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Associate Dean Allison Fryer reflects on science and Lord Voldemort

Dr. FryerAppointed as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in June 2008, Allison Fryer, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Medicine, oversees almost 600 students enrolled in 26 programs. Demanding as this role is, it is one she fills in addition to her other responsibilities as a principal investigator on research grants, a mentor, a teacher, an administrator, a wife and a parent. “On my best days I feel I am organized and in control of everything,” she said. “But there are a few days when I worry that, like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels, if I fracture my soul into one more piece it will become terminally unstable!”

Dr. Fryer received her Ph.D. from the University of London in 1986, and was a postdoctoral fellow at both the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. In 1990, she joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University where she rose to the rank of Professor before moving to the OHSU School of Medicine in 2003.

Her reputation as a scientist is evidenced by her service as editor on two international peer-reviewed journals, The British Journal of Pharmacology and The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Her research is focused on how interactions between inflammatory cells and peripheral nerves cause the airway hyperreactivity characteristic of asthma; and she was the first to discover a mechanism (called M2 muscarinic receptors) that inhibits release of chemical transmitters from nerves supplying the lungs. In 2010, her OHSU colleagues recognized her scientific achievements and contributions to education by awarding her the John A. Resko Faculty Research and Mentoring Award.
She asks of her students no less than she demands of herself. “We are teaching them how to think differently,” she said. “As biomedical scientists they will add to the body of knowledge around prevention and treatment of human disease. To do this, graduate students must develop something of a dual personality. They must learn how to test their ideas experimentally and interpret their data objectively but they must also be encouraged to think creatively in order to see something new in the universe around them.”

She meets regularly with student representatives at formal and informal meetings and she and her husband, David Jacoby, M.D., Professor, Department of Medicine and Director of the M.D./Ph.D. program in the OHSU School of Medicine, invite students to their home for dinner monthly.

She is keen for alumni to stay in touch with the graduate studies program. “We’d love for alumni to help judge at the Annual Student Research Forum, or give seminars about their career paths,” she said. “There is no better teacher than experience and our students would benefit from your knowledge and your wisdom.”

She is also conscious of the critical role that time plays in the development of a scientist. “Human health of the future depends upon training biomedical scientists today,” she said. “We need to advocate for increased funding for scientific endeavors and training and at the same time ensure that we train excellent scientists who are able to understand, prevent and cure disease.”

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