Tony Harmar

May 19, 2006

Tony Harmar has been appointed to the oldest pharmacology chair in the UK at Edinburgh University

Tony Harmar, head of Edinburgh University's School of Biomedical Sciences, has been appointed to the oldest pharmacology chair in the UK. The City of Edinburgh chair was set up in the 18th century.

"When it was founded, professors of pharmacology were experts in botany and materia medica , the use of plants as medicines," Professor Harmar said. "Today, scientists with expertise in pharmacology are spread across many disciplines."

Professor Harmar studied biochemistry at Cambridge University but moved into neuroscience for his PhD, in part because a close friend suffered from depression. In 1981, he moved from a post at Bristol University to join the Medical Research Council's Brain Metabolism Unit at Edinburgh.

He discovered a neuropeptide in the brain that is essential for running the body "clock". The biological clock orchestrates daily rhythms in, for example, hormone levels and blood pressure, and also influences the severity of various disorders.

"I aim to build a team with expertise in chronopharmacology, a science that applies our knowledge of biological timing to improve existing medicines, and to design treatments for ailments such as asthma, cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

Cancerous tumours may be on a different timing to healthy tissue, potentially enabling chemotherapy to be given when it would be most toxic to the tumour and less toxic to the rest of the body.

After the closure of the MRC unit a few years ago, Professor Harmar shifted from full-time research to taking on teaching and administrative duties. "I certainly felt that after 18 years in the lab, it was time to try to impart some of that experience to a later generation. But I don't regard myself as a career administrator."

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