Undergraduate courses and descriptions

Undergraduate courses:

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Course descriptions:

RXRS 200: Approaches to Pharmacology and Drug Development(4 units)

This introductory course in Pharmacology and Drug Development is designed to give students a sampling of the many facets of pharmacology as well as drug discovery and drug development. It will also be of great interest to undergraduates seeking a basic understanding of the process of medication development as it spans from initial discovery to a final drug product. The material presented will give undergraduate students an introductory sampling of basic pharmacological principles and their application in the research and clinical settings. Moreover, hot topics in drug discovery and development will be presented. For example, what are the challenges of rapidly developing a new vaccine for a developing virus (e.g., COVID-19)?

RXRS 201: The History and Geography of Drugs (4 units)

Since the beginning of time, humans have sought out or discovered by accident compounds that have medicinal, hedonic (mood-altering) or deleterious (poisonous) effects.  These effects were, in part, due to the coevolution between the animal and botanical kingdoms whose efforts to survive gave us compounds that could have medicinal, mood-altering or poisonous effects. The origins of herbal medicine lie in the common empirical experience of the human race, in observing which plants the animals ate when they were feeling sick, and following their example.  The societal consequences of improper drug and poison use have been documented as early as 4500 B.C. and attempts to regulate their uses have been documented as early as 2240 B.C.  This course will consider the benefits and consequences of drug use (legal and illegal) from both a historical and geographical perspective. Additionally, the course will consider the role of poisons as a political as well as felonious tool.  Topics will be presented that highlight how drugs and poisons where used throughout the world to shape, modify or change history. This course is approved to meet the requirements of GE-H for undergraduates.

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RXRS 302: Pharmacology and Drug Development (4 units; Fall)

Pharmacology is the study of substances that interact with living systems through chemical processes, especially by binding to regulatory molecules and activating or inhibiting normal body processes. These substances may be chemicals administered to achieve a beneficial therapeutic effect on some process within the patient or for their toxic effects on regulatory processes in parasites infecting the patient.  This course will provide students with an introduction to the nature of drugs and drug development including: principles of drug receptors; how drugs interact with the body (PD); and potentially damage the body (toxicology); how the body alters the effects of the drug (PK); drug biotransformation; important drug interactions and their mechanisms of action and pharmacogenomics. Students will also learn about the regulatory challenges associated with the discovery and development of a new drug.

RXRS 304: Mysterious Deaths: Toxicology, Poisons, Literature and History (4 units)

This course introduces the student to pharmacological and toxicological principles as well as biological mechanisms of action in the setting of the use of poisons in literature and history.  By the end of the course, the students will understand principles related to hazard and risk assessment, the influence of dose, route and formulation on health outcomes as well as how molecules of different origins have been used for the benefit (medicines) and detriment (poisons) in humans.  The course will also introduce the student to the history of forensic analysis and how this field has evolved. Techniques used in modern day forensics to demonstrate evidence of the use of poisons will be presented.  Using historical events taken from the literature, scientific principles linked to toxicology and poisonings will be presented in a unique illustrative context.

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RXRS 402: Human Pharmacology: Challenge of Therapeutics in Society (4 units; Fall).

Pharmacology combines pharmacy (the science of drug preparation) and therapeutics (the treatment of disease with drugs and other means).  This course is designed for upper-level undergraduate students from science majors who want to gain a working knowledge of how drugs are administered, what happens to them once in the body (pharmacokinetics [PK]) how drugs alter disease (pharmacodynamics [PD]); and potentially damage the body (toxicology).  Content also focuses on the use of prescription and over-the counter drugs to prevent and treat diseases (pharmacotherapeutics). The course should give you a basic understanding of many different classes of drugs that are commonly prescribed.

RXRS 403: Neuropharmacology in Health and Disease (4 Units; Spring)

Some of the most devastating long term diseases are linked to changes in brain (CNS) signaling and communication.  This course will explore the challenges and opportunities for developing drugs that are intended to correct or stabilize this inappropriate brain function.  The course will educate you about the origin, pathophysiology and treatment of such important neurological disorders as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, psychiatric disorders, traumatic injury, and addiction.  You will critically evaluate how and why certain treatments are used for those diseases for treating brain disorders.  You will also be introduced to new and exciting scientific frontiers in drug discovery and use.  We now know that the brain is a dynamic organ that develops and changes throughout life.  It can be affected permanently by injury, stress and disease as well as by drug abuse and addiction. Case studies will be presented to show how understanding the human brain may result in new opportunities for drug treatments of treat neurological disorders including addiction, degeneration, and cognitive decline. Students will also become familiar with future technologies including the application of surgical approaches, nanotechnology, lifestyle, and genetic engineering including stem cells that may improve treatments for disease.

