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