Pharmacology

(Course website: http://www.phar.cam.ac.uk/teaching/nst1b.html)

Pharmacology is the study of how drugs work at the molecular and cellular level. The first term gives an introduction to how receptors work; for example how they recognise drugs and how these molecular interactions lead to changes in cell signalling and signalling pathways.

You will learn how drugs are used to control bacteria, viruses and parasites, obesity and diabetes, the reproductive system, anaesthetics and in cancer. The effects on central nervous function are also covered, for example in diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s. There is a large section on pain and inflammation, and on the heart and kidney, which teaches about ion channels and drug use for conditions such as heart failure.

The practicals are meant to show how actual data is obtained, consolidate the theory and how to interpret the data which is useful in the practical paper. The demonstrators are really helpful and if you and your lab partner are organised you can usually finish with time to spare.

Although there is an element of drug name learning, you mostly need to know the main ones, and it is more important to remember how they work. Paper 1 is a one hour exam with ten short questions and Paper 2 is three hours long in which you choose five questions to write more extended answers on pharmacology, for example in the treatments of a disease or in cell signalling. The practical paper has three questions which require some known equations and a bit of practise but you will have done a fair few by the time of the exams. There is also a mini-project which takes up five practical sessions (three for experimental work) for which you write up your results into a poster.

All in all I was glad I took Pharmacology, it is an interesting subject and complemented my other modules Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Chemistry B very well. I was told Physiology of Organisms would have been a good first year course however I managed fine without having done it, I did Cells, Chemistry and E&B in my first year.

There is a recommended standard textbook that covers in varying detail pretty much everything on the course, called ‘Pharmacology’ by ‘Rang and Dale’.

The Natural Sciences Society of St John's College