department of pharmacology

What is Pharmacology?

Pharmacology is the Frontier of Medicine—a research discipline that builds on the foundations of biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, pathology, and genetics. Pharmacology’s mission is discovery of novel approaches to therapeutic intervention.

Pharmacology includes the study of existing drugs, including their sources, chemistry, production and uses in treating diseases and side effects. — Adapted from Encarta World English Dictionary.

Understanding the cell and molecular mechanisms of drug actions leads to new molecular insights and new drug development. Understanding fundamental cell biology and physiology leads to discovery of new targets for drug development.

Pharmacology is not the study of agriculture, farms, or farming (“Farm Ecology”). Nor is it a training program for aspiring pharmacists who dispense drugs. Rather, pharmacology is the science of therapeutics. Steeped in research, pharmacology helps answer the "how" question, how external agents affect living systems and restore homeostasis.

It is truly a field of study that helps create new knowledge: knowledge about new drugs, new therapies, new sources, and new therapeutic targets. This new knowledge could lead to better treatment for certain cancers, AIDS, hypertension, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and central nervous system disorders.

What can one do with a degree in pharmacology? A Ph.D. in pharmacology is a research doctorate, enabling degree-holders to work as scientists and teachers in schools of medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, and veterinary medicine; in hospitals; in the pharmaceutical industry; in government agencies (such as the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration); and in public and private research foundations.

At Case Western Reserve University, the Department of Pharmacology is part of the distinguished School of Medicine. Because pharmacology and medicine are closely related, some pharmacologists (Ph.D.) become medical doctors (M.D.) and vise versa. These highly trained individuals have knowledge of chemistry, biology, physiology, and mathematics.

Pharmacologists specialize in determining the site and mechanism by which drugs produce their actions to better optimize the therapeutic effects of drugs in the body. Many degree-holders can specialize in one of several areas of pharmacology, such as:

  • Clinical pharmacologists who test drugs on human subjects;
  • Toxicologists who deal with the adverse effects of drugs and toxic actions of household, environmental, or industrial chemicals; and
  • Medicinal chemists who design and synthesize chemical compounds for potential use in the treatment of disease.

Still other degree-holders opt to specialize in different parts of the human body, such as:

  • Neuropharmacologists who focus on drugs relating to the brain and nervous system;
  • Cardiovascular pharmacologists who study the effects of drugs relating to the heart and circulatory systems;
  • Endocrine pharmacologists who emphasize research on agents that regulate hormonal balance;
  • Psychopharmacologists who study drugs that influence mood and behavior patterns.

Pharmacology is an exciting endeavor whose mission is noble and challenging. Advancement in understanding and developing mechanisms of reversal of disease processes represents the confluence of medicine and pharmacology.