Ready for anything: 3D Molecule Viewer app helps pharmacy students learn on campus or at home

Earlier this year, Wayne State University launched the 3D Molecule Viewer app, which uses augmented reality to show users how drugs and proteins interact. A true interdisciplinary undertaking, the app was created for the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences by a Mike Ilitch School of Business alumnus in collaboration with WSU’s Computer & Information Technology unit with support from the Office of the Provost.

Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Steven M. Firestine is looking forward to putting the app to work. “I teach Introduction to Pharmaceutical Sciences to first-year pharmacy students in their first semester,” he said. “Basically, I teach them how drugs interact with their target. Students find it challenging to see these interactions simply by looking at a static picture.”

Normally, to view 3D structures of drugs and proteins, students would need to use specialized software that required training. “The app puts 3D models in the palm of their hands, where they can get a close look and even take pictures of what they’re seeing,” he said. Unlike the specialized software, the app offers intuitive functionality and is available for free to anyone with a smartphone.

Steve Firestine
Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Steven M. Firestine

“Students will be able to rotate molecules while zooming in and out to really learn how drugs interact with their targets,” Firestine said. “This information forms a foundation for everything else they will do in pharmacy school.”

PharmD Class of 2021 candidate Vanessa Hardrick is an early fan of the app. She and fellow P4 student Mahdi Elahi were charged with creating a classroom activity to make use of the new tool during their academic rotation this summer.

“I think the app is a really cool and unique idea. It’s also user-friendly and can be used anywhere,” Hardrick said. “It will help students see the bigger picture when it comes to how drugs interact with certain enzymes in the body.”

Because several programs across campus such as nursing, chemistry and pharmacology also study drug function, Firestine is hoping other schools and colleges choose to take advantage of the free WSU-branded application.

While the app currently offers access to a limited number of drug-protein structures, the next phase of development aims to connect it to the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank, a national digital resource that offers open access to 3D structure data for more than 160,000 large biological molecules.

If the connection is successful, Firestine believes scientists across the globe could turn to Wayne State’s 3D Molecule Viewer for on-the-spot access to data. For now, it is an incredible tool that’s arriving at just the right time for students.

Hardrick says she wishes the app had been available when she was a first-year pharmacy student: “It’s really easy as a P1 to see molecules of drugs as only 2D structures. This app provides a deeper understanding of the material.”

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