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RXRS 405: Pharmacology and Sociology of Drug Abuse (4 units; Fall).
The problems inherent in illicit drug use are well publicized but the relative risks of different types of substance abuse are not. For example, the use and abuse of legal drugs including alcohol and tobacco have caused far more deaths, sickness, violent crimes, economic loss and other social problems compared to the use of all illegal drugs combined.  This course will introduce you to the ways that drugs are perceived and used in today’s society. Using a case study method, you will explore the social, psychological, economic and biological reasons why drug use and abuse occur.  You will learn about current trends that distinguish today’s drug climate, such as the increased use of prescription opioids and the significant increase in accidental opioid overdose.  You will also be introduced to the roles of different health care professionals, members of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry and academic scientists in the prevention and treatment of drug-related addictions and problems.

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RXRS 406: Clinical Pharmacology and Medication Management (4 Units)
This course is designed for students who are interested in the management of patients with poorly controlled chronic diseases through optimal use of medications. Comprehensive Medication Management (CMM) is an evidenced-based preventive clinical service demonstrated to decrease health care costs and improve chronic disease treatment outcomes by ensuring optimal prescribing, monitoring, education, and use of medications that engages physicians, pharmacists, and patients. CMM is defined as the standard of care that ensures each patient’s medications (whether they are prescription, nonprescription, alternative, traditional, vitamins, or nutritional supplements) are individually assessed to determine whether each medication is appropriate for the patient, effective for the medical condition, safe given the comorbidities and other medications being taken, and able to be taken by the patient as intended.  CMM includes an individualized care plan that achieves the intended goals of therapy with appropriate follow-up to determine actual patient outcomes.  When directed at complex high-risk patients, CMM is proven to improve quality of life, access to other healthcare providers, patients’ health literacy and decision making, physician and other non-pharmacist provider satisfaction, and continuity of care.

RXRS 407: The Discovery, Development and Marketing of Medicines (4 Units; Spring)
This course introduces you to ways in which promising research discoveries move from the laboratory (bench) into clinical practice (bedside) to diagnose and treat patients, a process commonly referred as “Translational Science” or “Translational Medicine.”  It should give you a basic understanding of the principles and concepts underlying drug discovery and development as seen through the eyes of industry.  It will examine the use of different types of pharmaceutical interventions, from patented to generic to over-the counter drugs, dietary supplements and alternative medicines.  You will learn about the challenges of illicit and counterfeit drugs, with a view to their regulatory, ethical and societal challenges.  Selected cases studies will be critically reviewed and emerging “hot” topics discussed.  This course is directed at students interested in drug discovery research, chemistry, biology, pharmacology, biochemistry, toxicology, formulations, pharmaceutical industry, FDA.  It would also be useful for business analysts, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists interested in understanding the pharmaceuticals industry.

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RXRS 408: Immunology and Immunotherapeutics (4 Units)
As one of the most important human defense systems, the immune system has the capacity to mount a counter attack in response to any antigenic intrusion.  Nevertheless, as the science of Immunology has progressed, it has become clear that abnormal immune responses are key to the development of many common disorders not traditionally viewed as immunologic in nature, including autoimmune, genetic, neoplastic and neurodegenerative diseases.  This integrative course will cover the critical role of the immune system in maintaining health, and the consequences of improper responses when pathogenic intrusion has occurred or upon pathogenic processes. Lectures will focus on immune responses to infections (bacterial, viral, fungal), xenobiotics (e.g. drugs and pollution), immune disturbances during autoimmune disease and organ transplantation.  Additionally, this course will highlight the role of the immune system in development of neurological disorders. A large section of this course will be devoted to the immune-based treatment options and diagnostics including rapidly evolving immunotherapy, immunodiagnostics, drug-allergy, vaccines, infections and other immunological disorders.

