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Communicating science: Institute for Drug Resistance video series elevates awareness, understanding

A new video series featuring scientists from the Institute for Drug Resistance at UMass Medical School is designed to promote the importance of biomedical research. Celia Schiffer, PhD, the Gladys Smith Martin Chair in Oncology, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, and founder and director of the Institute for Drug Resistance, created the project to give colleagues the opportunity to explain their research.

“Drug resistance is a major threat to public health, thus it is our responsibility as scientists to communicate the significance of our science,” said Dr. Schiffer. “We need to be able to convey the importance of what we’re doing and make it more visible and accessible to the public.”

The project was conceived by Schiffer and supported by UMMS leadership in conjunction with the fellowship she completed on July 27 with the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program at Drexel University College of Medicine. ELAM is the country’s only in-depth fellowship dedicated to preparing senior women faculty at schools of medicine, dentistry, public health and pharmacy to lead and manage in today’s complex health care environment. Each ELAM fellow completes an institutional action plan to address emerging issues in biomedical and clinical science as an integral part of the program.

Participants in the video series availed themselves of science communication training programs from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Art of Science Communication, and TED Masterclass. They prepared and practiced their talks prior to being recorded, with support at UMMS from the Offices of Communications, Advancement and Innovation and Business Development.

The Schiffer lab seeks to tackle drug resistance. Pathogens, including viruses and bacteria, and cancer cells mutate to resist previously effective treatments. Schiffer’s lab studies how drug resistance develops and designs medicines to be impervious to the mutations. She collaborates with many other investigators, including some of the 11 institute members from six departments who appear in the videos.

While much research into drug resistance has focused on a specific disease, there are parallels in drug resistance mechanisms and pathways among various diseases. Schiffer established the Institute for Drug Resistance with academic and industry partners in 2009 to create a nexus for cross-disciplinary research that can inform drug resistance across multiple diseases and classes of drugs. It is the only organization in the world with a mission to foster collaborative, cross-disease research for the purpose of accelerating the design, development and delivery of resilient drugs that avoid resistance.

The diverse research interests and approaches of scientists captured in the videos embody the collaborative, interdisciplinary mission of the institute. The full series is available for viewing on the UMass Medical School YouTube channel, and each one will be featured individually on UMassMed News in the coming months.

“With the quickly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, many faculty—including myself—have pivoted to work extensively on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and avoiding drug resistance becomes even more relevant as we target this virus,” said Schiffer. “Having the faculty train and present their research in a manner that is accessible to many communities will empower the multidisciplinary drug design we need.”

In the first video of the series, Medicines Designed to Last, Schiffer sets the stage with a straightforward overview of drug resistance.

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Celia Schiffer named 2020 ELAM Leadership for Women in Medicine fellow