Often confused with pharmacy, pharmacology is a separate discipline in the health sciences. Pharmacology is the study of how a drug affects a biological system and how the body responds to the drug. The discipline encompasses the sources, chemical properties, biological effects and therapeutic uses of drugs. These effects can be therapeutic or toxic, depending on many factors. Pharmacologists are often interested in therapeutics, which focuses on the effects of drugs and other chemical agents that minimize disease, or toxicology, which involves the study of adverse, or toxic, effects of drugs and other chemical agents. Toxicology can refer to both drugs used in the treatment of disease and with chemicals that may be present in household, environmental, or industrial hazards.
Pharmacology has two major branches:
Pharmacokinetics, which refers to the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of drugs
Pharmacodynamics, which refers to the molecular, biochemical, and physiological effects of drugs, including drug mechanism of action
In simple terms, pharmacodynamics is what the drug does to the body, and pharmacokinetics is what the body does to the drug.
A major contribution of pharmacology has been the advancement of knowledge about the cellular receptors with which drugs interact. The development of new drugs has focused on steps in this process that are sensitive to modulation. Understanding how drugs interact with cellular targets allows pharmacologists to develop more selective drugs with fewer undesirable side effects.
The field of pharmacology is at the forefront of some of the most exciting developments in modern medicine, including:
Personalized precision medicine and gene therapy through genomic and proteomic approaches
Regenerative pharmacology to optimize development of bioengineered tissues
Computational and modelling approaches as drug discovery tools
Nanotechnology-based approaches to fighting disease
Pharmacology integrates the knowledge of many disciplines, including medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. The integrative nature of the field yields a diverse array of career opportunities in academic research, industry, government and regulatory affairs, tech transfer, patent law, science policy, and more.