For most of his entire life until his retirement in December from the College of Pharmacy, Kim Light, 66, Ph.D., has been steeped in pharmacy. Some may think it’s remarkable he never became a pharmacist himself, but maybe the windows had something to do with it.
“I grew up in my dad’s drug store,” Light said. “I started out at 6 years old, standing on pop cases and ringing up candy sales.”
His father’s pharmacy was in downtown Indianapolis, and he started out working on weekends watching the candy cases and making sure no children walked off with any sweets without paying for them.
“I moved up to learning how to wash windows every Saturday,” Light said. “I decided I didn’t like washing windows. Dad was a little particular about how they had to be washed. You couldn’t just use Windex and a rag. You had to use a squeegee, and NO streaks.”
Despite the menial chores, he did develop an interest in a key aspect of the business, the science of pharmacology. He went on to get his Ph.D. in pharmacology from Indiana University in Bloomington, and after a postdoctoral fellowship at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, he accepted a position at UAMS in 1979, eventually becoming a professor in the College’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
“There’s nothing better than teaching and seeing bright minds pick things up,” he said.
Since then, Light has taught courses on pharmacology, molecular biology and biotechnology, and chemical addiction.
Chemical addiction also has been a central subject in Light’s research career as well, particularly in regard to alcohol and pregnancy. Because fetal alcohol syndrome was only first described in 1973 as an effect on children caused by their mothers consuming alcohol while pregnant, it was still a new and largely undefined area of research when Light started exploring it.
“Most of my career was looking at fetal alcohol damage, trying to characterize it, relate it to alcohol exposure intensity,” he said.
Light started working on those various aspects, especially on alcohol exposure. Light and research collaborators moved pretty quickly into looking at fetal alcohol models, especially the impact of the mother drinking in the early part of the third trimester.
The third trimester is when the brain is making connections and building its wiring, Light said. Changes there might not be evident until preschool and early schooling and manifest itself in problems like dyslexia and behavioral control issues.
“We now know that between one and three out of every hundred live births are alcohol-impacted,” he said. “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the extreme expression of alcohol damage. Lesser effects also fall into what’s broadly known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.”
Light said it’s much easier to show the effects of binge drinking but harder to sort out the effects from low-level exposure compared to other factors. That’s why no specific exposure level has been deemed safe, and it is recommended pregnant mothers should refrain entirely from consumption of alcohol, he said.
Although 88,000 people in the United States who die annually from abusing alcohol surpasses opioid deaths, the percentage of funds dedicated to research into alcohol abuse is small, Light said. That’s led to teaching becoming a larger and larger part of his UAMS career. It’s also an aspect Light recently saw as nearing its end.
“I didn’t see myself hanging in there and continuing teaching.” Light said. “This is an area where approaches and energy level change and needs to change.”
Some family responsibilities in Indiana, a desire to see more of grandchildren with his son’s family in Oregon and a host of smaller factors led him to the conclusion that the timing was right.
“When I was new here, I knew what the right way was to do something. I was ready for the old guard to turn things over,” he said. “Now, I find myself unwittingly coming to the conclusion that I am not the one with the freshest ideas. I’m the one who needs to get out of the way. It’s time. I’m OK with that. I believe in the phases of life.”