In pursuit of a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, Sherif El-Refai also serves as an oncology pharmacist at the university’s Markey Cancer Center. As part of the Black Lab at the College of Pharmacy, Sherif El-Refai researches the ways in which gene expression affects patient responses to cancer treatments.
Under the leadership of researcher J. Julius Zhu, associate professor of pharmacology, a research team at the University of Virginia School of Medicine has created a new technique that lets scientists more quickly assess gene mutations and their effect. The technique uses lentivirus, a form of retrovirus similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which replaces normal genes with mutated versions.
The technology allows scientists to assess the effect of each mutation on the body. It is more time and cost efficient than currently available methods of studying gene mutation, and thus will be more accessible to the typical research laboratory. With this new technology, research that would have once taken 10 years will take only three months.
Dr. Zhu has suggested that this advancement will allow physicians to develop better customized treatments. By identifying the type and nature of a gene mutation, physicians may be able to suggest interventions that are likely to generate the proper level of gene activity.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Sherif El-Refai conducts research on lung cancer at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Sherif El-Refai concurrently serves as an oncology pharmacist at the University of Kentucky (UK) Markey Cancer Center, which has received recognition from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The UK Markey Cancer Center stands out as the only cancer center in the state of Kentucky and one of just 69 centers in the country to receive the coveted NCI designation. The honor recognizes cancer centers that have demonstrated excellence in laboratory and clinical research as well as behavioral and population-based studies.
NCI-designated cancer centers have access to exclusive clinical trials and new drugs and treatments. The designation also provides the Markey Cancer Center with an additional $2 million in funding per year and the opportunity to recruit some of the top medical students and faculty from around the world. The Markey Cancer Center also can collaborate on cancer research with other NCI-designated centers throughout the country.
A committed oncology pharmacist, Sherif El-Refai works at Markey Cancer Center at University of Kentucky Hospital. In addition to handling those responsibilities, Sherif El-Refai is studying for his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Kentucky, where he also conducts lung cancer research.
Oncology pharmacists are professionals tasked with designing and implementing drug treatment plans specifically for patients with cancer. They perform a key role in caring for cancer by monitoring the dosing of powerful drugs, such as chemotherapy medications. They also interact with patients to ensure they understand the treatments administered to them.
These pharmacists have access to all information on cancer patients’ medications, including medications for other conditions they may have. They use that knowledge to alert patients to possible drug interactions that could lead to negative side effects. Additionally, some cancer patients struggle to remember to take their medications regularly, resulting in poor outcomes. Pharmacists support patients by providing checklists and other strategies to ensure timely dosing.
Dr. Sherif El-Refai attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, where he earned a doctor of pharmacy in 2011. While there, Dr. Sherif El-Refai also gained clerkship experience in the areas of ambulatory care, inpatient medicine, and ICU trauma.
Proclaimed by US News and World Report as the number one pharmacy school in the country, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy encompasses the Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery (CNDD), researching new systems for medication delivery.
The CNDD is studying the effects of using sciences such as nanofabrication (creating devices that are measured in nanometers). One nanometer is equal to a millionth of a millimeter. Procedures like nanotoxicology or determining the health risks of nanomaterials to individuals are also being studied to produce safer and more efficient delivery systems for drugs. The CNDD hosts workshops and seminars regularly to discuss research and advancements in drug delivery systems, such as the annual Nanomedicine and Drug Delivery Symposium that drew more than 275 participants representing 11 different countries.
A pharmacist holding an MBA from the University of Florida, Sherif El-Refai recently began a doctoral program at the University of Kentucky. Pursuing a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences, Sherif El-Refai concurrently works at the Markey Cancer Center, where he serves as an oncology pharmacist.
A cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, the Markey Cancer Center focuses on developing research studies that enhance therapies offered to patients diagnosed with various forms of the disease. In 2009, the university’s center was awarded a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant. One of only six cancer centers to receive the grant, the organization obtained $1.5 million in funding to support studies on colon and liver cancer.
Employing tissue procurement and analysis as well as biostatistics, the research team, led by Dr. B. Mark Evers, evaluates tumor stroma, mucosa, and colorectal cancer cases to locate the underlying components that progress colorectal cancer. In terms of liver cancer, researchers are looking for a direct link between hepatitis C virus proteins and the disease.
After earning a doctor of pharmacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and working as a pharmacist, Sherif El-Refai decided to return to school to pursue a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Kentucky. Sherif El-Refai also secured a role as an oncology pharmacist at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
In June 2015, UK issued a press release to announce that the UK HealthCare Committee of the school’s board of trustees received a strategic plan outlining the future of UK HealthCare through 2020. The plan was developed to build upon UK HealthCare’s previous 10 years of success, which includes a 95 percent increase in full-time employees since 2004 and the inclusion of an additional 120 licensed beds in 2014. By authorizing the new strategic plan, the UK HealthCare Committee has encouraged stakeholders to commit to collaborative models, the patient experience, and service line integration.
The plan calls for the creation of a cultural change program and service line growth at a number of facilities, such as the Markey Cancer Center and Kentucky Children’s Hospital. According to the press release, service line growth will involve investment in operational efficiency, the continued treatment of the most complex cases, a redesigned transfer management program, and expanded partnerships with community physicians.