The use of medicines is one of the principal ways of combating disease. Examples of important medicines are antibacterials, anti-cancer drugs, anti-migraine agents, and drugs used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and asthma, just to name a few. The rise of pharmacology during the middle years of the 20th century saw a huge rise in the number of diseases that could be tackled effectively with drug therapy. The development of new and successful drugs requires advances and insights generated by scientific research. Pharmacology is all about “finding out how drugs work”. It is concerned with the effects of drugs on living organisms and their components such as cells, membranes, organelles, enzymes and DNA. Pharmacology affects us all, almost every day. Some more information about pharmacology is given by the British Pharmacological Society.
The Department is well equipped with communal facilities for microscopy (including confocal microscopy), molecular biology, cell culture, centrifugation, liquid scintillation counting and computing. Members of the Department can also access many inter-departmental facilities such as the Cambridge Multi-Imaging Centre (confocal microscopy, SEM, TEM, X-ray microanalysis) and the Cambridge Centre for Molecular Recognition (peptide and oligonucleotide synthesis, etc.). The Department has its own library, which also provides access to online libraries, and this is supplemented by access to the libraries of other Departments and the University Library.
Staff of the Department provide undergraduate teaching to students in both the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) and the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST). More than 350 undergraduates reading MVST take our Mechanisms of Drug Action (MODA) course in their second year. We are also major contributors to the interdepartmental second-year MVST course on Neurobiology. Around 60 students studying NST take our second-year course in Pharmacology. We are also major contributors to the second-year NST course in Neurobiology. In the third year our major course is Part II Pharmacology, taken by about 40 students, which is open to students with both medical and science backgrounds. This is an advanced course consisting of lectures on research at the forefront of modern pharmacological science and a research project that occupies the entire second term. We also offer a Part II BBS course, taken by about 20 students, which shares lectures with Part II Pharmacology but in which an extended dissertation replaces the experimental research project. The Department, along with three others, is responsible for the inter-departmental Part II course in Neuroscience, which offers a research-based course in neuroscience with an experimental research project in the second term.
Supervisions (known as Tutorials in other universities) in which students meet their Supervisors weekly in groups of 2-4 students are an essential component of Cambridge teaching. Supervisions are arranged through colleges, but most staff (in their capacities as College Fellows) are also responsible for supervising students in pharmacology.