In 1958, Douglas Larson, Provost of the Medical School, directed that the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology be divided into the Department of Physiology and the Department of Pharmacology. Thus, the new Department of Pharmacology was formed on July 7, 1959 with Dr. Lloyd Seager, the former Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, named as the first Chair. In addition to Dr. Seager, the department had two assistant professors, Dr. Joseph E. Stone and Dr. Charles D. Wood and one graduate student, David C. Jerram. Under Dr. Seager’s leadership the department expanded to include seven faculty members and obtained the first NIH training grant for Ph.D. students in the history of UAMS. Dr. Seager retired in 1969, and Dr. Werner Flacke was recruited in 1970 as the second Chair of the department.
Dr. Flacke hired additional faculty including Drs. Ernst Seifen and Heinz Ginzel, but events outside of the department were to have an even bigger impact on the department and UAMS. In 1969, President Richard Nixon announced the closing of the chemical warfare unit at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, and in 1971 the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) was established on the site. Not surprisingly, a number of collaborations developed between the NCTR and UAMS faculty. These collaborations led to the development of an Interdisciplinary Toxicology (INTOX) graduate program. Dr. Flacke hired Dr. Joan Spyker Cranmer in 1976, and she became the first Director of the INTOX program. By the time Dr. Flacke resigned as Chair in 1977, the department had expanded to ten faculty members.
In 1978, Dr. Donald McMillan was hired as Chair of the Department of Pharmacology. Under his leadership, the department continued to increase in size and extramural research funding. The training of Ph.D. graduate students in Pharmacology received additional emphasis in the overall mission of the department. In 1981, the Dean of the College of Medicine decided that the Interdisciplinary Toxicology (INTOX) Graduate Program should be under the administrative umbrella of the Department of Pharmacology. The name of the Department was officially changed to the Department of Pharmacology and Interdisciplinary Toxicology, and Dr. McMillan hired Dr. Raymond Harbision as the first Division Director and Director of the INTOX graduate program. The department later shortened its official name to the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. In 1991, Dr. McMillan became the first basic science faculty member in the history of UAMS to receive an endowed Chair when he was named the Wilbur D. Mills Chair for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Prevention. He established the UAMS Substance Abuse Treatment Clinic and served as its director from 1993 until his retirement in 2004. He obtained the second NIH Ph.D. training grant in the history of UAMS to support graduate and medical students in drug abuse research. The department secured a third NIH training grant in 2001 to support students in the INTOX program. During Dr. McMillan’s tenure the department rose to the top third of all medical school pharmacology departments in the country in NIH funding.
Dr. Nancy Rusch joined the department on January 1, 2005, as Professor and Chair. Prior to her arrival she had been Professor of Pharmacology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where she was recognized nationally for her work in hypertension and cardiovascular pharmacology. She is continuing to foster the tradition of excellence in research and teaching that has become a hallmark of the department. Since her arrival, she has hired five faculty members in the tenure track and recruited several faculty members in the research track. The number of faculty in the department has increased to a total of 17 tenure track faculty and five research track faculty. Extramural research funding obtained by the faculty has increased to more than $5 million annually, and the Department ranks in the top quarter of all medical school pharmacology departments in the country in NIH funding. The research emphasis of the department includes behavioral and drug abuse pharmacology, development of small molecule and antibody therapeutics, mechanisms and therapies of organ toxicology and neurodegenerative diseases, and CNS and vascular ion channels.
Over 180 students have graduated from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology since 1960. The first Ph.D. graduate of the Pharmacology program was Alford A. Rictarik in 1960 and the first Ph.D. graduate of the Interdisciplinary Toxicology program was Linval Rolland DePass in 1978. There are 21 students currently enrolled in the graduate programs. The department also has trained a number of postdoctoral fellows. Many of the trainees were honored by national awards during their training at UAMS. The achievements of the alumni include academic, industrial and teaching positions at many institutions across the country and worldwide.