Meeting the demands of a changing world

Dr Janis MacCallum and Dr Graham Wright, Programme Leaders for the School’s Biomolecular MSc suite, outline why this is a good time to become an applied biologist.

Whilst it’s clear the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are numerous, we’ve been spending some time trying to understand what the ongoing response by the industry and academia will mean for our graduates. And the answer is resounding, it’s a good time to be an applied biologist. The need for scientists has been brought into sharp focus. Every day we are reading in the popular press about immunology, in the shape of vaccines and antibody tests; molecular biology in shape of diagnostic tests run from nose swabs; pharmacology in the shape of repurposing old drugs and designing new ones… I could go on.

In reviewing our MSc programmes to ensure they were training graduates able to contribute to the global response to COVID-19, we found that without exception our programmes were already doing this. Our suite of programmes already have a strong practical element with a focus on employability skills and all are supported by research academics, with strong links across the bio-medical and pharmaceutical industries and research institutes as well as within the NHS. This, combined with module and lecture topics that are designed to react to emerging research and demands to reflect the field, means that our programmes are already aligned to challenges created by COVID-19 and will be ready for whatever comes after it.

Our Biomedical Science programme, covers fundamental and emerging topics in immunology, toxicology, pharmacology and disease biology and how these disciplines are applied in biomedical science, allowing our students to gain unique insights into the challenges currently facing biomedical science (pandemic anyone?). One example of how COVID-19 will be reflected in our BMS programme comes from Prof. Peter Barlow, Professor of Infection and Immunology, module leader on our MSc programmes and Head of Research:

“I’ve given lectures and tutorials on the potential of host defence peptides for treating viral infections and related topics and covered emerging vaccination technologies that can be rapidly deployed that I’ve published on previously. I’ve also run tutorials where I’ve had MSc students critically review prior funding applications and could incorporate these into my modules now that we are starting to apply for SARS-CoV-2 related funding.”

Dr Peter Barlow

Or there is Drug Design and Biomedical Science, a unique programme which combines biomedicine and pharmaceutical science, focussing on the development and creation of effective drugs, from concept to clinic, including the theories and practical applications of chemical drug design and immunology, pharmacology and molecular biology. Our Head of Synthetic Chemistry, Dr David Mincher highlighted just one of the many areas these programmes that will reflect important aspects in the pharmaceutical response to COVID-19:

“A major topic taught in the Drug Design and Chemotherapy module is the design of drugs to treat viral infections, focussed on clinically successful drugs, exemplified by oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to treat influenza, and SARS. Parallel mechanism-based analysis, using our molecular modelling and computational biology facilities are extendable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, causing the coronavirus disease COVID-19. Chemotherapeutic approaches are critically important to the treatment of viral disease in the scenario that vaccines are of no use to persons already infected with the virus.”

We also offer programmes in Medical Biotechnology (January 2020 intake) and a 2 year MSc programme in Pharmaceutical and Analytical Science (January intake only). All are designed to support you in gaining the knowledge and skills needed to take on exciting employment opportunities in the pharmaceutical, biomedical and biotechnology fields. Perhaps now is the time for you to explore these opportunities further…

If you are interested in learning more, sign up for our next Postgraduate Open evening being held online on the 21st May via this link: https://www.napier.ac.uk/about-us/events/online-pg-open-evening-may-2020#Form .

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