What are Pharmacology and Toxicology?
Pharmacology is the science that studies the effects of drugs on humans, whilst toxicology studies the harmful effects of drugs and other chemicals on humans (as well as plants and other animals). Pharmacologists study diseases and how we can use drugs to treat them, while toxicologists are involved in studying everything from cancer to environmental toxins.
Drugs are very common in society. People use drugs as a lifestyle choice, as well as for treatments. When did you last have a coke or a latte (i.e., took caffeine)? Or took a vitamin? Saw someone smoke (i.e., took nicotine) or drink a beer (i.e., ethanol)? People are prescribed drugs to prevent diseases (i.e., vaccine), to cure an infection (i.e., antibiotics) or to cope with the symptoms of a disease (i.e., pain killers).
Before a drug becomes available at the pharmacy or supermarket it must be proven to work and be safe. Sounds simple, but to prove a drug safely treats a disease is a complicated process involving clinical trials which cost billions of dollars. Nootropic drugs (also called smart drugs, memory enhancers and intelligence enhancers) are drugs that are designed to help patients with dementia. People with dementia have problems with their memory, as well as struggle to recognise faces, places and objects. Currently, there is no cure for dementia so it’s important that we investigate possible memory enhancing drugs.
In this elective, you will be get to be a human guinea pig who takes a brain enhancing drug (caffeine). Don’t worry if you are not keen on taking caffeine, we still need some pharmacologists to take the measurements and a control group (a group who perform the experiment without taking the drug). The students will measure how caffeine affects their intelligence and reaction times. They will also assess whether caffeine changes other responses, such as heart rate, blood pressure and hand tremor.
In rural areas, germs aren’t the only danger to drinking water; pollutants and pesticides can get into water supplies too. Interestingly, fruit peel has unique properties which mean that if you put it in dirty groundwater overnight then it will adsorb heavy metal ions, dyes and pesticides. The hope is that we can use fruit peel or its components to produce a cheap and easy resource that can be used in the home to make drinking water safer and cleaner.
In this elective you will use aquatic invertebrates (sea-monkeys, also called brine shrimp) to determine whether water is too toxic to drink. The students will look at the effect of nitrates and heavy metals (specifically lead) on sea-monkey survival, as well as determine whether fruit peel can actually purify the water. We will also work with the students to measure the levels of lead in their water samples to determine whether the fruit peel can reduce the levels of toxins in the water.
More information about Pharmacology and Toxicology at Otago
Download the Pharmacology and Toxicology (PDF, 148 KB) infosheet for more information about:
- Suggested background
- Careers in Pharmacology and Toxicology
- Degree programme
- Teaching style
- Postgraduate study
For further information visit the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology website.