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Getting Better All the Time

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Vanessa Armstrong, along with primary investigator L. Keith Henry, PhD, uses computational modeling to help visualize the elusive structure of neurotransmitter transporters.

Vanessa Armstrong
has, as the Judy Collins song goes, “looked at life from both sides now.” Her fascinating career in pharmacology has progressed from helping mentally ill patients manage their drug intake, all the way to ground-breaking research on how those same drugs could be made to work even better.

Spend time with this second-year PhD candidate in Pharmacology, Physiology, and Therapeutics (PPT) and her zeal for research quickly becomes apparent. “I enjoy helping people, but the research is just a little more exciting because you never know what will happen. You get something: what you expect, but always a bit more.”

The arc of her unique story began in Bemidji, Minn., where, in her 20s, she and her husband inherited a board and lodging home with a special services license. That meant taking care of adults with mental disabilities. The eight-bed home quickly became a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week challenge for Armstrong, but it also gave her valuable experience in the pharmacy business. She credits a local pharmacist, Richard Chernugle, with helping her connect with her life’s work. “At the home, we had a huge number of medications to keep track of. He was extremely helpful, and that’s what really got me interested in pharmacy.”

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