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Pharmaceutics professor wins Early Career Achievement Award

Dr. Nina Isoherranen stands in a lab in the pharmaceutical wing of the Magnuson Health Sciences Building. Isoherranen was recently awarded the Early Career Achievement award for drug metabolism and disposition.

Photo by Joshua Bessex

It’s been only nine years since Dr. Nina Isoherranen earned her Ph.D., but her body of work suggests otherwise. In less than a decade, she’s published more than 50 papers in some of the most esteemed academic journals in her field.

Last week, Isoherranen, an associate professor in the UW Department of Pharmaceutics, was recognized for her achievements. The American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) gave her an Early Career Achievement Award in the category of drug metabolism and disposition.

“I think what they really looked for is people with multiple areas of expertise,” Isoherranen said. “They wanted someone with broad experience.”

The majority of her work focuses on the way human bodies metabolize drugs, but Isoherranen has three distinct areas of research within that broader discipline. She studies retinoic acid, which affects the way a body processes vitamin A. She also researches how drugs interact with one another within the body. Her third area of analysis looks at how pregnancy changes the way drugs are metabolized.

Due in a large part to her sizable volume of work, she’s gained notoriety within her field. Dr. David Stresser, who works in drug metabolism services for a lab supply company, and who wrote a letter to ASPET recommending her for the award, said her peers view her an expert in all three areas of her research.

Dr. Ken Thummel, the chair of the UW Department of Pharmaceutics, said Isoherranen’s three main interests, though wide-ranging, have the common goal of improving public safety.

“Drug safety is really the primary focus,” Thummel said. “Trying to ensure that they’re safer before they’re launched or, for drugs currently in use, making their use safer, particularly for vulnerable populations.”

Isoherranen said the diversity in her research stemmed in part from a desire to tackle problems related to drug safety from all sides. She said this is the best way to find solutions.

“You have to start doing different things,” she said. “You can’t apply the same tool all the time.”

Because the award requires such an extensive nomination process — letters of recommendation, samples of published work, and a summary of achievements — Jim Bernstein, ASPET’s public affairs director, said the award is more selective than competitive. Isoherranen wasn’t competing with hundreds of other applicants; ASPET’s Drug Metabolism Division, which picks the winners, only considers a few individuals.

“It’s quite clear to the folks making the decision who the real cream of the crop are,” he said.

It might have prestige, but the Early Career Achievement Award doesn’t come with a
wad of cash; it’s only $1,000, plus travel expenses for the trip to Boston.

Isoherranen said she wants to give some of the money back to the people who helped her research along the way. She said many of the advances in her work result from a good relationship among her colleagues and students.

“I’m going to probably take the lab for a party,” she said. “The only problem is you need to have all the people who have been there over the last seven years.”

Reach Arts & Leisure Editor Joseph Sutton-Holcomb at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @analogmelon

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