College of Pharmacy

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Big Thinkers- Bingfang Yan

Title: Professor Biomedical Sciences

Expertise: Immunology, molecular genetics and drug metabolism

Two health issues are ever-present in America. One is the seasonal flu and the other is being overweight. So when people see ads for medications that may fix these conditions, many will head to the doctor and then the nearest pharmacy. They figure “this should be fine for me or it wouldn’t be on the shelf.”

When Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Bingfang Yan watches those ads, he heads to his lab. The “fine for me” assumption is one his research has found to be dangerous. And his findings have caused federal officials and others to take note.

Professor Yan’s research has shown that our genes and environment affect the way we metabolize drugs. For example, he found that Tamiflu, one of the key weapons in the battle against influenza, might be less effective for patients who are taking the anti-clotting drug Plavix. His work led to a foundation for adjusting dosing regimens among patients who need both drugs.

In a more recent discovery, Professor Yan found cause for concern with the weight-loss drug orlistat, known by the over–the-counter brand names Xenical and Alli. His research shows that among other things, the drug inhibits a key enzyme that has an important role in detoxifying the liver, kidneys, and entire gastrointestinal tract. Preventing this enzyme from doing its job may result in “severe toxicity of internal organs.”

Widely recognized for his research and teaching, Professor Yan has received millions in top priority research grants from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations.

“We attract bright and talented students to the College of Pharmacy, and I enjoy interacting with them. They know I am a pretty funny guy too,” Professor Yan said. “It is important that we provide students with a solid first level of instruction because things are changing so fast.”

The professor says the work that he and others are doing could be called the “infancy stage” of individualized prescriptions. “We are all different on a molecular level, so why not have medicines that are customized to respond to those differences?” said Professor Yan.

This professor’s work as a researcher, scholar, and educator epitomizes our spirit of discovery and commitment to high professional and educational ideals.

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