I am a graduate of the institution known formerly as the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (PCP&S) – the first college of pharmacy in North America, established in 1821. The college, now called University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, counts among its alumni John Wyeth, Silas M. Burroughs, Sir Henry Wellcome, several members of the Eli Lilly and McNeil families, and other historical figures in pharmacy among founders of what have now become large pharmaceutical companies.
Although I was among the 35% of students in the “and Science” side of PCP&S, earning a BS in Toxicology, I was there at a time before Big Pharma had acquired much of the bad name it often carries today and we took great pride in our college’s rich history and contributions to modern medicine. In particular PCP&S graduates were critical players in combating snake oil hucksters in the early 1900s and establishing chemical standards, safety, and efficacy guidelines for therapeutic agents.
So it is with disbelief that I learned my alma mater plans to award an Honorary Doctorate of Science to a major leader in homeopathy – on Founders’ Day, no less. The press release is here.
I’ve just sent the following e-mail to University President, Philip P. Gerbino, Pharm.D., and Provost Russell J. DiGate, Ph.D.:
My valued colleague, Dr. Antonio Baines, recently invited me to speak for his graduate course in Toxicology. Dr. Baines’ course is one of the most highly-regarded graduate classes at North Carolina Central University for M.S. students in Biology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Antonio asked that I discuss the pharmacology and toxicology of herbal and non-botanical dietary supplements but pretty much gave me free reign as to the mechanism by which I would do so.
In the past, I have often introduced herbal supplements to students who already know a bit about drug and toxicant action by taking the example of the anticancer drug, taxol (Note: Little “t” taxol was the name originally given to this chemical by its co-discovers but the corporate sponsor used it as a registered trademark for the brand name, big “t” Taxol, and the USAN proposed the use of the cumbersome paclitaxel as the generic name.). As I noted in my previous post, taxol is an anticancer drug isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, Taxus brevifolia, and was the first compound shown to kill cancer cells by promoting microtubule polymerization (and preventing depolymerization).
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to join this outstanding group of medical professional bloggers in adding my natural products angle to the application of science-based medicine. With the exception of Dr. Gorski, who holds MD and PhD degrees, I believe I am the first “only a PhD” to be invited to SBM. However, I have spent much of my career training, and training with, physician-scientists; so enthusiastic am I about the special qualities of the physician-scientist that I married one (or, rather, she chose to marry me, truth be told.). Conversely, I view the invitation to write here as a responsibility in representing what my fellow basic scientists bring to bear on discussions of the scientific arguments for and against modalities classified broadly as complementary and alternative medicine or integrative medicine.
Why write about herbal medicines and natural products?
I have long been interested in bringing objective scientific information to the public, perhaps as early as my college years in bars while visiting my working-class hometown of Wallington, NJ, or while shooting darts with Philadelphia cops across from my undergrad apartment. Any chat I’d have with an old buddy or bartender about drugs, cancer, or drugs and cancer would invariably draw some interest from fellow patrons overhearing my discussions. These were usually followed by, “Hey, aren’t you Frankie Kroll’s boy?,” or “I’ve heard the government is hiding the cure for cancer – do you have any inside dope on that?”