Professor of Pharmacology
Professor of Neurobiology
Duke University Medical Center
I am a neuropharmacologist. I study how drugs work in the brain. As a chemistry major in college, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated, but I spent a few years working in a lab to get some skills doing research in cancer biology. During that time I realized what I was really interested in was drugs! (…or how they cure disease) So, I decided to enter graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Pharmacology. For my thesis, I studied how nicotine affects the brain, and I discovered that repeated exposure to nicotine actually changes the brain, possibly contributing to the process of addiction.
After obtaining my Ph.D., I got my first job doing research as a post-doctoral fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, where I developed a method to study how drugs could regulate the movement of chloride ions in and out of neurons. This led to an understanding of how alcohol works in the brain to cause intoxication—it increases the entry of chloride ions into neurons to reduce the flow of electrical impulses.
Although I was interested in research, I really liked teaching too, so I got a job at Duke University as a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology. I teach pharmacology to medical students, graduate students, undergraduate students, and even high school students! I love to teach what I have learned about how drugs affect the body, especially the brain.
Once I joined the faculty at Duke, my research followed an interesting path. I was shocked to realize that we have no drugs to treat brain damage after strokes or heart attacks, despite these 2 diseases as our biggest killers. So I decided that would be an area I’d like to pursue for research. For the next several years I, along with my students, carried out research to show that drugs like Valium™ could protect the brain against damage after cardiac arrest or stroke. Based on our research in rats, several hospitals are now testing the ability of these drugs to protect the brain in humans who have suffered a stroke.
In my spare time, I like to travel—as a scientist I’ve been able to travel all over the world, including to England, France, Italy, Spain, and Australia. I am also a runner and triathlete, and I have raced in a lot of triathlons, locally, nationally, and most recently, internationally in the World Championships!
I have a website that has a lot of information on what we are doing. Go to: sites.duke.edu/rise