Our History

The Department of Pharmacology at Wayne State University (WSU) was founded as a separate academic unit in the School of Medicine (SOM) in 1974. After being recruited from Ohio State University, Dr. Bernard Marks served as the Department’s first Chair (1974-1987), bringing with him a group of colleagues and recruiting others with the primary intent of providing a teaching faculty. Members of the original group – Drs. Gordon Anderson, George Dambach, Saradindu Dutta, Harold Goldman, David Kessel, Roy McCauley, James Putney, David Schneider, Eugene Schoener, and Russell Yamazaki – made major teaching and research contributions while on faculty but have since retired or moved to other institutions.

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the Department was relatively small, with twelve faculty members receiving primary appointments. Research interests of the faculty during that time period were heavily focused on what were considered traditional areas of pharmacology, including neuro, cardiovascular, and behavioral pharmacology and cell biology. The Doctoral Program in Pharmacology was also relatively small, with generally 8 to 10 students enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Besides institutional support for graduate training, the Department successfully obtained a training grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which it held from 1975 to 1980. Shortly before Dr. Marks stepped down as Chair of the Department of Pharmacology in 1987, the Department successfully obtained a Pharmacological Sciences Training Grant (PSTG) from the NIGMS, which it held from 1987 to 1992.

Dr. Paul Hollenberg became Chair of the Department in 1987 and served until 1994. Under his direction, the Department of Pharmacology experienced significant growth, both in its faculty and graduate program. Six new faculty members were recruited, which added new expertise in molecular biology, drug metabolism, and toxicology and strengthened the existing expertise in the neurosciences. Faculty with primary appointments in the Department increased from 12 to 18 in the late-1980s to early-1990s. At the same time, WSU in general and the SOM in particular experienced significant growth in the number of faculty. Excellent institutional support allowed the Department to expand its graduate program, resulting in the Pharmacology Ph.D. program increasing its enrollment from 8 students in 1987 to 24 students by 1993.

In 1985, Dr. Paul Hollenberg spearheaded development of the Cancer Biology doctoral program, beginning with WSU’s successful competition for a training grant in Cancer Biology from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The T32 established a new doctorate program, the Cancer Biology Program, which currently is an umbrella program that spans several departments across the University and is housed in the Department of Oncology. In addition to the Cancer Biology program, an interdisciplinary graduate program in Molecular and Cellular Toxicology was established in the mid-1990s, drawing faculty from the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (IEHS), several departments from the SOM including Pharmacology, and other WSU colleges. A predoctoral training grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) was funded (2003-2009) to support this program.

In the Fall of 1994, Dr. Bonnie Sloane became Chair of the Department of Pharmacology, making Pharmacology the first department in the WSU-SOM to elect a female chair. Although a few faculty members retired or left WSU for leadership positions in both academia and industry, five new faculty, with expertise in trafficking, signaling, imaging, and neurosecretion were added over the next five years, and several new joint faculty appointments were made that further enhanced research in the Department. To aid in the maintenance of departmental oversight, Dr. Sloane selected Dr. Russell Yamazaki as Associate Chair in 1998. Dr. Yamazaki held that position until his retirement in May 2010. Dr. Lawrence Lash was then appointed as Associate Chair and held that position until January 2022. In the late-1990s the Department established a confocal microscope and imaging facility, which comprises state-of-the-art equipment for whole animal, cellular, and subcellular imaging. The facility was established as a core for both the Karmanos Cancer Institute (KCI) and a P30-funded NIEHS Toxicology Center (administered by the IEHS). It remains a core at the SOM and it is also used by the KCI, a partner of WSU.

Additional faculty appointments were made in 2006, with the transfer of three faculty tenure lines from Psychiatry to Pharmacology. Three additional tenure-track faculty recruitments were made in 2007–2010, adding to the Department’s expertise in cancer biology, transgenic mice, and neurosciences. The Department also continued its efforts to develop research collaborations and expand teaching expertise by adding several joint or adjunct faculty from other departments at WSU, the Henry Ford Health System, St. Johns Hospital, and the University of Windsor.

In addition to the continued strong involvement of several faculty with the Cancer Biology program, the Department also developed two concentrations for our Ph.D. program that were approved by the Graduate School. These are Molecular Neuropharmacology and Molecular and Environmental Toxicology. Establishment of the Ph.D. Concentration in Molecular and Environmental Toxicology was developed out of the folding of the Molecular and Cellular Toxicology graduate program into Pharmacology in 2012.

Dr. Sloane stepped down as Chair at the end of 2015. Although the intention was to pursue a national search for a new Chair, financial constraints at the SOM prohibited this from occurring. Dr. Ray Mattingly was appointed Chair in January 2016 and served in that capacity until he retired in January 2022 to become Chair of Pharmacology at East Carolina University School of Medicine. Dr. Sokol Todi was appointed Interim Chair in January 2022 and promoted to Chair in October 2022. The longstanding strengths of the Department in developing interdisciplinary collaborations across WSU continue.