RXRS 409: Neuroimmunology: Focus on Disease and Therapy (4 Units)
Neuroimmunology is an evolving interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, immunology, molecular and cell biology as well as neuropharmacology in an attempt to better understand the role of the immune system and its effects on the human brain.  Building evidence suggests that immune responses to environmental and genetic challenges play an essential role in the development of many central nervous system (CNS) pathologies including ischemic stroke, demyelination, degeneration, infections and trauma, drug addiction. This course will cover topics on the role of the immune system in maintaining a healthy brain and the consequences of improper immunological challenges in the development of the CNS disorders.

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RXRS 410: Cancer Biology and Pharmacotheraphy (4 Units)
Cancer strikes fear in those who are afflicted. This course introduces the student to the complex molecular basis leading to tumor oncogenesis, invasion and metastasis.  Using this understanding, this course will highlight current treatment strategies used to suppress and even eradicate the malignant growth.  In addition, this course will highlight emerging therapeutics that is transforming treatment landscape for cancers.

RXRS 411: Innovations in Medical Product Development (4 Units)
New technologies are being developed every day. However, before they can be used, they must navigate a maze of political, regulatory and reimbursement issues. You will learn about emerging technologies used in the research, development and manufacturing of new drugs, medical devices, and biologics- topics such as the use of 3D printers to manufacture drugs and prosthetics, the use of light activated nanoparticles to deliver drug payloads directly to the site of tumors, computer modelling and simulations to predict the safety and efficacy of medical products and the use of gas filled microbubbles to transport large molecules across the blood brain barrier to treat neurological disorders. “Hot topics” will be presented such as the role of FDA in regulating the “do it yourself DNA kits” that are being marketed (e.g., 23andME). The course will also explore concerns that the US may not be the best country to introduce these new innovations.

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RXRS 412: Twenty First Century Medical Issues and the Law (4 units)
Pharmacists, physicians, and medical professionals constantly face ethical choices.  Sometimes these choices are dramatic matters of life-and-death decisions, but more often subtle, less conspicuous choices that are nonetheless important.  Ranging from situations faced in direct patient care to broader issues, this course will utilize cases studies to explore topics and the ethical framework within which practitioners make decisions about such issues as assisted suicide, conscientious refusal, pain management, and confidentiality as well as the equitable distribution of drug resources within institutions or managed care organizations and clinical studies on vulnerable populations. Students will be presented with case studies to help explore and understand the principles guiding the conduct of healthcare professionals. In addition, issues presented will involve the welfare and consideration of others in deciding how to act ethically. Topics including criminal and civil acts, contracts, negligence, and ethical concepts as they relate to the medical profession. Managed care, HIPAA, and other health care legislative rulings are discussed.

RXRS 413: Globalization in the Biomedical Industry (4 units; Spring)
The biomedical industry, including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies has been dominated historically by the advanced economies of US, Europe, and Japan. However, seismic shift in the dynamics of global economy has moved revenue growth centers to China, India, and other emerging regions. This has profound implications for research and development (R&D), regulatory, and commercialization strategies that base the industry’s business model.  Lectures will compare the healthcare, business practices, laws, regulations and institutions governing medical products in United States with those of other countries and regions. They will also include cultural issues and harmonization efforts. You will learn about regulations shaping preclinical and clinical trials in other countries through weekly case studies of multinational companies expanding their business globally. These topics should be important for a range of students with Pre Pharmacy, Pre Medicine and other health and life science majors as well as students in biomedical engineering, psychology, business, law, international studies, and sociology. This course is approved to meet the requirements of GE-G for undergraduates.

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RXRS 414: Buzzed: Modern Substances of Abuse and Addiction (4 units) In conventional terms, buzzed is the effect encountered after smoking various plants, drinking various alcoholic drinks, or ingesting various substances.  Buzzed is the “high” one experiences.  This course is designed to investigate what buzzed means in relation to substances of abuse and addiction.  Examples of substances that will be discussed include alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, synthetic drugs, soda, coffee, and tobacco.  Together we will survey the most recent discoveries about substances of abuse like prescription opioids, purple drank, and bath salts.  This course will include information about biological and behavioral changes in addiction, distinctive drug effects on the adolescent brain, trends from popular culture related to these drugs, and ethical issues as related to modern substances of abuse.  In quick-reference summaries, this class will report on how these drugs enter the body, how they manipulate the brain, their short-term and long-term effects, the different “highs” they produce, and the circumstances in which they can be deadly.  This course does not pay homage to the “just say no” doctrine of abstinence, nor does it function as a “how-to” manual for people interested in becoming buzzed.  This course will allow people to make informed decisions with accurate information about these substances, which they may encounter throughout their lives.  There exists very little material available to the public on the most up-to-date psychological, legal, and pharmacological research on these drugs. This course aims to provide a clear understanding of how these substances work, the consequences of their use, the policies to regulate them, and the social beliefs surrounding them.

