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Clinical Trial at Duquesne to Examine Natural Bone Treatment

A yearlong clinical trial at Duquesne University will study whether a combination of melatonin, vitamins and minerals successfully treats bone loss. Building on an earlier trial that showed that melatonin—a natural molecule released nightly in the body and a popular over-the-counter sleep aid—could help prevent bone loss in healthy women entering menopause, Dr. Paula A. Witt-Enderby, professor of pharmacology, is now focusing on treatment rather than prevention.

With a Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy translational research grant and a study formulation from Pure Encapsulations Inc., Witt-Enderby’s team is conducting a clinical trial to examine whether a formulation of melatonin, strontium citrate and vitamins D3 and K2 can treat bone loss in women with thinning bones (osteopenia).

“Current drug treatments for osteoporosis are not ideal,” Witt-Enderby said. “They have only a 30 percent compliance rate, which really drops after six months. What’s needed is a convenient, safer and better-tolerated treatment. Many women are worried about having to take a powerful drug for months to years before they see results, so a more natural treatment is appealing. In the end, it’s all about safely preventing fractures and improving quality of life.”

Washington State Switches to Honors-Satisfactory-Fail Grading

Letter grades are being phased out over the next three years at Washington State University’s College of Pharmacy and replaced with an honors-satisfactory-fail grading system that began in fall 2013 with first-year students.

The competency-based grading system is being used at some newer pharmacy schools, but WSU is among the first long-established schools to make the switch. A team from WSU led a panel discussion about the change at AACP’s Annual Meeting in July.

The college purchased new computer software designed for frequently testing students and giving them immediate feedback, two cornerstones of the learning system. Faculty received intensive training on the software. The new system relies more heavily on remediation efforts by the faculty to assure a level of competence by all who pass. Remediation includes faculty consultations, re-testing one week later and supplemental learning time during the last two weeks of the semester.

“Traditional grading no longer accommodates what we need to teach our students,” explained Dean Gary M. Pollack, Ph.D. “Traditional grading also results in behaviors such as arguing for that extra tenth of a percentage point in their grade. Those behaviors won’t be eradicated, but the incentives to engage in them will be lower, and students will be more focused on learning what they need to know.”

Rutgers Pioneers Dual Doctorate in Pharmacy/Medicine

Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School will offer a dual-degree program combining a doctorate in pharmacy with a medical degree. The schools, part of the new Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, will launch the new Pharm.D./M.D. program within the next year. Healthcare education professionals believe that this program will be the first of its kind and could become a model to better prepare the experts who will drive national healthcare policy in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.

The 10-year program, available only to students enrolled in the Pharm.D. curriculum, will integrate core instruction in basic and clinical sciences with clinical clerkships and rotations to train future healthcare professionals as leaders in policy, research and clinical settings.

“Creating this formal arrangement solidifies our commitment to educating an individual fully-skilled in both professions,” said Dr. Joseph A. Barone, professor and acting dean at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. “Somebody with this type of training has the interdisciplinary background that can help them develop a much greater depth of understanding of healthcare policy issues and, in fact, be able to help craft national healthcare policy in a meaningful way.”

Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission Launched

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) are collaborating to accredit pharmacy technician education and training programs, beginning in late 2014. The new Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission will be tasked with assuring and advancing the quality of pharmacy technician education and training programs. The PTAC will conduct document reviews and site surveys, and advise the ASHP and ACPE boards of directors, which will then agree on final accreditation actions.

AACP President Peggy Piascik, Ph.D., professor of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, spoke at AACP’s Annual Meeting in July about why technician training is so vital. “As the role of the pharmacist continues to evolve in the healthcare system, the role of the pharmacy technician must also evolve,” she said. “This is an area not frequently studied by AACP, but it is essential if we are to fully liberate the talents of our graduates in direct patient care.”

Piascik added that in light of the upcoming certification changes, as well as the increasing reliance on pharmacy technicians by pharmacists, an AACP committee will examine the potential role that academic pharmacy may play in promoting excellence in technician training.

There are currently 258 programs in the ASHP accreditation process. Through the work of its Commission on Credentialing, ASHP will continue to accredit pharmacy technician programs until the PTAC officially begins its work in fall 2014. ASHP will also provide ongoing accreditation support for the PTAC.

NIH Awards Alzheimer’s Funding to USC Professor

University of Southern California Pharmacy Professor Roberta Diaz Brinton, Ph.D., along with Dr. Lon Schneider of the USC Keck School of Medicine, are principal investigators of a newly-funded study from the National Institutes of Health aimed at testing promising drugs for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

The USC project, “Allopregnanolone Regenerative Therapeutic for MCI/Alzheimer’s: Dose Finding Phase 1,” is the first clinical trial to evaluate the safety and tolerability of using allopregnanolone, a natural brain steroid, in treating mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. The project is part of an intensified national effort to find effective interventions for the degenerative brain disease.

“The grant provides an extraordinary opportunity to advance our discovery and translational research on allopregnanolone (Allo) to a clinical trial,” said Brinton, who holds the R. Pete Vanderveen Chair in Therapeutic Discovery and Development at the USC School of Pharmacy. “Our research has shown that Allo activates neural stem cells in the brain to generate new nerve cells and to restore cognitive function while also reducing the pathology of Alzheimer’s. Allo is the first regenerative therapeutic for Alzheimer’s that has the potential to regenerate nerve cells and the pathways necessary for memory.”

The study is among the first to be developed with direction from the 2012 NIH “Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit: Path to Treatment and Prevention” and reflects research goals in the “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease,” according to the National Institute on Aging, the lead agency within the NIH for Alzheimer’s research.

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