Faculty Snapshot: Patrick Murphy

Meet an assistant professor in the College of Nursing who teaches interdisciplinary courses in pharmacology

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
July 8, 2011

You began at SU as an adjunct professor in biology in 2005. How did you find your way to the College of Nursing?

Murphy: Our former dean had the foresight to recruit faculty from related disciplines to support SU’s nursing programs. In my content area (pharmacology), for example, the volume of information nurses are expected to know—both from ethical and legal perspectives—has profoundly expanded over the past half-century. Because there are so many medications used today, we teach students not just how to memorize facts, but how to think mechanistically about how drugs work in the body. This helps them not only provide better patient care and education, but also patient advocacy.

How did your research change when you joined the nursing faculty?

Murphy: Just like with my teaching, I was able to bridge the gap between basic science and nursing/clinical science, break down some stereotypes and help students see the bigger picture of the discovery process. All the students in my laboratory come to understand the significance of how certain biochemical reactions impact an asthmatic patient, for example. At larger schools, there’s typically a need for compartmentalization and students often see just one piece of the research puzzle. Here at SU, we’re able to have students involved in the full spectrum of research activities and we’re asking meaningful questions that heavily involve student researchers.

Is this undergraduate research?

Murphy: I don’t believe in undergraduate research. What I’m in favor of is research with full contributions from all lab members. By removing the label of “undergraduate,” it indicates the research continues and that we’re initiating research questions bigger than any of us. I currently have 13 undergraduates from nursing, biology, chemistry, biochemistry and physics conducting—and sometimes running—a half-dozen interrelated projects. Results from three of these are currently slated to be published in an exciting new media-online journal named JoVE (for Journal of Visualized Experiments) and will include six undergraduate co-authors.

Your research examines the importance of DNA in determining how a person responds to drugs and has the potential to improve health and minimize unpleasant side effects. Can you explain more?

Murphy: My work centers on pharmacogenetics and molecular chaperone proteins. Pharmacogenetics explores how DNA affects an individual person’s response to drugs. Molecular chaperone proteins are essential biomolecules inside every cell that coordinate your body’s response to physiological change and cellular stress. Studying the interplay between drugs, DNA and proteins is a hallmark of modern biomedical research. Think of DNA as a blueprint, the instructions for building, and think of proteins as the machinery and materials that do the actual building inside the cell.

What drugs are you investigating?

Murphy: We’re looking at a class of medicines called glucocorticoids. They’re among the most commonly prescribes drugs in the U.S. and treat diseases that range from asthma and cancer to psoriasis and arthritis.

Patrick Murphy teaches student Olivia Buonarati how to prepare an acrylamide gel, which is used to separate proteins by their molecular weight.