Chemistry plays an essential role in the field of medicine.
Most of the drugs used for treatment or prevention of disease are made of some chemical.
Hence, studying chemistry and knowing it is vital for healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.
Besides drug substances, chemistry is also important in other aspects of medical systems like sterilization, sanitation, diagnosis, disease course, etc.
Thus chemistry helps to give proper medical support to the patients without any errors.
Let us see the role of chemistry in the medical field in few points.
Importance of chemistry in medicine
- In knowing the actual composition of the drug
- Understanding the chemical nature and properties of the drug.
- Predicting the drug interactions in the body
- For sterilization and sanitation.
- In the diagnosis of a disease.
- To regulate the distribution of medicine inside the body compartments.
- Decrease the toxic effect of the drug.
- In discovery of new drugs or improve the potency of existing ones
- To study the mechanism of disease.
- To know how the drug acts in the body.
In knowing the actual composition of drug
- When you see a label on the package of tablets or other medicines, you will notice a few ingredients besides the active drug constituent.
- Knowledge of chemistry helps the medical personnel to know what is the role of that composition and how the drug should be given or how it acts.
- If you notice the drug label in the image on the right, you will find the drug name “ibuprofen” a pain killer drug with its quantity mentioned as 200mg.
Also, it mentions “coated tablets.”
- This means the tablets have specialized coating so as to release medicine only in the intestine.
- Normal tablets will dissolve in the stomach but not these.
- So the physician can understand the drug in the packet, its quantity, its coating material, etc.
- He can decide if it can be given to children, old age people or to just adults.
Understanding the chemical nature of the drug
- Medicines we use have many chemical properties.
- They can be acidic, alkaline, oil-soluble, water-soluble, polarity, etc.
- In the above picture, the drug belongs to the class of NSAID’s which means it is non-polar and also acidic in nature.
- Knowledge of chemistry will help the doctor to guess how the drug is going to act.
- For example, an acidic drug will be better absorbed in the stomach while the alkaline drugs are well absorbed in the intestine.
- Also, a lipophilic drug has faster distribution into the brain and deeper tissues than a hydrophilic one.
- So a doctor can have an idea of how the drug is going to work in the body based on its chemical nature.
In case there is excess dosing and toxicity, he can remove the acid part of the drug in the body.
In predicting the drug interactions
- Most of the time multiple drugs are given to a person as part of treatment.
- Knowledge of the chemistry of the medicine would help the pharmacist to predict if it can lead to any drug interactions.
- For example, in the case of a gastric ulcer, a doctor may prescribe an antacid like calcium hydroxide and also an antibiotic like tetracycline.
- In this case, tetracycline will form a chemical complex with calcium and does allow it to be absorbed into the blood.
Thus there would be no effect of the said antibiotic in the body if taken.
In sterilization and sanitation
- Knowledge of chemistry helps to know how the substance possibly kills the microbes.
Hence the person can decide which type of sterilization agent can be used for different purposes. See more on the uses of alcohol.
In the diagnosis of disease
- The chemical tests are designed based on the knowledge of the chemistry of the bio-molecules and their reactions
- Many diseases or disorders are easily diagnosed by simple biochemical tests.
- For example blood glucose levels, blood cholesterol levels can be quickly diagnosed by using these chemical tests.
- Also, they are less expensive than other methods.
- For example, the glucose oxidase method is used for blood glucose estimation.
So, these chemical tests help in disease diagnosis.
To regulate the distribution of medicine.
- The absorption, distribution, and excretion of the drug can be controlled by altering the chemistry of the body.
- For example, if a person has taken a high dose of salicylates or other acidic medicines, it leads to poisoning.
- Their excretion can be enhanced by making the blood alkaline by administering sodium bicarbonate an alkaline substance.
- Also, not all medications can move into the brain due to their water solubility. Drugs like general anesthetics,
Decrease the toxic effect of the drug and enhance tolerability
- The drug structure is studied as a part of medicinal chemistry.
- In doing so, the main functional groups responsible for therapeutic effects and toxic properties are ascertained.
By modifying those functional groups, the toxic effect of the drug can be minimized.
To discover more new drugs or improve the potency.
- Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming from a fungus.
- By studying the chemical structure of this penicillin molecule, more alternatives like amoxicillin, carboxy penicillin were designed.
- Previously penicillin was used to cause allergic shock and death in many people.
But, due to the modification, this issue was resolved. Also, these new derivatives are effective on gram-negative bacteria as well.
To study the mechanism of disease.
- Most diseases can be explained by some changes in body chemistry.
- For example, osteoporosis is due to a decrease in calcium levels in the body.
- Furthermore, enhanced hydrochloric acid secretion leads to gastric acidity. A decrease in iron levels leads to anemia.
- Thus, the basic mechanism of disease can be decided in chemistry terms to treat it.
To know how the drug acts
- Drugs act by a specific mechanism to bring about a cure.
- This mechanism can be studied and also explained well by chemistry.
- For example, in the case of depression, there is a disturbance in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Especially, those like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine are altered.
- Drugs used for the cure act by increasing these neurotransmitters.