History

The Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics was formally established in the fall of 1918.* At that time, the School was reorganized and the association with homeopathy, which had been established in 1873, was terminated. A pharmacology curriculum of lectures, recitations, and laboratory exercises was established and taught by faculty from other institutions.  Dr. Walter L. Mendenhall was appointed the first BUSM professor of pharmacology in 1921.  He was succeeded in 1946 by Dr. George L. Maison.

By the early 1950s, medical students were exposed to a 190-hour course in pharmacology that emphasized the experimental aspect of the science. Research and training of graduate students were in areas of high altitude physiology, cardiac pharmacology, and the pharmacology of veratrum alkaloids. Leadership changes during the 1950s included Earl H. Dearborn, Ph.D., MD, from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as chair in 1952, when Dr. Maison became scientific director of Riker Laboratories; Charles J. Kensler, Ph.D., in 1957, when Dr. Dearborn moved to American Cyanamid; and Dr. Edward W. Pelikan in 1960, when Dr. Kensler was appointed vice president at Arthur D. Little, Inc.

Research activities of the department faculty during the subsequent 30-year period under Dr. Pelikan’s leadership included structure-activity studies of neuromuscular blocking agents, the pharmacology of drugs of abuse, pharmacokinetics, gastrointestinal pharmacology, the pharmacology of blood, and the history of medicine.

Dr. David H. Farb joined as chair in 1990 and the scope of scientific inquiry shifted to investigations at the molecular level, with emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches and the use of advanced technologies. In keeping with the primary interest and expertise of Dr. Farb, the major research area of the department now encompasses molecular neuropharmacology. Scientific activity and research training have reached a record level of national recognition, placing the pharmacology training program in the top quartile nationally based on research productivity.

Expanded research training opportunities for students and innovative recruitment strategies have contributed to more than a doubling in the number of students in the MA/Ph.D. program. The department has been successful in competing for NIH Training Grants, so that students now receive support through the program in biomolecular pharmacology, and was ranked in the top echelon of Ph.D. training programs for research productivity by the National Research Council report. Curricular innovations include the development of a new sequence of courses for pharmacology graduate students, with emphasis on research methodologies. The department has established the annual Russek Student Achievement Day and was crucial to the merging of the MED biomedical neuroscience program with the neuroscience effort at the Charles River Campus founding the university-wide Graduate Program for Neuroscience that is currently directed by the Pharmacology faculty member, Dr. Shelley J. Russek.

*Earl H. Dearborn, Ph.D., MD “The Development of Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine.” BMQ The Boston Medical Quarterly, 6(2):33-37 (June 1955).