Department History

The Department of Pharmacology at IU School of Medicine was founded in 1915 under the chairmanship of B. Bernard Turner, who was recruited from the laboratory of John Jacob Abel, known as the father of American pharmacology. The department was merged with biochemistry in the 1930s when Turner was succeeded by Rolla N. Harger, MD, the inventor of the Drunkometer, which is now known as the breathalyzer to test alcohol levels in the breath.

In 1958 the Department of Pharmacology was reestablished as a separate unit with James Ashmore, MD, as the chair. Ashmore was succeeded 18 years later by Henry R. Besch, Jr., PhD, and the department was renamed the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology to formally recognize the leadership in toxicology by Harger and his prominent student Robert B. Forney, PhD.

Forney was instrumental in establishing the State Department of Toxicology which was housed in the department. Michael R. Vasko, PhD, became chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology on July 1, 2002. In that same year, the Paul and Carol Stark Neuroscience Research Institute was formed with Gerry Oxford, PhD, as the director and faculty member in the Department. In 2006 the Center for Environmental Health was formed with James Klaunig, PhD, as the director. Both of these research centers were administratively housed in the department.

Vasko stepped down in 2013 and was succeeded by interim chair Theodore Cummins, PhD. In 2015, Bryan Yamamoto, PhD, was recruited as chair, leading the department into its second century. He oversaw substantial recruitment and growth of the department in all current focus areas (neuroscience, cancer, parasitology). After Yamamoto’s retirement in 2022, William J. Sullivan, PhD served as interim chair. Timothy W. Corson, PhD, joined the department as chair in 2023.