Pharmacology & Physiology

Department of Pharmacology & Physiology Home Page

Kenneth J. Kellar, PhD, Chair

The second-year course in pharmacology introduces the student to the scientific basis for the use of drugs in medical practice and the essential principles of clinical pharmacology. Since it is impossible to learn about each of the several thousand prescription drugs currently available, the course concentrates on selected prototype drugs and on general pharmacologic principles that govern the action of all drugs on the body.

The course begins with a fundamentals interdisciplinary module – study of factors that affect the body’s response to a drug and govern the drug’s duration of action, such as absorption, distribution, biotransformation, and elimination. This is followed by a detailed, systematic consideration of major drugs used in specific clinical situations. Most sections of therapeutics begin with a discussion of the problem facing the clinician. Virtually all important classes of therapeutically useful agents are considered, but only selected agents in each class are studied in detail, and the ways in which other drugs resemble them or differ from them are reviewed. The student will become acquainted with major classes of drugs used in the modern practice of medicine, become accustomed to comparing new drugs with old ones, learn principles of rational therapeutics, and develop appropriate attitudes towards responsible prescription of drugs.

Faculty teach the course using lectures, demonstrations, clinical pharmacology conferences and small-group discussions. Demonstrations, live and videotaped, extend material discussed in the lectures and give the student practical experience with the effects of drugs on living organisms. They are held in seminar style with an instructor leading an analysis of the experiment with the students as it progresses. Clinical pharmacology conferences provide the student with some immediate insight into application of pharmacologic principles to therapeutics and usually involve an extended discussion of how to use selected drugs, from controlling the dose to controlling the response. Elective courses involve small groups focusing on specific therapeutic areas of interest to the student in areas of special faculty expertise. In mini-courses, the students teach one another under faculty supervision.

The Pharmacology & Physiology faculty are also actively involved in the direction of the medical student Grand Rounds course for first, second, and third year students.

The fourth-year clinical pharmacology course extends fundamental knowledge of drug action to practical problems of therapy, based on the student’s own clinical experiences to date. This one week “capstone” event is required for all fourth year students and serves as a transition to internship.  The sessions are informal discussions (small group), and are based on a case presentation. 

The department offers an honors program in pharmacology and summer research training opportunities to qualified students, and participates in the MD/PhD program at Georgetown.

The Department of Pharmacology & Physiology admits qualified applicants with BS, MS, MD, or DDS degrees for graduate studies leading to a PhD. Graduate students are accepted on a full-time basis, and fellowships and assistantships are available for deserving candidates. A federally funded program in research training in drug abuse is available for qualified U.S. citizens. The Georgetown University Graduate School catalogue explains these programs fully. Postdoctoral training in laboratory and clinical pharmacology also is available. Federally sponsored, two-year post-doctoral fellowships are available for candidates who have completed training in internal medicine or pediatrics.

The department’s research interests include: neuropharmacology; molecular pharmacology of cancer, basic, and clinical pharmacology of cardiovascular drugs; pharmacokinetics; toxicology; and psychopharmacology. Multiple experimental approaches are used from molecular and biochemical to computer modeling to the patient. The department is well equipped with biophysical, electronic, biochemical, molecular biologic, and radiochemical instrumentation for the study of drug action.