Terra Sigillata

If you’ve been perusing ScienceBlogs.com over the last week or two, you’ll note that some bloggers are trying to make their sites even more accessible to the casual reader by introducing a description of basic concepts within their respective fields.

I used to teach a 60-90 min lecture to the public in one of the “Mini-Med School” public education programs that have sprung up at medical schools around the world, condensing key concepts in pharmacology and drug action into bite-sized morsels.

Topics included:

What is a drug?

Where do drugs come from?

Why does a drug work for some people and not others?

Why do FDA-approved drugs still cause unexpected side effects, including rare deaths?

Why are herbal medicines regulated differently than prescription drugs?

What are the criteria for a prescription drug to transition to non-prescription (over-the-counter or OTC) in the US?

I’d be happy to write on these topics over the next few weeks but my questions for you, o devoted readers, are whether I am aiming too high or whether there are other questions you have that would help you better understand more detailed posts I put up here.

One of my stated goals for Terra Sig is to improve public understanding of pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements, so what topics can I address to help you?


  1. #1 coturnix
    January 24, 2007

    What is “natural”?

  2. #2 justawriter
    January 24, 2007

    I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the basic process how something goes from a promising compound in vitro or in animals to being an approved drug for use in human patients. As Orac pointed out in his recent articles on DCA, folks in general are clueless about Phase I through III studies — what’s the difference between them and do they really take a billion dollars to conduct. (Maybe you could do it to the tune of “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock!!!)

  3. #3 or
    January 24, 2007

    I would second juatawriter’s comments.

    1) Trace a drug’s path from promising compound to approved drug

    2) What is an ADME study anyway?

    3)How are drug candidates found? HTS, etc.

  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    January 24, 2007

    “Why does a drug work for some people and not others?”


  5. #5 chezjake
    January 24, 2007

    I’ll go along with justawriter and or, and add that the path to an approved drug should include the steps that are seldom mentioned: developing large scale synthesis/production, formulation of dosage forms, determination of shelf life, etc.

    It might also help to combine this with titles and descriptions of the jobs and their usual career paths that each step entails. Far too few high school and college students are aware of the many “behind the scenes” careers available.

  6. #6 DuWayne
    January 24, 2007

    I would absolutely love to know about some of the more common, dangerous plant/pharmacuetical combinations.

    I would also really enjoy posts about the topics you listed. If anything is too far above my head, I am not afraid to look up more about it.

  7. #7 John Wilkins
    January 24, 2007

    I’ll add to this to suggest that “Drug”, “Dose”, and “Cross-effects” are all basic concepts needing elucidation.

  8. #8 Liz Borkowski
    January 25, 2007

    Of the questions you listed, this is the one that I don’t know anything about (but would like to):

    “What are the criteria for a prescription drug to transition to non-prescription (over-the-counter or OTC) in the US?”

  9. #9 ukcommunitypharmacist
    January 25, 2007

    1) Why safe doesn’t equal natural
    2) how we know if something works or not

  10. #10 Lab Cat
    January 26, 2007

    Have fun with explaining “natural”. Did you know that in the UK something extracted from a plant or animal is a natural but something made from raw materials in the lab is artificial? Even though they are the same compound.

    How about explaining the placebo effect as that is largely why most herbal treatments seem to work?

    I would be interested in reading the other topics already suggested.

  11. #11 Ruth
    January 29, 2007

    How about tackling intellectual property rights, especially on lead compounds discovered say, in some jungle in South America or in a plant exclusively growing in Asia?

  12. #12 Joe
    February 7, 2007

    I would like a description of your research, I don’t think you have ever fleshed that out.

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