Friday, October 22, 2010

Human Simulators Enhance Learning Experiences in USA Pharmacology Department

Dr. Abu-Bakr Al-Mehdi (left) with student Travis Harris

Students in the pharmacology department at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have been introduced to a new and innovative teaching method – human simulators.

Dr. Abu-Bakr Al-Mehdi, associate professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said the pharmacology department was the first among the basic science departments at USA to use human simulators.

“We use the simulators in the medical and clinical pharmacology courses to introduce students to the clinical experience,” Dr. Al-Mehdi said. “Students are able to get hands-on experience in a hospital-like setting. This makes it more realistic and a better learning experience.”

The human simulators are computer controlled robotic mannequins that can be programmed to simulate physiological and pathological states, including symptoms, signs, diseases and drug effects. Pharmacology students are able to administer drugs and then monitor important changes in physiological parameters, such as heart rate, EKG, and urinary output.

“They can do this without worrying about causing harm to the patient,” Dr. Al-Mehdi said. “It is a great teaching tool in a much more relaxed environment.”

Dr. Al-Mehdi said there are several aspects of simulation that make it a preferred teaching method over simply listening to a lecture or reading about a procedure in a textbook.

“The simulations enable students to practice scenarios ahead of time,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to experience procedures that they will never learn until they do it themselves.”

“In a human patient, students only see a specific subset of signs and symptoms of a disease that is present in that particular patient,” Dr. Al-Mehdi said. “With a human simulator, professors can deliver built-in standard clinical scenarios or a customized set of signs and symptoms for a richer clinical experience.”

USA has established an impressive infrastructure of human simulation, with multiple full body simulators and partial task trainers. The simulators are used in the College of Nursing and College of Medicine, and Dr. Al-Mehdi hopes that they will become more common in basic science curriculum.

“It is a great opportunity for students to rehearse their basic science skills in a mock clinical setting,” he said, “and the experience promises to be a valuable teaching tool in basic science education.”

4th Annual COM Research Forum Now Accepting Submissions

Abstract submissions are now open for the 4th annual University of South Alabama College of Medicine Research Forum. The event, which will spotlight research efforts of young scientists training in College of Medicine labs, will be held Nov. 19, 2010, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. at USA's Main Library.

Graduate students, post-docs and clinical fellows are all strongly encouraged to present their work in posters and/or short talks. Undergraduate research fellows and new faculty members are also invited to present their work.

Visit for detailed instructions regarding preparation and submission of abstracts. The deadline for abstract submission is Nov. 1, 2010. For more information, contact Dr. Jody Brewer at or Dr. Donna Cioffi at

Mastin Building's Renovated Patient Care Area to Open Monday

Renovations continued on patient care areas in the Mastin Building on Friday. The renovated clinic includes specialists in cardiology, interventional radiology, infectious diseases, nephrology, pulmonology, otolaryneology (ENT) and sickle cell. The center, which is the old site of the USA Biomedical Library, will open to patients on Monday.

Edna Douglas (left), manager for clinic operations in the department of internal medicine, and Mel Leggett, practice director for internal medicine and neurology, stop to smile outside the new patient care center as final touches on renovations are completed.

COM Researcher Named University of Kentucky Outstanding Pharmaceutical Sciences Alumni

Dr. Mark Gillespie, professor and chair of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, recently received the Outstanding Graduate Alumni Award for the University of Kentucky Ph.D. program in Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Dr. Gillespie was honored at the Symposium on Drug Discovery and Development at the University of Kentucky in Lexington on Oct. 15, 2010.

"Dr. Gillespie recently completed 15 years as departmental chair during which he has contributed greatly to the educational and research missions of the college of medicine,” said Dr. Samuel J. Strada, dean of the USA College of Medicine. “He played an important role in the development of the USA Center for Lung Biology and has been a major contributor to the center’s success in bridging the basic sciences and clinical medicine.”

“Dr. Gillespie is also a very popular teacher with medical students and graduate students in basic medical sciences,” Dr. Strada said. “We are extremely pleased for him to have received this significant recognition from his alma mater."

Dr. Gillespie has served as a USA faculty member since 1995. He received his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Kentucky under the direction of Dr. Louis Diamond and completed postdoctoral studies at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Cardiovascular-Pulmonary Research Lab in Denver.

Dr. Gillespie’s major research interests include lung vascular cell biology and pathology, signal transduction pathways in regional vascular disease, and novel pharmacotherapeutic approaches in respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

He has garnered extramural funding through the National Institutes of Health and currently is the principal investigator on three NIH-supported grants with total funding of more than $3 million. In addition, he is the author of numerous scientific publications and serves as reviewer for many scientific journals.

Dr. Gillespie has served as a member or chairperson of numerous grant review committees for the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies. Currently, he is the chair of the Pulmonary Circulation Assembly of the American Society.

Established in 2006, the Outstanding Graduate Alumni Award honors graduates of the program in recognition of their accomplishments and contributions to scholarship, education and research in the pharmaceutical sciences.

Next Week's DSS - Dr. Andrés Vázquez-Torres

The next Distinguished Scientist Seminar will be presented by Dr. Andrés Vázquez-Torres, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colo.

His seminar, titled “Adaptive Tolerance to Antibiotics Through the Nitrosylation of Quinol Cytochrome Oxidases,” will take place on Oct. 28, 2010, at 4 p.m. in the Medical Sciences Building auditorium on USA’s main campus.

Dr. Vázquez-Torres’ laboratory focuses on using cellular, molecular and biochemical approaches to understand the role that mononuclear phagocytes play in the host response to intracellular pathogenic microorganisms.

Dr. Vázquez-Torres earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin- Madison in 1996 and his D.V.M. degree from the University of Cordoba in Spain in 1998. He completed 5 years of postdoctoral research training at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where he became a faculty member in 2001.

He has received many awards and honors throughout his career, including the Merck Irving S. Sigal Memorial Award in 2004 from the American Society of Microbiology and the American Academy of Microbiology.

In addition, Dr. Vázquez-Torres is the recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigators in Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases Award. He has received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 2002, 2004 and 2005. Dr. Vázquez-Torres has served as a reviewer for numerous journals and as a study section member at NIH.

For more information on Dr. Vázquez-Torres’ research, visit