Pharmacologists and Toxicologists: The Specialists Behind Medicine

Updated: Mar 22

Audience: Middle and High School students

Pills and other forms of medication are the product of clinical pharmacology. Pharmaceutical toxicologists run tests and do research on these medicinal drugs to figure out how much can be ingested before they become dangerous to the human body. Image by ivabalk from Pixabay.


Have you ever taken an Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) when you had a toothache? Or maybe you took Tylenol (acetaminophen) to feel better while your body was fighting the flu? In the likely chance you’ve taken a painkiller in your life, you know how effective they are at reducing pain and discomfort in your body. These medicinal drugs and many others are used to either relieve pain, reduce symptoms of a medical condition, or help treat illnesses. In this article, you’re going to learn about pharmacologists and toxicologists, the scientists that research and help create these important medicines, and how their jobs affect healthcare for everyone.


So who are pharmacologists and toxicologists?


Pharmacologists are specialists in medication who use their knowledge of biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology to research and create medicinal drugs.


They often work for pharmaceutical companies, private organizations, or the government. Most of the work done in pharmacology takes place in labs, research centers, and universities. Along with creating drugs, pharmacologists also conduct experiments that test how effective a medication is and what purpose the drug will serve within medicine.


Toxicologists, on the other hand, are scientists who study the negative effects of substances, drugs, and chemicals on humans, animals, and the environment.


The idea that every substance can be harmful to the human body if not given in moderation is a key idea in toxicology, and it is the job of toxicologists to understand how much of which drugs and chemicals can be given to people and animals without harming them. For this reason, toxicology is known as the “Science of Safety” Like pharmacologists, toxicologists usually work in laboratories. The field of toxicology is very important because it keeps people safe from the negative effects of chemicals, which is why toxicologists often work with health departments, create protocols for dealing with hazardous substances, and use research to determine how to treat people who have dangerous pathogens, toxic chemicals, or diseases in them.


Specializations in Pharmacology and Toxicology


There are many different fields within pharmacology and toxicology that someone can specialize in. These areas are more focused rather than generalized and often address a specific issue within medicine.


Pharmacologists can specialize in:

  • Clinical Pharmacology (has been summarized in this article)

  • Pharmacogenetics (regarding how different people respond to different drugs based on their specific genes)

  • Pharmacoepidemiology (according to John Hopkins Medicine, it is defined as “the study of the utilization and effects of drugs in large numbers of people.”)

  • Pharmacokinetics (the study of how drugs move around inside the body)

  • And many others!


Toxicologists can specialize in:

  • Pharmaceutical toxicology (has been summarized in this article)

  • Forensic toxicology (a medical field in which evidence of death by poisoning is investigated)

  • Clinical toxicology (relating to the causation of diseases by being exposed to toxins)

  • Descriptive Toxicology (relating to toxicity testing and corresponding statistics)

  • Biochemical toxicology (studying how toxicants interact within body systems)

  • And more!


Pharmacologists and toxicologists often work in laboratories. Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay.


How Pharmacology and Toxicology Have Helped People During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Toxicologists have been keeping people safe from COVID-19 by studying the virus (a type of pathogen). They have also created safety guidelines for people so they know what preventative measures they can take to protect themselves from the virus.


Pharmacologists are involved in creating medicines and drugs to help people who have COVID-19 recover from it. For example, Remdesivir—an antiviral agent against SARS-CoV-2 that studies have proven to be very effective—was developed by pharmacologists and other scientists. Many other drugs engineered by pharmacologists are also being used to help treat COVID-19 patients, including drugs that were created before the pandemic started.


There are many pharmacologists and toxicologists working for government health organizations like the CDC and FDA. These specialists help promote public safety in times of a dangerous global pandemic.


Interested in Being a Pharmacologist or Toxicologist? Here’s How to Become One:


Firstly, listed below are subjects that are important to learn about if you are interested in these fields:


  • Biology (to understand the science behind life/living organisms)

  • Chemistry (to understand chemical reactions and the effects/functions of different chemicals)

  • Physiology (to understand how the different organs systems work together in the body)

  • Anatomy (to understand the individual parts of the body and their functions)

  • Other lab sciences (to practice working in labs)

  • Physics (because of its close connection to chemistry, biology, and other lab sciences)


To become a pharmacologist or toxicologist, one must obtain a 4-year program, or Bachelor’s degree (usually in biology, chemistry, or a related field). Then students will work towards a Master’s degree (generally 2 years) in Toxicology, Pharmacology, or a similar field. From there, if the student wants to join a clinical research team, they must earn a Doctorate, aka Ph.D. (generally 4 years) in the pharmacological research field of their choice. Many people also choose to participate in Post-doctoral training if they want to work in an academic setting and university laboratory.


All in all, the road to becoming a pharmacologist or toxicology is a long one (around 10 years after high school!), but definitely worth it if you are passionate. Both health-related fields are responsible for saving lives every day and are a great fit for people interested in the fascinating effects of drugs, chemicals, and medicines on the human body.



Bibliography

“." World of Forensic Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Jan. 2021 .” Encyclopedia.com, Encyclopedia.com, 15 Feb. 2021, www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/toxicology-specialty-areas.

Editor. “Branches and Divisions of Pharmacology.” HowMed, 29 Aug. 2011, howmed.net/pharmacology/pharmacology-branches/.

“How to Become a Toxicologist: Education and Career Requirements.” Indeed Career Guide, www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-become-a-toxicologist.

Marden, Anna. “What Does a Pharmacologist Do? A Medication Specialist.” CareDash, CareDash, 29 Aug. 2017, www.caredash.com/articles/your-pharmacologist-a-drug-and-medication-specialist.

“Remdesivir Effective for COVID-19.” Contagion Live, www.contagionlive.com/view/remdesivir-likely-effective-antiviral-for-sars-cov-2.

Reynolds, Mary C. “Pharmacoepidemiology Research.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in Baltimore, Maryland, 17 Mar. 2020, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gim/research/content/pharmacoepi.html.

Study.com, study.com/articles/pharmacologist_vs_toxicologist.html.

“Toxicology.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/toxicology/index.cfm.



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