Ronald Alkana, 68, associate dean for graduate affairs and interdisciplinary programs at the USC School of Pharmacy, died on February 23 while jogging near his home in Seal Beach.
Dr. Alkana was a distinctive leader at the School with expertise in both pharmacy and basic science research. He earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from USC in 1970 and his PhD in Psychobiology from the University of California-Irvine in 1975. Having both the clinical and research backgrounds allowed him to traverse two primary areas of the school and made him an especially insightful and inspiring mentor to students in both degree programs.
He joined the USC School of Pharmacy as an assistant professor in 1976. In addition to serving as associate dean, he was also a professor in both the Titus Family Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Economics & Policy and the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Over his career at USC, he had been honored with dozens of teaching and mentoring awards including Professor of the Year in six different years.
His research used an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the mechanisms of action of psychoactive drugs at the cellular and molecular levels. His persistent goal was to develop new prevention and treatment strategies for alcoholism, drug abuse and psychological disorders. He and his collaborator, Daryl Davies, a former student of his, carried out numerous grant-funded studies at the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC.
Just last week, Dr. Alkana presented a paper about alcohol receptor sites in the brain and their potential as brain mapping tools at the Gordon Research Conference: Alcohol & the Nervous System, in Galveston, Texas. Alkana was active in the Gordon Research Conference, among the most prestigious meetings on alcohol research, throughout his career.
Dr. Alkana championed dual and joint degree opportunities for students at the School. He was instrumental in establishing the PharmD/JD and PharmD/MS Global Medicine, among others. As a member of the science advisory board for the USC International Center for Regulatory Science, he actively worked to make the MS in that discipline also available to students pursuing PharmD and PhD degrees at the School.
“Dr. Alkana was a dedicated teacher who loved USC and treasured his students,” said School of Pharmacy Dean R. Pete Vanderveen. “He leaves an impressive legacy of scientists and pharmacists who have been inspired by him.”
His passion for his students and his work was only outpaced for his passion for his family and the sport of surfing. Those who knew Dr. Alkana were likely to know about his love of surfing. However, many probably did not know that he held a rare distinction in the Guinness Book of World Records for eating the most bananas in 2 minutes. He achieved this feat back in his graduate school days in the 1970’s.
While he abandoned his banana eating prowess decades ago, Dr. Alkana never lost his passion for neuroscience. He was among the early members of the Society of Neuroscience which today has over 42,000 members and is the largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to brain and nervous system understanding . He also served as vice-president of the Southern California Chapter of the Society of Toxicology and on the Neuron and Glia National Science Foundation Grant Review Panel.
In 1999, Dr. Alkana was named the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year for the USC School of Pharmacy. Phi Delta Chi recognized him as Alumnus of the Year in 2012. Dr. Alkana was on the Board of Directors of the USC School of Pharmacy Alumni Association, the Board of Directors of the QSAD Centurion support group of the School, and Board of Directors of the Phi Delta Chi Omicron Chapter Alumni Association. He has served on dozens of national and international professional societies and editorial boards and has published well over 100 papers on pharmacology and toxicology of drugs that affect the brain and behavior.
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Linda Alkana, a history professor at California State University at Long Beach; his son, Alex, a law student; his daughter Lorna, an artist and writer; his mother, Madelyn Davis of Huntington Beach; his father, Sam Alkana of Long Beach; and his sister, Joyce Fink of Riverside.
Friends are invited to stop by for a memorial gathering to honor Dr. Alkana on Saturday, March 1, between 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. The informal event will be held at the Huntington Landmark Community Recreational Room, 8641 Atlanta Avenue, Huntington Beach.
The USC School of Pharmacy will also host a memorial celebration for Dr. Alkana at the USC Health Sciences Campus within the next few weeks. Details will be posted as soon as they are available.
In lieu of flowers, friends may honor Dr. Alkana’s memory by donating to the Dr. Ron Alkana Memorial Research Fund at the USC School of Pharmacy. Donations may be sent to USC School of Pharmacy, Attention: Jennifer Watson, 1985 Zonal Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90089-9121. Please make checks payable to the USC School of Pharmacy, noting “Dr. Ron Alkana Memorial Research Fund” in the memo of the check.
The School of Pharmacy will hold a memorial celebration honoring Dr. Alkana on Wednesday, April 2, 6 PM, on the USC Health Sciences Campus in Mayer Auditorium located in the Keith Administration Building (KAM). A reception will immediately follow the program. Hosted parking is available in the Biggy Street Parking Structure. All are invited to attend.