Spotlight on: Drug Actions and Reactions

Students with a background in science, or those considering medical school, may well be interested in the Understanding Drug Actions and Reactions course.


Lectures for this course are given by Dr Jenny Koenig, who is Dean at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Over four weeks she explains how drugs move around body, what side effects they produce and how new drugs are developed. Although less historically-focused than Medicine and Disease in European History, this course also gives a brief overview of drug development, from early herbal remedies to modern cancer treatments.

The lectures primarily focus on the molecular mechanisms by which drugs function within the body. However, they often touch on human concerns. In this clip a discussion of enzymes causes us to ask the question, ‘How can we create a drug better than asprin?’ This in turn leads to a discussion of the problems experienced by patients when drugs pass clinical trials and reach the market before their serious side effects are known.

For American student Amelia Trant, the class has cleared up some confusing popular culture references. She says:

The Drugs class is turning out to be really great. I love learning about how drugs that I have heard about in the past actually work. The TV show Newsroom makes more sense now I understand why sarin gas is lethal, and Tina Fay’s reference to Ephedrine as a weight-loss drug in Mean Girls is even more impressive than I thought. Ephedrine is a real thing, and it was used for weight loss before being banned because it is dangerous.

Even those PKP students who have not opted to take the course were given an insight into cannabis at a recent plenary lecture by Professor Valerie Curran. Here she introduces the history of cannabis and outlines some of its main features:

For more information about the Understanding Drugs Actions and Reactions course, see the Pembroke College website.


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