Molecular Pharmacology for Illustrators

Our elective Special Topics in Biomedical Visualization this semester on Molecular Pharmacology is focused on methods of communicating life science and research to a variety of audiences from scientist, to investor and physician. Over the semester students will become experts in one oncology treatment target and its far-reaching influence in multiple areas of molecular science.

The concept of this class grew out of conversations between Christine Young, Deborah Milkowski, Ph.D. and Evelyn Maizels, M.D., Ph.D. Christine Young is a BVIS faculty member as well as a professional medical illustrator with pharmaceutical industry experience.  Dr. Milkowski and Dr. Maizels teach the special topics class. They have been colleagues and friends since obtaining their Ph.D.s in Biochemistry at Northwestern University and worked in the same research laboratory as students.  Dr. Maizels is also 2010 alumna to UIC’s Biomedical Visualization program.  Dr. Milkowski has professional experience as head of preclinical pharmacology at a leading pharmaceutical company.  With this unique blend of professional experience and educational backgrounds guiding the course, the faculty is able to promote comfort with highly complex, advanced molecular concepts and primary research literature.

In order to provide a biochemical and cell biology foundation the class is reading Pyruvate Kinase M2-Specific siRNA Induces Apoptosis and Tumor Regression by Drs Goldberg and Sharp published in 2012.  This research article forms the basis of understanding for drug interaction on a molecular level. The research described in the article investigates the use of siRNA to develop cancer-specific therapeutics. After reading the article the class was instructed to create a poster, demonstrating their understanding of the content.  As the class progresses, students will read multiple related articles supporting Goldberg and Sharp’s research. By focusing on one topic, the class can more readily obtain an understanding of pharmacology fundamentals. Other molecular science fundamentals to be learned are:

  • Translation
  • Translational controls
  • Metabolism
  • Receptors
  • Replication, repair and cell cycle
  • Ion channels
  • Signal transduction
  • Carbohydrates, protein, lipids and nucleic acids structure

Students are also learning relevant drug treatments and disease states along the way!

As you can see in the image above, the students are captivated by what they are learning. Natalie Doolittle states, “As our instructors have stressed, it feels equivalent to learning another language.” To help make the information more comprehensible Dr. Milkowski and Dr. Maizels designed a hands-on activity. The goal of the activity was to learn about the ligand binding sites as well as the domains on the monomers and how they changed. Large wooden beads were held together with pipettes so the students could build the structures themselves. “Nothing beats hands on learning!” Jennifer exclaims in her blog.

If this class intrigues you, learn more in the individual student blogs:

Natalie Doolittle

Jennifer Rogers

Chelsea Rushton


Interested in what you read? Share your thoughts. What activities have you done to help make complex science easier to learn?!


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