Dr. Brooks McPhail recalls the tragic moments as an undergraduate student that inspired her dedication to a very specific career choice: to study pediatric pharmacodynamics.
During her sophomore and senior years at South Carolina State University, two young relatives, aged 6 months and 8 years old, died due to medicinally-related complications.
“That is the reason I went to grad school,” says McPhail, now an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, “and my whole purpose has been to study the impacts of toxins, chemicals and drugs on young children.”
Although such occurrences are exceedingly rare, the incidents during McPhail’s matriculation at South Carolina State University would shape a career for her that was exclusively focused on limiting toxic exposure in children—of all ages and phases of development—and ultimately training physicians to have to the knowledge to most effectively treat pediatric patients when they are ill.
McPhail went on to earn a PhD in Toxicology, with a concentration in pharmacokinetics, from the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program. She received postdoctoral training in computational pharmacokinetics from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention Agency of Toxic Substance & Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR) and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical, where she was the first Chief Fellow for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) T32 Pediatric Clinical Pharmacology Fellowship Program.
In 2018, McPhail joined the UofSC School of Medicine Greenville, where she uses computational models to conduct research that aims to help transform the way doctors and medical professionals treat the pediatric population, by improving personalized care and precision dosing. “The thing that I really admire about Dr. McPhail is that she has taken this deep loss from her own family, and she has worked incredibly hard to be in a position now where she can educate future physicians about the mechanisms of drug toxicities and dynamics,” says Dr. Kelly Quesnelle, Biomedical Sciences Chair at the University of South Carolina SOMG.
Soon after first embarking on this important field of study, McPhail discovered it was also an extremely complex field, with some key questions unanswered.
Children, especially younger children, often cannot completely communicate how they feel. And that’s just one reason why it is so crucial to know the symptoms of illnesses and medical emergencies, and to also best understand the various ways that treatments can impact pediatric patients, McPhail says. Research and knowledge can help physicians and medical professionals ensure pharmaceutical medicines are used to maximum benefit, while decreasing risks.
McPhail’s ongoing research has played a pivotal role in the field of pharmaceutical dynamics and pediatric pharmacokinetics, and she is now helping mentor the next generation of doctors.
“Properly training the physicians is important to make sure they understand the toxicology and therapeutic range of medicine so they can make the most informed decisions,” McPhail says.
While at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, McPhail collaborated with another researcher to help decrease the time of withdrawal for a baby born with neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).
McPhail has received numerous recent accolades. This April, she was awarded the Prisma Health 2022 Woman of Impact Award. In May, McPhail was appointed to the executive committee for the Division of Pharmacology Education (DPE) for the American Society of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). “This is exciting,” says Quesnelle, the Biomedical Sciences Chair. “She will be able to influence pharmacology education beyond Greenville, and will be in involved in a discussion on how pharmacology is taught all around the county,”
Here at UofSC School of Medicine Greenville, McPhail will be collaborating with medical students who are synthesizing the latest information in pediatric pharmacodynamics.
“This summer, I will be working with two medical students to conduct research on pediatric pharmacodynamics,” says McPhail. The students, William “Buddy” Gardner and Jacob Wurst, are both second-year medical students at SOMG.
McPhail enjoys working on research with medical students, watching as they learn how to discern the details of medical research and study, such as making note of the intrinsic details of a scientific article on a complicated topic. In addition, McPhail also contributes to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts at Prisma Health and the School of Medicine Greenville and serves as director of the PreMEd Partners Pathway (P3) program at the School. The PreMEd Partners Pathway Program is designed to identify, educate, and prepare underrepresented undergraduate students — from South Carolina colleges and universities — to successfully enter and matriculate through the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville.
“Every day is different,” McPhail says. But the assistant professor does try to take some time to walk around the campus when she can, especially in spring and summer. It’s a small break from her important work.