Pharmacology is undoubtedly an ancient scientific field. Associated with medicine, it was used for treating people in ancient civilizations with herbs. You may be surprised to know that there used to be no differences between a medicine specialist and a healer. They were practically the same unlike it is right now.
When did such a major change occur? When did physicians and pharmacists become different from each other? Let’s first dive into pharmacology.
Generally, pharmacology is the scientific study or investigation of how different chemicals and drugs influence living organisms. It might involve the development and designing of new drugs for curing different diseases, validation of specific targets for drugs, and even evaluating how drugs are handled by organisms.
Actually, pharmacology research is quite important for the development and creation of personalized medicine.
In the general discipline of pharmacology, there are several sub-specialties. For instance, pharmacodynamics involves analyzing the impact of drugs on different biological systems. It also addresses the physiological effects and chemical properties of drugs that arise from their interaction with their specific molecular targets.
Meanwhile, pharmacokinetics involves studying the movement and interaction of drugs in biological systems and bodies.
There is no doubt that pharmacologists require comprehensive fundamental knowledge of molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry, and physiology upon which they can build their experimental approaches and specialized knowledge. Their studies may occur at different levels including organ and tissue regulation, subcellular signal and cellular signal transduction, and even molecular interactions.
The acquired knowledge facilitates the creation and development of effective drugs. It even contributes properly to precise therapeutics which involve the effective and safe utilization of drugs.
Beginning of Pharmacology
Actually, pharmacology is both a relatively new science and ancient science. Ever since the beginning of mankind itself, there has been a comprehensive search for different ways to reduce suffering and pain associated with life.
In fact, to an ancient pharmacologist, it involved comprehensive observations and even experimentations with different natural products such as minerals, animals, and plants. Substances such as animal parts, dirt, roots, bark, and leaves were boiled, consumed, and even rubbed on the body. Their effects were undoubtedly noted and even discussed. In this manner, there was advancement in tribal folklore. Gradually, a knowledge base was developed about what to consider for a specific disease.
With the combination of different tribes, there was an exchange of folklore and further remedies were developed. Actually, a good example of this evolution is the common salt in our diet.
You may be surprised to know that long before it is even recorded, different routes for the salt trade were created. Meanwhile, the practice of imitating animal behavior played an important role in the advancement of remedies and foodstuffs. Alcohol was actually one of the oldest preparations in terms of medicine. There is no doubt that careful observations served as the foundation for the advancement and development of this drug.
In addition, recipes for mead, wine, and beer were identified in the oldest literature from different cultures around the world. These liquids were utilized not only during ceremonial events but also in medical practices for their capabilities of alleviating pain. With the increasing sophistication of cultures, they began to be used as tinctures for improving the medicinal effects of plants and herbs.
Hippocrates is probably the most renowned and recognized physician of the ancient Greek era. It was actually during this time that rationality was considered and introduced in the process of healing as they began to comprehend the significance of careful descriptions of geographical locations, symptoms, and diseases. Despite the significance of the physicians in this era, they focused little on medicine.
Instead, they seemed to rely significantly on the healing potential of nature. There is still evidence and some studies regarding the placebo effect.
It is worth noting that the advancement of healing practices shifted to the Roman Empire. For instance, eight books were written by Celsus on disease, which contained great references to the utilization of drugs in disease treatment. During the second century, Galen had been an important physician who seemed to solidify the concept or idea of four humors. These humors were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. The influence of Galen was significant to such an extent that his principles were practiced till the eighteenth century.
With the progression of time, Muslims and Byzantine worlds added significantly to the literature on drugs. During this time, most information was a continuation of the works and efforts initiated in Rome and Greece. The Muslims offered several critical contributions such as the utilization of mercurial formulations for different diseases of skin and syrup creation for respiratory ailments. In addition, alchemists began to work diligently on different projects that could turn lead into gold (Nutton, 2008).
The Middle Ages
Actually, the European Middle Ages were marked by different dogmatic religious figures, authoritarianism, and feudalism. In fact, intellectual discovery and thought were limited significantly by the complexities of the time. For instance, the Roman Era of security and peace was gone and it was replaced by ignorance, poverty, and epidemics. Salerno is the only place or area where some progress was made.
In Salerno, the medical school eventually became successful and members were enabled to question authority, think freely, and provide an atmosphere for creativity and growth. It was during this time that a rebirth occurred in codifying medical plants. In addition, new approaches to the treatment of diseases were created including the use of seaweed for the treatment of goiter and the use of alcohol distillates for cleaning wounds.
The school became quite successful and by the end of this era, drug trade and use were re-established firmly, which paved the way for growth and development during the Renaissance (Levey, 1973).
During the Renaissance, there are several critical events that occurred and contributed to the development of pharmacology. The very first was undoubtedly the creation of the movable type printing press. It led to the availability of books on medicine that could be read and dispersed. It enabled knowledge to be spread and acquired easily. In fact, it even enabled those interested in medicines to learn and acquire information about animals and medical plants.
