By an allied health world contributing writer
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Pharmacologists practice a completely different job than pharmacists. Pharmacists may work in drug stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and grocery stores to dispense medication to patients with a prescription and offer them advice on side effects, how to take the medicine and what to expect.
Pharmacologists often may work for pharmaceutical companies that sell those drugs to the pharmacies around the world. The story is much more complicated than that, of course. The clinical trials required to market a drug in the United States with Food and Drug Administration approval are rigorous, take many years and can cost millions of dollars. The pharmacologists who help design the drugs, and then ensure that they are safely metabolized in a variety of people (nursing mothers, children, diabetics, patients with heart problems) are in high demand. The activities of medicines on the human body are often subtle, and it takes a pharmacologist with statistical tools to determine whether the drug (compared to a placebo) actually improved the conditions of patients the way it was intended to.
Because the drugs and the organic molecules on which they act are microscopic, some of the resulting activity of medicine must be scrupulously analyzed under a microscope. Other chemicals can be analyzed in the patient’s blood, stool, urine, saliva or sweat. As the complex drug molecules are broken down by the body’s digestive system and metabolism, the resulting smaller molecules must do no harm to the person, or at least as little as possible. Pharmacologists also study the effects of drugs on the human liver, as it filters out toxins in the blood stream to keep them from accumulating in other parts of the body.