RXRS 416: Medical Products: From Idea to Market (4 units; Fall)
Biomedical ideas do not turn into products without the intervention of many different types of experts.  Medical devices, drugs and diagnostics are particularly hard to turn into products because they are highly regulated and require disciplined adherence to quality systems.  In this course, we map the progress of products, through the identification of intellectual property, the animal and clinical trials to establish safety and efficacy, the gradual refinement of product composition and quality specifications, to the commercialization of that product. You will see how business principles merge with project management and science in order to make and keep products safe and saleable.   In this course, you will be exposed to many types of activities, some of which may help you to understand whether further study or career development is right for you. This course should have broad appeal to many USC undergraduates including Biomedical Engineering, Pre Pharmacy, Pre Medicine and other health and life science majors as well as students in, psychology, business, law and sociology.

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RXRS 417: Food Safety: The Good, The Bad and The Deadly (4 units)
Public policies and practices continue to intersect with consumer concerns regarding the safety of food ingredients. The future of food and farming are at a critical crossroads of feeding a growing population with diminishing natural resources (e.g., land, water, and energy).  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), natural, sugar, sodium, fat, food additives, food colors and flavors, processing technologies and organic continue to capture the consumers’ attention.  The concept of functional foods, also known as nutraceuticals, is a food product category not endorsed by the U.S. FDA, yet continues to appeal to consumers.  Social media are contemporary drivers that expand consumer concerns, despite the evidence of safety, environmental compatibility, and health benefits.  Within the United States, the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act continues to be a significant factor in assuring the safety, affordability, accessibility, and nutritional quality of the food supply.  This course will critically examine the quantity and quality of scientific evidence, health potential, policy implications and consumer responses in these and other food ingredients and foods “in the news.”

RXRS 418: Plant Medicines in Modern Medicines (4 units)
This course introduces the student to the use of plant medicines in modern medicine, including marijuana.  In the US and throughout many parts of the world, plant medicines are commonly used and are the accepted basis of traditional medicine. As such, this course will also introduce to the student the value of plant medicines. In addition, students will be introduced to the scientific evidence that supports the use of these medicines.  Many prescription drugs were originally isolated and purified from plants and other natural sources, especially anticancer and antibiotic drugs. But in many cases, the “how and why” these compounds work is not well known.  As such, part of the goal of this course is to inform the students about pharmacologically active chemicals found in plants as well as the toxicities of these chemicals.  The instructor was trained by California Indians in traditional healing.

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RXRS 420: Organ Physiology, Drug Delivery and Drug Action (4 units)
An understanding of the physiology of organ systems underlies the understanding of drug delivery routes and drug action and is a cornerstone of the field of biopharmaceutics.  This course will cover the basics of cellular and organ physiology and drug delivery.  These principles and concepts will be integrated into the discussion of 4 major organ systems:  cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, renal, and respiratory.  In addition, the mechanism of action of some of the most popular, widely used drugs will be discussed in the context of these organ systems as targets of the drugs.

RXRS 490: Directed Research 490X (2-4 units; Fall, Spring, Summer)
Directed Research (490x) is student-proposed, faculty-supervised research that can be used to earn from two to eight units of elective credit. This course gives undergraduate students the opportunity to work in the laboratory of a USC faculty member as a research assistant.  The course can count toward up to 4 units of upper division elective credit in the major or minor.  Students must conduct research under a professor, and must present their work in the form of a paper, formal publication, or poster presentation. Directed research is usually intended for juniors and seniors who have excelled in the major and have developed a specific research interest.

For more info regarding these courses, please contact Dr. Randa Issa:  rissa@usc.edu or 323-442-2018

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