A man in a white lab coat takes a deep breath and rests from his research.
He grins at his colleagues. After years of research, he and his team have
just successfully discovered a drug that stops the growth of cancerous cells.
Could this happen? It's one of the scenarios that pharmacology students
are working towards.
Ancient civilizations recognized that certain plants and plant extracts
healed wounds and brought pain relief. This began a quest to discover, create
and research medicines to better man's existence and bring longer life.
It also created the foundation for the science of pharmacology as it exists
Pharmacologists shouldn't be confused with pharmacists. Pharmacologists
reveal the secrets of drug actions. They discover new therapies and create
new medicinal products.
Once a drug passes the tests, it moves on to the pharmacist. A pharmacist
works in the pharmacy in your local drugstore. He or she is responsible for
preparing and dispensing medicine. Pharmacists may also answer any questions
you might have about the medication.
Pharmacology is very closely associated with toxicology. Both are experimental
sciences. Pharmacologists research the actions and effects of drugs on living
systems. Toxicologists research the extent of the toxic effects of molecules
on living cells and organisms.
Renee Suen is a student in a toxicology specialist program. She is also
president of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Association. "There are so many
options one can go in: drug development, synthesis, testing," says Suen.
"And with the current status of health care, and our continual use of medical
treatments for a variety of conditions, it can be easy to see how there is
a demand for pharmacologists, not only for the development of these drugs
but also to evaluate their safety."
Mary Michaelis is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University
of Kansas. She believes that many students are attracted to the field because
of the "medical nature of the field where they can do research that has the
potential applications in medicine, but it's still focused more on research."
Pharmacologists spend a lot of time performing experiments and studying
the effects. They are involved in several types of research. Biological research
is carried out using experimental animals such as mice and rats. Most of this
type of experimental research is done in universities or research institutes.
Suen recognizes that the career path she has chosen is challenging. "There
is a constant challenge for more discoveries, which for me is a key factor,"
"Pharmacology's immediate imprint on me was that it is new, hot, booming
and in demand. That's always a comforting thing to know, especially with the
current concern that one cannot do much after finishing a science degree."
Jobs are easy to find for pharmacology majors because of their specific
Michaelis tells of the specific areas that pharmacology majors study. "They
learn the basics of cell biology, physiology, and then of course the mechanisms
of drug actions. So they have to learn about all the different types of drugs
-- antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs -- before they specialize in their own research
programs," she says.
"Students specialize when they actually work on their dissertation research
programs. They could be working in central nervous system, cardiovascular,
molecular pharmacology or molecular toxicology."
Michaelis notes that pharmacologists usually need doctorate degrees. Yet
she adds that "there are some positions in the pharmaceutical industry or
biotechnology where master's degrees are highly sought after, but a number
of people, of course, do want to go on to the PhD. It gives them a little
Suen tends to agree. "I know that in general, most majors of pharmacology
do continue on with school. Some end up as professors. Some go on to work
in the drug industry. Some, I have heard, have the opportunity to go into
industry practically right after undergraduate studies."
Pharmacologists are comfortable with, and quite enjoy, conducting research.
All those years spent working toward an advanced degree in pharmacology aren't
a problem. They love their work. They love unlocking the mysteries of the
effects of drugs on living systems.
The United States Pharmacopeia
Sets standards for medicines