In every country, herbalists were acquiring knowledge and plants in an attempt to create new medicines for the treatment of diseases. It is worth noting that with the acquisition of medical knowledge, there emerged formalized botany. Botany is recognized to originate from German herbalists. An important scientist of the time was Paracelsus who became a trained physician. He described the idea of a dose-response relationship and even noted the correlation between lung damage and exposure to dust in mines. In fact, he might be the first person to ever utilize pure chemicals as drugs.
The Baroque Period
During this period, in drug discovery, a motivating factor was the introduction of new drugs and plants from different places as new areas were being explored. For instance, plants from South America were brought by the Spaniards. The Far East was also explored and samples were obtained as well.
It is worth noting that the introduction of these new sources was quite slow because the findings of these sources were guarded extensively by each country. The two critical drugs were undoubtedly cinchona bark and ipecacuanha. The latter was consistently used in the treatment of dysentery and diarrhea. Meanwhile, the former was quite effective in the treatment of fevers.
Other than the introduction of several medicines, some critical discoveries were made by experts and scientists during the time. For instance, the impact of purple foxglove leaves was identified on cardiac dropsy.
In addition, it was reported by William Harvey that the circulatory system was actually a closed system and the heart was used for pumping blood throughout the vasculature system. It was also identified by him that drugs consumed orally seemed to enter the body specifically through the gastrointestinal tract and blood seemed to carry the drugs throughout the body. It is, however, important to note that during this period, work was hampered significantly by the lack of characterization methods and chemical isolation. Still, it was the time when the foundation for these techniques and methods was developed (Stannard, 1961).
In the late eighteenth century, the fundamental concepts of analytical chemistry had been identified and introduced. They were integrated rapidly into pharmacology. In active ingredient isolation, the seminal work belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm. With the use of an acid, he extracted opium. In addition to it, a water-soluble compound was isolated by him that seemed to induce sleep in dogs. It is worth noting that he called it morphine and gradually, several chemicals were effectively isolated from sources of the crude plant.
During the 19th century, a significant advancement was studies and research into anaesthesiology. In comparison with methods for the elimination and alleviation of pain during surgery, surgical techniques seemed to evolve faster. Consequently, the mark of an efficient surgeon was specifically the speed at which a specific procedure could be completed by them. Nitrous oxide was the first anesthetic to gain popularity. It was demonstrated by Horace Wells, a dentist that tooth extraction could be ensured quickly with the use of nitrous oxide. During this time, modern pharmacology’s fathers were developing their laboratories in Germany. They were capable of eliminating various ineffective and old therapies.
At the same time, they contributed to the development of new and effective drugs on the basis of proven and effective impacts drugs. Similarly, the idea of pure chemical isolation with bioactivities was ensured. Then, the pure chemicals could be structurally characterized and accurately evaluated for different biological activities (Craig & Stitzel, 2004).
Discoveries in Pharmacology
There are undoubtedly various critical discoveries made in Pharmacology. As it has been identified above, some of them included the use of cinchona bark and ipecacuanha. They were utilized for the treatment of not only diarrhea but also for the treatment of fevers. Similarly, another important discovery involved the identification and determination of the human circulatory system. It was identified that the heart served as the main component for pumping blood.
Another important discovery was actually made by Thomas Renton. It was concerned with the description of the concept or idea of chemical neurotransmission. Daniel Bovet, a recognized figure, identified and discovered synthetic figures that could inhibit and even limit the action of different body substances. Moving on, Cecil Paine and Alexander Fleming among others discovered and identified penicillin and its effective curative effects in a number of infectious diseases.
One of the most important discoveries was made by Selman Waksman in terms of streptomycin. It was the first antibiotic that was identified to address and fight against tuberculosis. Gradually, it led to the identification and development of other antibiotics that could address and treat other oral diseases as well.
Independence of Pharmacology
Physicians and pharmacists actually became independent and different from each other in the first third of the nineteenth century. Prior to that, pharmacy and medicine were actually interrelated and pharmacology seemed to evolve as a part of medicine. As it has been identified above, the history of pharmacy tends to coincide and align with the evolution and history of medicine itself. Still, it is worth noting that both are different from each other.
Pharmacology is undoubtedly one of the most studied and researched fields in the history of academics. However, the history that surrounds it development is quite sparse as compared to its influence throughout the world.
Overall, it can be said that pharmacology is one of the most ancient scientific fields. Over the years, numerous scientists and researchers have emerged and made important discoveries. From the utilization of herbs for the treatment of wounds and diseases to the development of different drugs, the field has undoubtedly advanced to a significant extent. In the beginning, there were no differences between a pharmacist and a physician. They used to be the same and it was in the nineteenth century that they became different from each other. Otherwise, these disciplines used to be the same and these professions were one.
- Craig, C. R., & Stitzel, R. E. (2004). Modern pharmacology with clinical applications. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Levey, M. (1973). Early Arabic pharmacology: an introduction based on ancient and medieval sources. Brill Archive.
- Nutton, V. (2008). Ancient Mediterranean Pharmacology and Cultural Transfer. European Review, 16(2), 211-217.
- Stannard, J. (1961). Hippocratic pharmacology. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 35(6), 497-518.