The College of Pharmacy is adding a "new dimension" to learning. In this case, that statement can be taken literally.
In the past, students could build and inspect physical models of drugs using a kit that was like a scientific version of TinkertoysTM. While these kits were useful for learning about small molecules, they were unable to capture the complexity of how drugs interact with much larger protein-based receptors.
Understanding how the structure of a drug affects its function, known as the structure-activity relationship, is part of the foundational knowledge of every pharmacist. Finding educational tools to conceptualize these interactions, however, has been challenging.
Previously, Dr. Walt Fast, from College of Pharmacy's Division of Medicinal Chemistry, used computers to display three-dimensional projections of molecules in the Pharmacotherapy course sequence. The students wore old-fashioned, cardboard 3D glasses to see the images, and the classroom looked like a scene from a 1950's movie theater!
"Using the red and blue glasses to look at drugs in 3D was fun. It helped students visualize, understand and remember the material," says Fast, citing numerous student feedback comments, "but the old technology has a lot of limitations."
To overcome these drawbacks, Fast teamed up with Dr. Sean Kerwin, also of the Division of Medicinal Chemistry, and the pair was awarded a recent College of Pharmacy, Faculty Educational Innovation (FEI) Grant to bring this technology into the new millennium.
By combining course fees with the this grant, the College of Pharmacy's Learning Resource Center, with the direction of Kamran Ziai and the know-how of Oliver Gomez, was able to design and construct a mobile 3D console that brings modern stereographic display technology to the classroom.
A recent demo of this console to the college's Academic Support Committee was considered a success when attendees wanted to reach out and touch the molecules.
The introduction of modern 3D projection technology into the classroom should provide students the opportunity to understand the science literally inside and out.
Story by Janet Larsen of the LRC