The impact of drugs and chemicals on our society is widely recognized. Advances in drug therapy have led to new methods for reduction of high serum cholesterol; improved treatment of heart attacks with clot-dissolving drugs; advances in the care of diabetics through the use of human insulin; and production of chemical agents that suppress the immune system, allowing successful organ transplantation. Many breakthroughs in science and technology have occurred as a result of research in pharmacology. In its simplest definition, pharmacology is the study of the actions and effects of chemicals intended primarily for the prevention, treatment, or diagnosis of disease.
Yet, nothing is without risk. The Greek root “pharmakon” (from which pharmacology is derived) can be translated as “drug,” “medicine,” or “poison.” The derivation emphasizes the dual nature of chemicals: the ability of chemicals to produce beneficial as well as lethal effects. Toxicology is the study of the poisonous or injurious effects of drugs and chemical agents on living organisms. Toxicologists extend the work of pharmacologists by examining the adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms to assess the risks associated with various chemicals. Examples of these chemicals may include drugs, cosmetics, agricultural products, food ingredients, and household products. Pharmacologists and toxicologists determine the immediate and long-term effects of chemicals on the health of individuals. Scientists are continually searching for new or more specific methods to treat diseases and improve the quality of life. However, potential risks involved in any therapy must always be carefully evaluated.
The scientific community has experienced an explosion in research. Consequently, the demands for pharmacologists and toxicologists have increased, and career options have expanded tremendously. In addition to advancements in drug therapy in the battles against AIDS, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, our society has been faced with the reality of the toxic effects of many chemicals, such as food additives and environmental pollutants. Pharmacologists and toxicologists play important roles in the various aspects of discovery, development, testing, and control of chemicals. Positions in these areas are available in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, biomedical research and forensic laboratories, and government and environmental agencies.
The BS in pharmacology and toxicology program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, was designed in consultation with government and industry advisors to meet their needs as potential employers. Industry representatives continue to advise the University to ensure that the program remains current with changes in the practices of pharmacology and toxicology.
The focus of the pharmacology and toxicology program is to provide a solid foundation of basic sciences as well as a comprehensive understanding of theoretical and practical aspects of pharmacology and toxicology. An emphasis is placed on encouraging students to develop problem-solving skills and strong thought processes. Sound training is provided in research design, analytical methodology, and data analysis as well as interpretation of scientific literature and verbal and written scientific communication. These skills and competencies are necessary for effective functioning in the broad and challenging disciplines of pharmacology and toxicology.
At completion of the BS in pharmacology/toxicology, every student will be able to:
- Conduct experiments using standard laboratory protocols.
- Analyze and interpret data from ADME (absorption/distribution/metabolism/excretion).
- Predict the biochemical and physiologic consequences of drug-receptor interactions.
- Predict the biochemical and physiologic consequences of chemical toxicities.
- Identify, search for, analyze, and critique the biomedical literature, both in writing and orally.
In addition to the intensive instruction in basic and applied sciences, students are provided with hands-on laboratory experience through required lab courses and electives. Students are encouraged to do independent research with faculty and to publish or present the results in science journals or at local science meetings (e.g., the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Society of Toxicology). Students may obtain industrial, governmental, or private agency traineeships that provide valuable opportunities to gain practical experience and can lead to job opportunities upon graduation.
For students seeking to continue their education, graduates of the BS in pharmacology and toxicology program are well-prepared to enter graduate programs (MS, PhD) in a variety of disciplines, including biochemistry, forensic science, pharmacology, or toxicology, as well as professional degree programs in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and law. A high percentage of our graduates pursue advanced study.
Please see the College of Graduate Studies section for information about master’s and doctoral pharmacology and toxicology programs.
Program graduates at the BS level are highly qualified for good-paying, entry-level positions in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries as well as research and government laboratories. In addition, well-trained pharmacology/toxicology graduates are highly sought after by industry in the area of risk assessment and quality control.
The pharmacology and toxicology program is designed to accommodate small classes and laboratory sessions, thus providing students with individual attention from the professors.