Department History

History in the Making

On September 1, 2004, the Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders (CNND) joined with the Department of Pharmacology. Howard E. Gendelman, Professor of Pathology and Microbiology and Director of the Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders became chairman of the Department of Pharmacology in UNMC’s College of Medicine.

The center, which has reported to the Department of Pathology and Microbiology, now reports to the Department of Pharmacology. Both groups are already closely aligned in the study of neurosciences. Dr. Gendelman replaced Dr. William Berndt, who had been interim chair since August 2002.

History of Pharmacology at UNMC

The history of pharmacology dates back to the 19th century when Pharmacology replaced the old materia medica (which had described drugs and enumerated their effects without mechanistic analysis). During the 1800’s the discipline of Pharmacology developed in parallel with those of physiology and pathology. The birth of Pharmacology is generally taken to be in 1847 when Rudolf Buchheim (1820-1879) was appointed Chair of Pharmacology at Dorpat (now Tartu, in Estonia). In 1846, he elegantly defined the two branches of Pharmacology in two fundamental questions:

  • “In which way and to what extent are drugs altered by the body” (pharmacokinetics, or what the body does to the drug)?
  • “In which way and to what extent do they in turn alter the body’s function” (pharmacodynamics or what the drug does to the body)?

Buchheim’s student Oswald Schmiedeberg (1838-1921) was Chair of Pharmacology at Strassburg for 46 years and trained most of the prominent pharmacologist of his day.

The father of pharmacology in the United States is John Jacob Abel (1857-1938), who was the Chair of Pharmacology at Michigan and then at Johns Hopkins. He is credited with the isolations of epinephrine (1897), the isolation of histamine (1919) and the preparation of pure crystalline insulin (1926). On December 28, 1908, he founded the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and six months later he started the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

In 1902, the Omaha Medical College became The University of Nebraska Medical College and in 1913, the basic science departments transferred to Omaha from Lincoln. Initially, pharmacology was part of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, chaired first by August E. Guenther (1913-1935) and then by A. Ross McIntyre (1935-1967).

The Department of Physiology and Pharmacology split in 1967 with Carl F. Gessert as the acting chair (1967-1969). After a brief period with Marion Cotton as Chair (1969), the department was headed for the next 18 years by Manuchair (Mike) Ebadi, Ph.D. (1970-1988). In 1988, David B. Bylund, Ph.D. was recruited as Chair and he led the Department for 14 years. When Dr. Bylund stepped down in 2002, William O. Berndt, Ph.D. was appointed Interim Chair. In August of 2004, Howard E. Gendelman, M.D. was appointed Chair.

History of CNND at UNMC

Dr. Gendelman joined UNMC in 1993 as Professor of Medicine in Pathology and Microbiology. As chief of a small research lab, with two technicians and a single support staff, the lab was built from the bottom up; and in 1997, became a Center with 19 researchers and one support staff. Today, the CNND supports 77 positions, including nine faculty, two visiting scholars, seven postdoctoral fellows, four graduate students, 39 researchers/technologists, three laboratory coordinators, four administrative support staff, and nine interns. The CNND research focuses on inflammatory activities implicated in a number of neurodegenerative diseases including HIV-associated dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In the year 2002, the CNND celebrated its fifth anniversary and observed significant milestones in its growth. These included the following highlights:

  • Received the first UNMC training grant in neuroscience.
  • Total yearly research dollars went from $900,000 in 1997 to $4.8 million in 2002.
  • Development of postdoctoral fellows to tenure-track faculty with independent federal funding and laboratories. These accomplished investigators have developed national and in some instances international reputations in their own rights and include: Yuri Persidsky, M.D., Ph.D. (neuropathology and cognitive neuroscience); Jialin Zheng, M.D. (neurotoxicology); Anuja Ghorpade Ph.D. (neuroimmunology and neurovirology); Huangui Xiong, M.D., Ph.D. (electrophysiology); Tsuneya Ikezu, M.D., Ph.D. (molecular genetics of Alzheimer's disease); Larisa Poluektova, M.D., Ph.D. (vaccines); and Jenae Limoges, M.D., (developmental therapeutics).
  • Together with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and Creighton University, the CNND acquired the first Center for Research Excellence Award (COBRE), the largest federal grant ever awarded in Nebraska for biomedical research.
  • Under the leadership of Anuja Ghorpade, Ph.D., established a core facility for rapid autopsy allowing for isolation and culture of adult neural cells.
  • Under the leadership of Kim Carlson, Ph.D., established a core facility in proteomics permitting genetic testing of clinical samples for diagnosis and monitoring of therapeutic interventions.
  • Established a comprehensive brain bank at UNMC for neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Under the leadership of Michael Boska, Ph.D., established a comprehensive small animal model imaging facility. The facility is one of the first worldwide that permits co-registration of magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy for studies of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
  • The CNND investigator's citation index is ranked among the top five percent of published articles in their field.
  • CNND honors include Fulbright, Javits, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Society of Neurovirology Scholar and Fellowship Awards.
  • Since 1997 until 2002, the CNND summer student intern program had 41 students (half are already in medical school and the remaining are pre-medicine undergraduates).
  • CNND developed a sustained track record in training minority scientists. Through multiple internships and pipeline affiliation agreements the center attracts minorities and students of color to neurosciences research and careers and supports their careers, including sharing a $5 million grant with the University of Puerto Rico in collaboration on HIV research. CNND's focus of neurological consequences of HIV infection led to UNMC being chosen as one of four medical centers to participate in the Center for Research and Development for Minority Institutions, along with Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington at Seattle.

In the two years following the fifth anniversary celebration, from 2002 to 2004, little did anyone anticipate that the exponential growth of the CNND would lead to an academic merger with the Department of Pharmacology.

On September 1, 2004, the new Department of Pharmacology had a total of 105 members with 24 faculty and post-docs, graduate students and technologists. Seven administrative staff members sustain the administration of the new Department of Pharmacology. The growth of the new department over the past six months has mirrored the initial five years of the CNND with new grants (total of five), additional faculty member recruitment, the launching of the text book Neuroimmune Pharmacology, and a new journal to reflect the academic scope of the department.

On April 19, 2005, the department was renamed “Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience.”

The Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience creates one of the largest basic science departments at UNMC, will cover much of the neuroscience spectrum, and will represent the largest concentration of both pharmacologists and neuroscientists in the state.