A branch of medical science which studies the actions, uses, and undesirable side-effects of drugs. The first descriptions of remedies from plant sources were made by the ancient Greeks and Chinese: over 30 drugs were known in 4th Century BC China, and a great 1st Century BC pharmacopoeia listed 365. Dioscorides’ De materia medica (AD c.60) was the first basic Western pharmacopoeia. The Chinese knew 1748 drugs and 16 000 prescriptions by 992. The subject became a scientific discipline in the West in the 19th Century , when pioneers began to study more precisely the physiological actions of purified drugs. Magendie performed one of the first experimental analyses of the actions of a pure drug (strychnine), and described the actions and uses of various others in his Formulaire (1821). Building on this approach, German scientists developed the subject in both the commercial and academic worlds from the late 19th Century . Oswald Schmeideberg (1838–1921) researched the actions of digitalis and muscarine; Hans Horst Meyer (1853–1939) the mechanism of action of anaesthetics. Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915) contributed to the modern theory of drug action by defining the interactions between drugs and their target tissues as being the same as those involved in conventional chemical bonds. John J Abel (1857–1938) returned to the USA after studying in Germany, and was a major influence on the development of the subject there. Pharmacological research is carried out in drug companies, universities, and research institutes, and has led to the development of over 200 essential drugs, as defined by the World Health Organization. In recent years, specialized branches have developed, such as molecular pharmacology, immunopharmacology, and neuropharmacology, which cross the boundaries of other biological disciplines.
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