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Affinity Groups Update

Published: 30 May 2017
Category: Affinity groups
By Gary Stephens, Stephen Safrany, Niall Hyland

The British Pharmacological Society’s Affinity Groups were established in 2015 to ensure:

  1. all areas of pharmacology are well represented in the Society’s activities
  2. to facilitate networking and discussion amongst researchers within the area and
  3. to uphold the scientific quality of any of the Society’s events relating to the Affinity Groups’ activities.

Largely, to date, the Affinity Groups have worked with the Society’s Meetings Committee in recruiting and reviewing symposia proposals and have assisted in programme development of the Society’s meetings calendar, in particular for the flagship annual meeting Pharmacology 2016 where attendees may have noticed symposia and posters aligned to particular Affinity Groups.

Symposium proposals are welcome across the wide range of interests within the Society, both for future annual and other associated meetings, as well as specialist scientific events, such as those advertised on the Society website. For example, the Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group supported the Society-sponsored symposium on “Small molecules inhibitors of ion channels in chronic pain states” at the 7th European Congress of Pharmacology meeting in Istanbul in June 2016. Arising from this symposium, the British Journal of Pharmacology Themed Issue “Targeting ion channels to treat chronic pain” was proposed and is currently in advanced preparation.

It is important to mention that each Affinity Group has its own co-chairs who are responsible for championing their respective areas across Society activities, recruiting members to join their Affinity Group and providing support to the Meetings Committee – but these co-chairs would welcome support from the wider membership. As the Affinity Groups are still relatively new, all members are encouraged to sign-up to one or more Affinity Group and to let the co-chairs know how you think the specific Affinity Group can best serve your needs.

The Affinity Groups

To sign up to the Affinity Groups, and find out more about the areas they represent and the Affinity Group co-chairs, visit (member log in required) or contact the Society directly at

In this issue of Pharmacology Matters, the recent activities of two of our Affinity Groups – Systems & Integrative Pharmacology and Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology – are highlighted.

1) The Systems & Integrative Pharmacology Affinity Group (co-chairs: Dr Niall Hyland, University College Cork, Ireland & Dr James Fullerton, UCLH, London, UK) serves members who study complex systems or take a whole animal approach to understand drug action or toxicity at molecular, cellular or organ system levels. Scientists working across several systems, or working in systems without a defined Affinity Group, would be ideally suited for the Systems & Integrative Pharmacology Affinity Group.

At Pharmacology 2016, the Systems & Integrative Pharmacology co-chairs along with Dr Pamela Hornby (Chair, Division for Translational and Clinical Pharmacology, ASPET) jointly organised a symposium entitled: ”The Long Reach of the Bowel: Translating Microbiome Science into Therapeutics for Systemic Human Diseases”. The symposium provided translational insights and a range of views on the promise and challenges of microbiome hypothesis generation and testing. In addition, the latest pharmacological tools and potential therapeutic approaches for drug discovery using bacteria were presented.

The topics within this symposium included:

  • Mining the human microbiome for bioactive small molecules – Jan Claesen, The Institute of Food Research, UK
  • Gastrointestinal hormonal responses upon FFA2 (GPR43) activation in mouse models – Helen Cox, King’s College London, UK
  • Bacterial signaling in the gut-brain axis – Niall Hyland, University College Cork, Ireland
  • Renal and vascular sensory receptors that modify blood pressure control in response to changes in gut microbial metabolites – Jennifer Pluznick, Johns Hopkins Medical School, USA
  • Engineered probiotics that reduce systemic ammonia levels in urea cycle disorder mice – Dean Falb, Synlogic, USA

2) The Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group (co-chairs: Professor Steve Safrany, RCSI Bahrain Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Bahrain & Professor Gary Stephens, University of Reading, UK) serves members with interests that cover a broad range of molecular signalling pathways and cellular aspects relevant to pharmacology, including basic biological processes and their dysfunction and pharmacological manipulation under pathophysiological conditions.

The Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group supported three symposia during Pharmacology 2016:

  • One symposium, organised and chaired by the Editor-in-Chief and Senior US Editor of the British Journal of Pharmacology (Amrita Ahluwalia and Paul Insel, respectively) covered “Non-traditional/orphan GPCRs as novel therapeutic targets”. This symposium provided a good link with the Society’s journal. 
  • The second symposium organised by the Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group was entitled: “Biochemical strategies in drug discovery and targeting”. This symposium was organized in association with the Biochemical Society, who also had a stand in the exhibition hall.
  • The final symposium was organized in association with the Chinese Pharmacological Society and was entitled: “Anti-tumor pharmacology and traditional Chinese medicine”. The Chinese Pharmacological Society was a guest society during the meeting, continuing the Society’s track record of collaboration with our Chinese counterparts.

The Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group also supported well-attended oral communications and poster sessions. The co-chairs would like to encourage Affinity Group members to get involved with chairing sessions and judging posters at future meetings. If interested please contact

What’s next for the Affinity Groups?

Later this year, members of all of the Affinity Groups will be invited to volunteer as abstract reviewers or on-site poster reviewers, and to chair oral communication sessions at Pharmacology 2017. During the annual meeting, delegates will continue to be able to navigate symposia by Affinity Group topics.

New co-chairs will be recruited for a number of the Affinity Groups, strengthening the links with our journals with a view to providing content for themed issues and reviews, and working on developing new opportunities by which the membership can engage with the Affinity Groups. Watch this space!

Coming up for the Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group

The Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group has input into the forthcoming 8th European Workshop on Cannabinoid Research, the Society’s Focused Meeting at the University of Roehampton on 31 August–2 September 2017 (see

At Pharmacology 2017, the Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group will support symposia on “Fostering orphan GPCR for novel therapeutic options”; “Membrane trafficking – the highway to novel pharmacological targets”; and “Protein-protein interactions: from biochemistry to drug discovery and pharmacology”.   

Looking forward, the Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology Affinity Group will also support the Society-sponsored symposium on "Calcium signaling in the CNS: ion channels and receptors" at the 18th World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology in Kyoto, July 2018.

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About the author

Gary’s research interests are in the use of in vitro electrophysiology to investigate modulation of ion channels and receptors and their role in presynaptic function. In particular he is interested in molecular determinants involved in the modulation of voltage-gated calcium channels and uses heterologous expression systems and native neurons in this work. He also studies inhibitory synaptic transmission in mammalian cerebellar brain slices, and excitatory transmission in hippocampal brain slices, with a focus on models of disease, namely ataxia and epilepsy, respectively. An area of current focus is on mechanisms of action of plant-derived cannabinoids.

Steve obtained a degree in Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from Loughborough University before moving to Leicester University Medical School for his PhD and a postdoc position studying inositide signalling under Stefan Nahorski. In 1994, he moved to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, USA to work with Steve Shears and gain biochemical experience, continuing in the area of inositol phosphates. He returned to the UK (Dundee University) in 1999, having received a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. Further appointments at the universities of Bath and Wolverhampton predate his current position as Associate Professor of Pharmacology at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI)-Bahrain. His research interests include: inositol phosphates and sigma receptors.

Niall was appointed Lecturer in Pharmacology in the School of Medicine at University College Cork in 2008. He also holds a Faculty position at the APC Microbiome Institute where his research focuses on the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Niall has a PhD in Pharmacology from King’s College London and trained in both the USA and Canada. He is Co-chair of the Society's Systems and Integrative Pharmacology Affinity Group and is a member of the Editorial Board of the British Journal of Pharmacology. He also contributes to the activities of the European Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility and The American Gastroenterological Association Institute Council.