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If you are a highly motivated and curious student who is fascinated with the life sciences and enjoys problem solving, then explore pharmacology.

The Science of Drug Action on Biological Systems

In general terms, pharmacology is the science of drug action on biological systems. In its entirety, it embraces knowledge of the sources, chemical properties, biological effects and therapeutic uses of drugs. It is a science that is basic not only to medicine, but also to pharmacy, nursing, dentistry and veterinary medicine. Pharmacological studies range from those that determine the effects of chemical agents upon subcellular mechanisms, to those that deal with the potential hazards of pesticides and herbicides, to those that focus on the treatment and prevention of major diseases by drug therapy. Pharmacologists are also involved in molecular modeling of drugs, and the use of drugs as tools to dissect aspects of cell function.

xdvgtqzIntegrating a depth of knowledge in many related scientific disciplines, pharmacologists offer a unique perspective to solving drug-, hormone-, and chemical-related problems which impinge on human health. As they unlock the mysteries of drug actions, discover new therapies, and develop new medicinal products, they inevitably touch upon all our lives.

While remarkable progress has been made in developing new drugs and in understanding how they act, the challenges that remain are endless. New discoveries regarding fundamental life processes always raise new and intriguing questions that stimulate further research and evoke the need for fresh insight.

A brochure, entitled Explore Pharmacology, provides you with a broad overview of the discipline of pharmacology. It describes the many employment opportunities that await graduate pharmacologists and outlines the academic path that they are advised to follow. If you feel a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about understanding drug action, and how drugs may be used to probe the physiological and biochemical processes of life, you should explore pharmacology. This is the first step into an absorbing, challenging and rewarding career. 

Pharmacology — Its Scope and Subdivisions

Often confused with pharmacology, pharmacy is a separate discipline in the health sciences. It is the profession responsible for the preparation, dispensing, and appropriate use of medication, and provides services to achieve optimal therapeutic outcomes. If you are interested in pharmacy, see this link.

Pharmacology is the study of the effects of chemical agents of therapeutic value or with the potential toxicity on biological systems. It includes two closely associated areas: Pharmacodynamics and Pharmacokinetics. Pharmacodynamics is the study of the molecular, biochemical, and physiological effects of drugs on cellular systems and their mechanisms of action. Pharmacokinetics deals with the absorption, distribution, and excretion of drugs. Pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic aspects of action of chemical agents also apply to related areas of study, including toxicology and therapeutics.

The Pharmacological Sciences Can Be Further Subdivided

The pharmacological sciences can be further subdivided into these areas of research and education:

Behavioral pharmacology studies the effects of drugs on behavior. Research includes topics such as the effects of psychoactive drugs on the phenomena of learning, memory, wakefulness, sleep, and drug addiction, and the behavioral consequences of experimental intervention in enzyme activity and brain neurotransmitter levels and metabolism. For more information about Behavioral Pharmacology see the Division for Behavioral Pharmacology (BEH).

Cardiovascular pharmacology concerns the effects of drugs on the heart, the vascular system, and those parts of the nervous and endocrine systems that participate in regulating cardiovascular function. Researchers observe the effects of drugs on arterial pressure, blood flow in specific vascular beds, release of physiological mediators, and on neural activity arising from central nervous system structures. For more information about Cardiovascular Pharmacology see the Division for Cardiovascular Pharmacology (CVP).

Biochemical and Cellular pharmacology uses the methods of biochemistry, cell biology, and cell physiology to determine how drugs interact with, and influence, the chemical "machinery" of the organism. The biochemical pharmacologist uses drugs as probes to discover new information about biosynthetic pathways and their kinetics, and investigates how drugs can correct the biochemical abnormalities that are responsible for human illness.

Chemotherapy is the area of pharmacology that deals with drugs used for the treatment of microbial infections and malignancies (cancer). Pharmacologists work to develop chemotherapeutic drugs that will selectively inhibit the growth of, or kill, the infectious agent or cancer cell without seriously impairing the normal functions of the host.

Clinical pharmacology is the study of pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics in human beings. Clinical pharmacologists study how drugs work, how they interact with other drugs, how their effects can alter the disease process, and how disease can alter their effects. Clinical pharmacologists are in the forefront of research using date from the human genome project to determine how and why individuals respond differently to drugs. For more information about Clinical Pharmacology see the Division for Translational and Clinical Pharmacology (TCP).

Drug Discovery and Drug Development encompasses, but is not limited to; target discovery and validation, medicinal chemistry, combinatorial chemistry, molecular modeling and drug design, structure-pharmacological function relationships, functional genomics and proteomics, high throughput screening, identification and development of natural products, nutraceuticals, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics, clinical testing and drug regulation/registration, clinical contracting and pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics. For more information about these areas of pharmacology see the Division for Drug Discovery and Development (DDD).

Drug Metabolism and Disposition is the study of the pharmacokinetics of drugs as well as the enzymatic metabolism of drugs. For more information about Drug Metabolism see the Division for Drug Metabolism and Disposition (DMDD).

Endocrine pharmacology is the study of actions of drugs that are either hormones or hormone derivatives, or drugs that may modify the actions of normally secreted hormones. Endocrine pharmacologists are involved in solving mysteries concerning the nature and control of diseases of metabolic origin.

Neuropharmacology is the study of drugs that modify the functions of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves that communicate with all parts of the body. Neuropharmacologists study drug actions from a number of the different viewpoints. They may probe the neurochemical disorders underlying specific disease states to find new ways to use drugs in the treatment of disease. Alternatively, they may study drugs already in use to determine more precisely the neurophysiological or neurobiochemical changes that they produce. Other studies use drugs as tools to elucidate basic mechanisms of brain function, or to provide clues to the nature of disease processes. For more information about Neuropharmacology see the Division for Neuropharmacology (NEU).

Molecular pharmacology deals with the biochemical and biophysical characteristics of interactions between drug molecules and those of the cell. It is molecular biology applied to pharmacologic and toxicologic questions. The methods of molecular pharmacology include precise mathematical, physical, chemical and molecular biological techniques to understand how cells respond to hormones or pharmacologic agents, and how chemical structure correlates with biological activity. For more information about Molecular Pharmacology see the Division for Molecular Pharmacology (MP).

Pharmacology Education involves undergraduate, graduate degree programs, and professional education in medical, pharmacy, and veterinary schools. For more information about Pharmacology Education see the Division for Pharmacology Education (DPE). See the list of pharmacology training programs Web site links. You may also find the pharmacology educational resources of interest.

Systems and Integrative Pharmacology is the study of drug action and toxicity in the whole animal. For more information about Systems and Integrative Pharmacology see the Division for Translational and Clinical Pharmacology (TCP).

Toxicology is the study of the adverse or toxic effects of drugs and other chemical agents. It is concerned not only with drugs used in the treatment of disease, but also with chemicals that may present household, environmental, or industrial hazards. Therapeutics focuses on the correlation of the actions and effects of drugs and other chemical agents with the physiological, biochemical, microbiological, immunological, or behavioral factors influencing disease. It also considers how disease may modify the pharmacokinetic properties of a drug by altering its absorption into the systemic circulation and/or its disposition. Each of these areas is closely interwoven with the subject matter and experimental techniques of physiology, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, microbiology, immunology, genetics, and pathology. For more information about Toxicology see the Division for Toxicology (TOX).

Veterinary pharmacology concerns the use of drugs for diseases and health problems unique to animals.

Last Updated: October 12, 2017

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