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What is Clinical Pharmacology?

Clinical pharmacology is a branch of biomedical science that is focused on the therapeutic application of pharmaceutical drugs and their effect on humans. However, clinical pharmacology entails a good deal more than simply analyzing the benefits and side effects of prescription drugs on people. In fact, a pharmacologist specializing in this field may also play a role in drug development, the study of pharmacogenetic variations between study subjects, and evaluating the pharmacokinetic potential of specific medications. These extended fields aside, the primary goal of clinical pharmacology is essentially the same across the board: To ensure public safety in the use of medicines by understanding their molecular properties and how they work in the body.

While clinical pharmacology may sound like a 21st century career choice, its concept as a practice was actually introduced in the 15th century by various historical medical tomes such as The Canon of Medicine, which drew on the philosophies of early Arabic and Roman physicians, among others. However, clinical pharmacology did not emerge as a recognized science until the late 19th century. In fact, the first university to open its doors to this field was the University of Dorpat in 1847 in the Republic of Estonia (formerly of Russia). Prior to that time, pharmacology in general was limited to observing biological responses of medicines without investigating the mechanism behind them.

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Today, virtually every medical college and university in the world has a clinical pharmacology department, most of which are engaged in performing medical studies and clinical trials. As such, the clinical pharmacologist is concerned with several aspects that may impact study results. Initially, the pharmacokinetic properties of a drug are evaluated. In short, this means experimenting to learn how the body metabolizes a specific drug, as well as determining its rate of absorption and elimination.

The pharmacodynamic properties of a drug are also assessed, which translates to determining the dose needed for the drug to bind to its targeted receptor site and promote the desired biological response. While this may sound like a simple matter of cause and effect, it isn’t. In fact, this scenario serves to illustrate the root of clinical pharmacology as an applied science, which is to look beyond the drug’s effect on a cellular level and toward the most appropriate dose and mode of administration on real people.

Clinical pharmacology also involves the study of pharmacogenetics, which is the clinical measurement of biological effects according to physiologic variances among different populations. For example, age, genetics, previously existing medical conditions, and interactions with other medications can effect how a drug is metabolized. Outcomes resulting from these and other factors are documented and analyzed to help physicians better anticipate adverse side effects among different groups.

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