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URI Professor named Ernest Mario Distinguished Chair in Pharmaceutics

Media Contact: Janet Kerlin, 401-874-2116

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 22, 2014 – A University of Rhode Island researcher who has gained a national reputation for her work on alcoholism, Type 2 diabetes and measuring drug levels in organ transplant patients has been named the Ernest Mario Distinguished Chair in Pharmaceutics.

Wakefield resident Fatemeh Akhlaghi, professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at URI’s College of Pharmacy, was named to the prestigious University post this summer. Endowed faculty chairs and professorships are intended to help URI recruit and retain renowned scholars.

“Dr. Akhlaghi is a well-respected researcher and leader in the pharmaceutical sciences community. She is currently conducting groundbreaking clinical trials with collaborators at the National Institutes of Health that will lead to a better understanding and treatment of alcoholism,” said E. Paul Larrat, interim dean and professor at URI’s College of Pharmacy.

“Dr. Akhlaghi is particularly gifted at understanding complex scientific problems, creatively exploring possible solutions through her research, and translating that information into strategies that may help individual patients improve their health.”

Akhlaghi’s lab at URI is helping the NIH to develop a medication that could stop alcohol cravings through a research partnership between URI, NIH and Pfizer. The NIH awarded a $1.65 million grant in 2013 to fund her research partnership with Lorenzo Leggio, a Brown University adjunct professor and chief of section on Clinical Psychoneuroendocrinology and Neuropsychopharmacology at NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism/National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Akhlaghi’s other research focuses on devising methods for personalized medicine specifically for patients with Type 2 diabetes or organ transplant recipients. “Once we learned more about different factors that influence drug concentration in the body, we can personalize medicine to the individual need of each patient,” she said. “In this way, we may be able to improve drug response while reducing adverse effects.”

Akhlaghi is also known for creating a method of measuring drug levels in transplant patients that would eliminate the need for twice-weekly blood draws. Her method of using saliva to monitor anti-rejection drugs is not only more accurate and less costly but is also pain-free and convenient for patients; it is being patented and she is searching for a diagnostic company that would make kits for patients to use at home.

Akhlaghi, who joined URI in 2001, holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Mashhad, Iran, and a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Sydney, Australia.

In May 1996, a $1.5 million gift from Ernest Mario, a URI alumnus and a recognized leader in the pharmaceutical industry, established the Ernest Mario Distinguished Chair in Pharmaceutics. A former chief executive of several pharmaceutical companies including Glaxo and ALZA, he is chairman of the board at Capnia, in Redwood City, Calif. He is the 2007 recipient of the Remington Honor Medal, the pharmacy profession’s highest honor, administered by the American Pharmacists Association.

Mario received an honorary degree from URI in 1991. Furthermore, he was a URI Presidential Distinguished Achievement Award recipient in 2012.

Pictured above: Fatemeh Akhlaghi, professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, is named URI’s Ernest Mario Distinguished Chair in Pharmaceutics.
Marketing & Communications photo by Nora Lewis.