UT College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences News

The 47th Annual Mid-Atlantic Graduate Student Symposium in Medicinal Chemistry

By Aparna Raghavan, Medicinal Chemistry graduate student

About a year ago at the 46th Annual Mid-Atlantic Graduate Student Symposium (MAGSS) held at Ohio State University, medicinal chemistry graduate student from The University of Toledo agreed to host the 47th symposium. Admittedly, we did so without entirely comprehending the magnitude of effort that goes into producing a symposium. Fortunately for us, our enthusiasm carried us through. We had our times of inaction, our share of uncertainties, and slivers of exhilaration amidst all that. In the end, we pulled together a show that in the words of many attendees was “excellently organized”. Take a bow, MAGSS 2014 organizing committee!

MAGSS 2014 was held at the cusp of some momentous occasions for the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences—it was preceded by the 20th anniversary celebration of the Center for Drug Design & Development (CD3) championed by Distinguished University Professor Dr. Paul Erhardt, followed by the 110th anniversary of the inception of our college.

The CD3 celebration transitioned to the MAGSS 2014 kickoff, which featured attendee registration and a light dinner. The enthusiasm among the attendees was palpable as you saw them strutting in their electric blue MAGSS t-shirts all across campus.

On the first full day of the symposium, we began early in the morning with breakfast and opening remarks. It was heartening to see close to a hundred fresh faces in the morning, eager to take in the science marathon that was about to unfold. We heard some inspiring and eloquent thoughts shared by Dean Early, Dr. Marcia McInerney, and Dr. Viranga Tillekeratne, which set the tone for the event.

Next, our keynote speaker, Dr. Gordon Cragg, Former Chief of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the NIH, enthralled us all with a bird’s-eye view of the massive contribution of natural products towards drug discovery. He spoke of how the scientific method could be improved to yield better drugs and appealed to every one of us to get the word out to the masses. After an exciting round of questions, each of which Dr. Cragg answered with diligence and élan, we began our student oral presentations. When they concluded, judges were at their wits’ end trying to decide the best among them. That they ended up awarding two first prizes is proof enough of the sheer quality of research and the wealth of ideas these talks generated.

An afternoon session featured arrays of poster presentations and the frenzied buzz of discussion around them. Our very own Ayad Al-Hamashi, a graduate student in the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, won second prize in this poster session, which was judged by the mechanism of peer-review. An entertaining panel discussion session featured the who’s who of drug discovery from the trifecta of academia, industry and the government. At once we witnessed how diverse yet concerted their ideas are, as they need to be to innovatively address discovery today. It realigned our perspective of what the market might look like once we graduate. We were fortunate to have Dr. Christopher Lipinski and Dr. Gunda Georg, who were guests at the CD3 event, kindly agree to partake in this discussion as well as the symposium.

The institutional talk given by Dr. Donald Ronning, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UT, introduced participants to the impressive research on anti-tubercular agents, and his captivating speaking-style drove away any signs of fatigue we might have had.

The final day of MAGSS 2014 began with some interesting information about the history of our college and our accomplishments given by Dr. Katherine Wall, Chair of the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry. We began the morning session with a guest lecture by the effervescent Dr. Wendy Young, Director of Discovery Chemistry at Genentech. She spoke passionately about the research being undertaken in her company and shared with us the colorful work culture at Genentech. This was followed by the second round of oral presentations, followed by the closing ceremony and prize distribution. We said goodbye and thanked profusely the speakers who made this event what it was and the attendees who were such active participants.

Conferences happen. New ideas are born. Science goes on. But what really stayed with me from the 2014 MAGSS were the conversations—the lunch-time sports talk with the speakers, discussing world cultures, and some ideas, albeit utopian, on how to make medicine reach people more effectively.

While science was the reason we gathered for this meeting, we gained a lot more from it.

I would like to thank the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for giving us the opportunity to host this conference and to enjoy this experience. I thank the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry for their generous support and the faculty members for all their help. Thank you, Dr. Tillekeratne (faculty advisor), for guiding us with fervor throughout. Thanks Charisse Montgomery (communications director) and Kwabena Kankam (senior business manager) for your valuable input into the organizing process.

Please visit the MAGSS website for details on the sponsors and the organizing committee.

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is the Scientific Editor and College Communicator for The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She is a triple alumna of The University of Toledo with master's degrees in English and Education and a graduate certificate in Patient Advocacy.
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