June 11, 1999

Veteran investigator named interim chair of Pharmacology

Veteran investigator named interim chair of Pharmacology


Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D.

Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry, has taken the reins of the department she's called home for nearly 40 years.

The veteran investigator has been named to serve as interim chair of the department of Pharmacology until a new chair is identified.

"I'm happy to serve as interim chair because the department of Pharmacology is important to me personally – it is where I was born and raised as a scientist," Sanders-Bush said. "I've always respected the chairs of this department, and it puts me in awe to follow in that line."

Sanders-Bush succeeds Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. A search committee chaired by Lawrence J. Marnett, Ph.D., Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research, is conducting a national search for the next chair of Pharmacology.

"We think this is an extremely attractive opportunity to build from a strong base, create a world-class department, and help define what the discipline of Pharmacology will be in the future," Marnett said. "We are excited by the challenge of identifying the next leader of this outstanding department."

As the search proceeds, Sanders-Bush will assure that the department stays its course.

"My job is to maintain the strong and vital department that we have until we get a new leader. It's about keeping a sense of stability," Sanders-Bush said.

Sanders-Bush is internationally recognized for her research in the area of serotonin receptor biology. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences a wide range of brain functions such as sleep, mood, and appetite. It has also been implicated in a number of neuropsychiatric diseases including schizophrenia and depression.

She serves as director of the Ph.D. program in Neuroscience and as associate director for Education for the Center for Molecular Neuroscience. She has received numerous awards for her work, including a Bristol-Myers Squibb Unrestricted Grant for Neuroscience Research and an NIH MERIT Award. Sanders-Bush also was this year's recipient of the department of Pharmacology Teaching Award.

Following her graduate work in Vanderbilt's department of Pharmacology, Sanders-Bush completed postdoctoral research with Dr. Fridolin Sulser, professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology.

Sanders-Bush has focused on the function of a sub-family of brain receptors for serotonin. Recently, she established collaborations with David M. Lovinger, Ph.D., professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, and James P. Tam, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and Immunology, to use sophisticated techniques to further study receptor function and signaling abilities.

Another aspect of her current work is what Sanders-Bush calls a "discovery phase" – a search for novel genes regulated by LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs.

"We know that the serotonin-2 receptor family is necessary for hallucinogenic drug action. We proposed this based on our animal studies, and a group in Sweden recently showed that it is true in humans," Sanders-Bush said. "We know that there are also other receptors involved, and so we're looking for new targets of LSD actions."

"This is the part of our research program that will take us in all new directions – which I expect will be very interesting for my last decade of research."