Dr. Pramod Mahajan, associate professor of pharmacology in Drake University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has been awarded a $10,000 NASA-sponsored grant through the Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Mahajan’s project, “Introduction to Precision Medicine: An Experiential Course for Iowa’s STEM Teachers,” is part of the ISGC’s curriculum development program. Projects selected focus on developing or utilizing innovative approaches to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning and instruction in a university setting through project based course development, capstone courses, and curriculum or course redesign. These projects provide experiences that will equip the future STEM workforce for careers in aerospace or related industries important to NASA.
A part of NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program since 1990, the ISGC continually strives to improve and inspire Iowa’s future in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
With the current award, Mahajan proposes to develop a continuing education course on precision medicine (PM), which many experts consider to be the future of health care.
“My long-term research and education interests align very well with NASA’s programmatic goals for supporting STEM education,” Mahajan said. “There is a national need to attract, train, and retain bright students in this newly developed multidisciplinary branch of medicine. What better way to do this than to introduce students to PM at a younger age. Training the teachers will achieve this goal and thus help fulfil the national need.”
The ISGC supports aerospace research, education, and outreach activities for all Iowans through five program categories: internships/fellowships/scholarships; higher education; research infrastructure; precollege; and informal education. In addition to the curriculum development grant, Mahajan also mentors three of Drake’s pharmacy students, Allison Golbach, Amanda Hoerres, and Michael Ohman, who recently received research scholarships from ISGC. Under his supervision, these students are investigating various aspects of DNA damage repair in human cancer cells.
“We are very excited and hopeful of uncovering some interesting and novel mechanisms and molecules involved in this process,” Mahajan said. “Our results may one day lead to new treatment options for cancer and other diseases caused by genomic insults.”
Mahajan also said it is gratifying that these projects offer opportunities to attract new students to science education and research.
Mahajan has a long-standing interest in STEM education. Over the past two decades, he has worked with several students and teachers from different Des Moines Area middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions to increase their active involvement in biotechnology education and research. He also led the efforts to establish the Ellis Pharmacogenomics Teaching and Research Laboratory in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
He routinely participates in advising and mentoring high school students for biotechnology research, as well as reviewing student research projects and presentations during the school year or at area conferences. Additionally, he serves on the Advisory Boards for Central Campus, the APEX Health Science and Medicine program of the Waukee Independent School District, and the DMACC Biotechnology Advisory Committee.
The ISGC carries out its goals with the assistance of six universities across the state of Iowa, including Drake University, as well as a number of private industry, educational and government organizations, and science museums.