demonstrated designing specific drugs and how the blood-brain barrier limits the uptake of drugs into the central nervous system. Among the 45 families who participated in Science Day on Jan. 10 were UCSF faculty members Nadav Ahituv, PhD, and Deanna Kroetz, PhD, both of whom brought their children and had high praise for the PSPG student organizers. “A wide variety of experiments were packed into the morning and the level of presentation was age-appropriate,” says Kroetz, professor of biopharmaceutical sciences and pharmaceutical chemistry, whose 8-year-old son, Matthew Silverman, enjoyed the day. “The introduction of drug design and development concepts to such a young audience is unique for science education at this age level,” Kroetz says. “The importance of medications in our lifestyles was well recognized by the children. And increased understanding of how they work might not only increase a better awareness of the role of medicine in maintaining health, but may spark a few young minds to pursue further education in the biomedical sciences.”

Body Tour

Ahituv, assistant professor in the Department of Biopharmaceutical Sciences, says his 8-year-old daughter Amit and her friend also had a great time. “To say that my daughter and her friend loved AAPS-PSPG Science Day would be an understatement,” Ahituv says. “They couldn’t wait to find out what the next room held and to do the different experiments in that room.”
The tour began at 10 a.m., when kids lined up behind a big poster of an open mouth to go into the body. Their first stop was the lung room. After sticking cotton balls into a water bottle to create a model of the lung, the participants observed how drugs sprayed into the bottle end up primarily in the top of the lung. The next stop was the intestine, where they tested how different solutions pass through the intestine (a filter bag) to the body and saw a real human intestine. Next, they visited the liver, where they learned about enzymes and saw a real human liver. “As a bonus, they also extracted DNA from strawberries and got to keep their DNA in a tube to take home, along with a blue bag filled with surprises,” Ahituv says. “The PSPG students were amazing in keeping the children busy and interested, and were always there to help and offer advice.” “A big hit were the human liver and intestine specimens, and the large collection of animal brains,” Kroetz says. “When asked about the most impressive thing he learned during the day, Matthew seemed in awe of how a sparrow brain the size of a pea could direct all aspects of the bird’s life.”

Nadav Ahituv watches his daughter and friend while they extract DNA from strawberries.

This event was proposed and organized by fourth-year PSPG graduate students Howard Horng, AAPS UCSF Chapter chair; Stacy Musone, AAPS UCSF Chapter vice chair; and Jennifer Yokoyama, AAPS UCSF Chapter treasurer; and received full funding by AAPS. Event organizers hope that Science Day, the first activity of its kind funded by AAPS, will serve as a model for future programs geared toward promoting science education to school-age children – particularly pharmaceutical sciences and basic research – for other AAPS chapters around the country. To learn more about the program, please email [email protected]. Jennifer S. Yokoyama contributed to this report.