Western University of Health Sciences Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences (MSPS) student John Murad won a prestigious award that serves as both a personal achievement and a milestone for the College of Pharmacy.

Murad, MSPS ’12, received the First Place Graduate Student Best Abstract Award of the Cardiovascular Pharmacology Division of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) at the April 21-25, 2012 Experimental Biology Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

He was competing against PhD candidates from the U.S. and institutions around the world, and is the first Master of Science student to win the award in its 10-year history. The abstract, “A Novel Antithrombotic Agent Targeting the Human Thromboxane A2 Receptor,” was co-authored by College of Pharmacy Assistant Professor Fadi Khasawneh, BPharm, PhD, Murad’s thesis adviser; MSPS graduate Harold Ting; post-doctoral research fellow Enma Veronica Paez Espinosa, MD, PhD; and College of Veterinary Medicine Associate Professor Diane McClure, DVM, PhD, DACLAM.

The study looks at the ability of a custom-designed antibody that targets a specific receptor, Thromboxane A2, to act as an anti-clotting agent to manage thrombosis-based disorders such as heart attacks and strokes. The antibody has the potential to be used post-surgery to reduce the risk of blood clot formation.

Murad worked under the supervision of Dr. Fadi Khasawneh, who conducted his graduate and post-doctoral training on platelet biology and pathology of thrombotic disorders at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Khasawneh is also a previous winner of this award in 2007. This research was funded by the Regents of the University of California, Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, Grant Number 19KT-0030 (to Dr. Fadi Khasawneh).

“I have to give a lot of credit to Dr. Khasawneh and the program here for setting me up quite well,” Murad said. “They gave me the training, a lot of resources and tools to produce these results, and the opportunity to submit the abstract.”

ASPET rated his abstract in the top four for graduate-level students, resulting in an invitation for Murad to give an oral presentation at the San Diego meeting. The abstract and his presentation earned him the first-place award.

Receiving the award sets his expectations higher, Murad said. It provides a nice addition to his CV that is attractive to universities if he pursues more graduate work, or to potential pharmaceutical companies looking for someone with excellent research and oral presentation skills.

College of Pharmacy Dean Daniel Robinson, PharmD, said he is pleased with the success of the MSPS program and the way that faculty have provided exciting research opportunities for students.

“Over the past three years, we have successfully increased the size of our graduate program to provide greater research continuity for our faculty and our students,” he said. “Most of our faculty-directed laboratories now have both a first-year and a second-year graduate student. This prevents the usual down time associated with orienting a new student to the laboratory. The research is able to continue uninterrupted, and we are clearly seeing an increase in our research productivity. This success would not be possible if we weren’t able to recruit high-quality graduate students, who are making us very proud.”

The research was truly an interprofessional collaboration and also an example of the College’s emphasis on translational research – taking research from the bench to the bedside, Khasawneh said. The College and Dean Robinson have committed support to the MSPS program, providing an opportunity for graduate students to get exposed to high-level, high-impact research presented at these international meetings, and an opportunity to present their research findings at such meetings.

“The conference attendees were scientists and researchers from around the world,” Khasawneh said. “They all witnessed his accomplishment. So it really puts us on the map, and it highlights the high-quality research that WesternU researchers do.”

The award is a milestone for the MSPS program, which has grown from two students in 2004 to 19 students, said Jeffrey Wang, PhD, College of Pharmacy Director of Graduate Education. The goal is for WesternU to develop a PhD program in pharmaceutical sciences. About half of the MSPS graduates go on to PhD programs at other universities.

“We receive good feedback on their performance,” Wang said. “People like our graduates. And this is convincing evidence that we should have our own PhD program. This award is not only good for (Murad), for his professional development, but it really brings recognition and honor to the University.”