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News - 21 Feb 2012

"Wonder and enjoyment..." - An interview with Donald Cairns

Pharmaceutical Press talks to Donald Cairns about his book Essentials of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, his new appointment as Head of School, and his desert island essentials.


Pharmaceutical Press:  Congratulations on your recent appointment to Head of School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences at Robert Gordon University. If there is one thing you want to achieve in this position, what would it be?

Donald Cairns:  I think the biggest challenge facing the school is to prepare for our move to a new, purpose built building on the banks of the River Dee. This building has been at the planning stage for 3 years, but is now taking shape and we expect to move in summer 2013. As far as achievements in the future, I want the school to be recognised for academic excellence in all fields of activity, research, teaching, business interaction, etc.

Pharm Press:  Congratulations as well on the publication of your 4th edition of Essentials of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Does the book feel very different now from the first edition you wrote back in 2000?

Donald Cairns:  The first edition of EPC was really a lab manual of undergraduate experiments. Since then, it has grown with each new edition until it is now a fairly comprehensive account of the chemistry required for the study of a degree in Pharmacy or Pharmaceutical Science. The 4th edition includes 2 new chapters as well as an update for every other chapter.

Pharm Press:  You say in the preface that you felt "wonder and enjoyment" when you were first introduced to the chemistry of drugs and medicines. These are powerful words to describe the topic. Can you talk about why you find it so exciting?

Donald Cairns:  I tell the year 1 students in my lecture that Medicinal Chemistry is 'the most fun you can have with your clothes on' which usually gets a laugh. I have always found the chemistry of drugs and poisons interesting and even when I was an undergraduate, this was the bit of the course I liked best (and got the highest marks for). I've never really found chemistry difficult, whereas other subjects were a challenge. I guess I'm just lucky I 'get' chemistry?. I certainly look forward to meetings of my research group rather than the other meetings I usually have to go to.

Pharm Press:  This edition has new chapters on "Chromatographic Methods of Analysis", and "Medicinal Chemistry - the Science of Rational Drug Design". Why did you pick these two topics in particular?

Donald Cairns:  Chromatography is a hugely important analytical technique and it needed to be included in any textbook of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Medicinal Chemistry, as I said above, is my thing and I wanted to tackle it in the new edition. There are textbooks of Med Chem that are 2-300 pages long, so clearly I could not cover a fraction of the work in 30 pages, but I thought I could get the students to think about subjects such as 'Where do drugs come from?' or 'Why do we need new drugs, anyway?'

Pharm Press:  What do you enjoy about the process of revising your book in order to bring out a new edition? Is there anything you find particularly challenging?

Donald Cairns:  Finding the time to devote to the book is becoming a challenge, but once I get going the words seem to flow naturally. I don't enjoy proof reading or reviewing mistakes - it annoys me when I get something wrong and have to go back and change it. There was an error in the 3rd edition in the structure of a drug and it drove me mad to think that students out there could be getting confused because of carelessness on my part. Fortunately, readers are quick to point out errors!

Pharm Press:  If you were marooned on the proverbial desert island, what books or music would you want to have with you?

Donald Cairns:  My favourite book in all the world is Lord of the Rings and even tho' I've read it many times, I would want it with me on a desert island. I'd also want a Chemistry text to keep me up to date in case I was ever rescued (that makes me sound a bit sad, doesn't it?)
Music - anything tuneful would do - Only the Lonely or Island in the Sun, maybe?

Pharm Press:  Anything else you'd like to say?

Donald Cairns:  No, I've said enough!



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