Pharmacy students use AR/VR to study impact of prescription drugs on our main organs

First-year students put on simulation goggles to see how certain drugs interact in the body

Virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) realities are transforming the way pharmacology students learn at the University of South Florida’s College of Pharmacy. First-year students are now using simulation goggles to see how certain drugs interact in the body.

They have applied AR/VR to visualize how beta blockers commonly prescribed to treat hypertension, asthma and cardiac workload may affect the heart, lungs and blood vessels. This new learning experience is part of a key initiative to integrate advanced technologies into the student curriculum.

Daniel Lee, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical science (standing), explains the integration of virtual and augmented reality into the College of Pharmacy  course he’s teaching.

“As dean, I teach an advanced metabolic syndrome course, and I have always wanted the students to have high fidelity visualization of the medications we use to treat diabetes and heart disease. With AR/ VR, we are now able to conceptualize organ function better, soon followed by complex medication mechanisms of action,” said Kevin Sneed, PharmD, dean of the USF College of Pharmacy. “We are now able to conceptualize organ function better.”

During a recent class, students covered their eyes with headsets and chose from components previously learned. They used a laser beam to drag and drop small medication doses onto an organ to witness a reaction. In some treatments the heart beat faster, the lungs expanded, or blood vessels constricted.

“They are able to really play with and really understand which drugs are causing the constriction which would lead to increase hypertension,” said Daniel Lee, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical science. Lee’s students gained a better perspective on main lecture objectives down to molecular organ function.

The experience is a game changer for Andreas Rosario, a student who had never tried VR and was seen smiling from ear to ear. “In lecture it’s just words and pictures, kind of hard sometimes to wrap your mind around it,” Rosario said. “I can just take my own time, it’s my own experience.”

Another student, Amanda Hutchings, said she’s a visual learner. “You can tell me day in and day out what Carvedilol (a drug treatment) does this to a receptor, but until I see it happen, I’m not going to understand it.”

This program is just the beginning. Feedback from participating students will be factored into future reiterations of the module. Faculty from the college will continue to work closely Information Technology’s Advanced Visualization Center (AVC) at USF to keep the technology fresh. Funding is received from a student technology fee initiative.

“It’s a great collaboration that shows the spirit of USF,” said Howard Kaplan, advanced technologies manager at AVC.

Kaplan’s team develops mechanisms for learning inside augmented and virtual realities with many departments across the university to innovate curriculums, enhance research projects and inspire more uses of new technologies.

“I wish I had something like this when I was learning pharmacology,” said Lee.“It’s very interactive.”

– Video by Ryan Noone and photos by Sandra C. Roa, USF Communications and Marketing