By Brandon Dyson
Pharmacy faculty are leading the fight against obesity, asserts Dr. Wanli Smith of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. As an assistant professor, Smith has been studying the molecular pathways and mechanisms of obesity for nearly 10 years. She also teaches the pharmacology and drug discovery of obesity and other related diseases to student pharmacists.
The United States has been struggling with obesity for decades—and we are losing ground, says Smith. “One in three Americans is obese, and currently there are not a lot of treatment options available.” That’s why she decided to partner with the Network to Overcome Obesity Now (NOON) in its efforts to raise public awareness about this growing epidemic. NOON emphasizes that the excessive morbidity and mortality associated with obesity has far-reaching effects on both the physical and economical health of our nation, and that more effective treatments need to be researched in order to help reverse the trend. Smith spoke as an expert on behalf of NOON at a congressional debriefing that underscored obesity as a chronic disease in need of extended treatment options. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help the nation fight this growing health problem,” she explained. Smith also highlighted that NOON had an impact—in 2012, the FDA approved the new obesity medications Belviq® and Qnexa®.
The critical role that pharmacy faculty play in the fight against obesity is multi-faceted, says Smith. “We develop research that increases the availability of new drugs for all diseases, including obesity; and we train the next generation of pharmacists.” These future pharmacists eventually become community leaders and can have a tremendous impact on reinforcing healthy lifestyles and medication adherence to their patients. Faculty members are also responsible for training Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows who may eventually make discoveries that enhance our knowledge or lead to new treatments. Smith points out that even seemingly small changes or advances can have a profound effect. Sparking a student’s interest or emphasizing a healthy diet and exercise to a patient can collectively lead to a great impact on our nation’s health.
Working with NOON to increase public exposure and disease awareness, Smith called for national investment in obesity research to help the efforts in her laboratory and other research teams. She also believes that, “in the long-term, my efforts working with NOON will create more awareness in my students and may motivate more of them toward a career in obesity research and healthcare.” One thing is certain; the contribution of members such as Dr. Wanli Smith help us gain significant headway in the battle of the bulge.
Brandon Dyson is a 2013 Pharm.D. candidate at Howard University who completed his APPE at AACP.
For more information on NOON, please visit http://overcomeobesitynow.org.