OUASSA is run by the University of Otago. It involves two 1-week long science camps (January and July) for potentially high-achieving Year 13 science students from rural / provincial, small and/or lower decile schools across New Zealand.
Students undertake two-day projects in two fields of science at each camp.
Students also undertake short elective projects in each camp to give them a feel for an application of science that they may be unfamiliar with. One of these elective projects is held in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
Pharmacology is the science that studies the effects of drugs on humans, whilst toxicology studies the harmful effects of drugs and other chemicals on humans (as well as plants and other animals). Drugs are very common in society. People use drugs as a lifestyle choice. When did you last have a coke or a latte (ie took caffeine)? Or took a vitamin pill (yes, vitamins are drugs as well). Saw someone smoke (eg took nicotine) or drink a beer (eg ethanol)? People are prescribed drugs to prevent infection (ie vaccine), to cure an infection (ie antibiotics) or to cope with the symptoms of a disease (ie pain killers).
To ensure that drugs are safe a pharmacologist does a clinical trial to study the effects of a drug. In this elective, you will be the pharmacologist as well as the human guinea pig that takes a cardiovascular drug (e.g., commonly known as a heart drug or a beta blocker). Don’t worry if you are not keen on taking the drug (participation is voluntary) and we need some pharmacologists who act as the placebo group (commonly known as the control and who perform the experiment without taking the drug).
Clinical trials are very important in pharmaceutical research and are a multi-billion dollar process. You never know, but one day you could be prescribed a drug that would have undergone clinical trial testing. Or with scientific training, you could be the person who designed the drug that cures a disease. Pretty awesome when you think about it...