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Finding Better Medicines (Why Science Matters): The Challenges and Opportunities of Modern Medicine

Finding Better Medicines: Why Science Matters

Medicine is one of the most important fields of science that affects our lives. It helps us prevent, treat, and cure diseases, injuries, and disorders. It also helps us improve our health and well-being. But how do we find better medicines? And why does science matter in this process? In this article, we will explore these questions and more.

Finding Better Medicines (Why Science Matters) books pdf file


What is medicine and why do we need it?

Medicine is the science and practice of diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases and other health problems. It involves the use of drugs, devices, procedures, and therapies to help the body heal itself or to enhance its functions. Medicine can also be a way of improving our quality of life by reducing pain, stress, or discomfort.

We need medicine because we are not immune to illness and injury. Our bodies are constantly exposed to various factors that can harm us, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, trauma, aging, genetics, and environmental conditions. Sometimes, our immune system can fight off these threats by producing antibodies and other defenses. But other times, our immune system may be overwhelmed, weakened, or malfunctioning. This can lead to infections, inflammations, allergies, autoimmune diseases, cancers, and other disorders. In these cases, we need medicine to help us recover or manage our condition.

How does the body fight illness and infection?

The body has a complex system of defense mechanisms that work together to protect us from harmful agents. These include:

  • The skin and mucous membranes: These form a physical barrier that prevents most foreign substances from entering the body.

  • The innate immune system: This is a general response that recognizes and attacks any invaders that breach the barrier. It involves cells such as macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, mast cells, basophils, eosinophils, and complement proteins.

  • The adaptive immune system: This is a specific response that learns from previous encounters with specific pathogens and produces antibodies and memory cells that can recognize and eliminate them more efficiently in the future. It involves cells such as B cells, T cells, plasma cells, and memory cells.

  • The inflammatory response: This is a local reaction that occurs when tissues are damaged or infected. It involves increased blood flow, swelling, redness, heat, pain, and the release of chemical mediators such as histamine, prostaglandins, cytokines, and chemokines. These signals attract more immune cells to the site of injury or infection and help repair the damage.

  • The fever response: This is a systemic reaction that occurs when the body temperature rises above normal due to infection or inflammation. It involves the hypothalamus (the brain's thermostat) increasing the body's metabolic rate and activating shivering and sweating mechanisms to regulate heat loss or gain. Fever can help fight infection by enhancing the immune system's activity and inhibiting the growth of some pathogens.

How do medicines help the body heal?

Medicines can help the body heal in different ways, depending on the type and purpose of the medicine. Some of the common ways are:

  • Killing or inhibiting the growth of pathogens: These are called antimicrobial medicines, such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics. They work by interfering with the vital processes or structures of the pathogens, such as their cell wall, DNA, RNA, protein synthesis, or metabolism.

  • Modulating or enhancing the immune system: These are called immunomodulatory medicines, such as vaccines, immunoglobulins, interferons, interleukins, and monoclonal antibodies. They work by stimulating or suppressing the immune system's response to specific antigens, such as pathogens or cancer cells.

  • Reducing inflammation and pain: These are called anti-inflammatory and analgesic medicines, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, antihistamines, and opioids. They work by blocking or reducing the production or action of chemical mediators that cause inflammation and pain, such as prostaglandins, histamine, cytokines, and chemokines.

  • Correcting or replacing defective or missing molecules: These are called replacement medicines, such as hormones, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and gene therapies. They work by supplying or restoring the normal function of molecules that are essential for the body's metabolism, growth, development, or regulation.

  • Regulating or altering the activity of organs or systems: These are called regulatory medicines, such as cardiovascular drugs, antidiabetic drugs, antihypertensive drugs, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. They work by affecting the receptors, enzymes, channels, transporters, or neurotransmitters that control the function of organs or systems such as the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, pancreas, brain, and nervous system.

The history of medicine

How did people discover and use natural remedies?

The history of medicine dates back to ancient times when people used natural remedies to treat various ailments. Some of these remedies were derived from plants, animals, minerals, or other sources that were available in their environment. For example:

  • The ancient Egyptians used honey as a wound dressing and aloe vera as a laxative.

  • The ancient Chinese used acupuncture to stimulate specific points on the body and herbs such as ginseng and ginger to enhance energy and digestion.

  • The ancient Indians used ayurveda to balance the body's energies and spices such as turmeric and garlic to fight infections and inflammation.

  • The ancient Greeks used hippocratic medicine to diagnose diseases based on the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) and herbs such as willow bark and opium to relieve pain and fever.

  • The ancient Romans used galenic medicine to treat diseases based on the four temperaments (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic) and plants such as mint and lavender to soothe nerves and headaches.

Some of these remedies are still used today in traditional medicine or as complementary and alternative medicine. However, many of them have not been scientifically tested or proven to be safe or effective. Some of them may even be harmful or toxic if used incorrectly or excessively.

How did scientists develop synthetic drugs?

The development of synthetic drugs began in the 19th century when scientists started to isolate and synthesize active ingredients from natural sources. For example:

  • In 1804, Friedrich Sertürner isolated morphine from opium poppy seeds and named it after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.

  • In 1820, Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou isolated quinine from cinchona bark and used it to treat malaria.

  • In 1856, William Henry Perkin accidentally synthesized mauveine from aniline while trying to make quinine. This was the first synthetic dye and sparked the development of organic chemistry.

  • In 1897, Felix Hoffmann synthesized acetylsalicylic acid from salicylic acid and acetic acid while working for Bayer. This was marketed as aspirin and became one of the most widely used drugs in history.

  • In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin from a mold that contaminated his bacterial culture. This was the first antibiotic and revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections.

The development of synthetic drugs continued in the 20th and 21st centuries with the discovery of more synthetic drugs, such as antihistamines, antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antihypertensives, antidiabetics, and anticancer drugs. Some of these drugs were designed based on the structure and function of natural molecules, such as histamine, dopamine, serotonin, GABA, angiotensin, insulin, and estrogen. Others were discovered by screening large libraries of chemical compounds for their biological activity. The development of synthetic drugs has greatly expanded the range of diseases that can be treated with medicines and has improved the quality and quantity of human life.

What are some of the most important medicines in history?

There are many medicines that have made a significant impact on human health and history. Some of them are:





Synthesized from salicylic acid in 1897 by Felix Hoffmann

Relieves pain, fever, inflammation, and prevents blood clots


Discovered from a mold by Alexander Fleming in 1928

Treats bacterial infections and saves millions of lives


Isolated from animal pancreas by Frederick Banting and Charles Best in 1921

Treats diabetes and regulates blood sugar levels


Developed from weakened or killed pathogens by various scientists since the 18th century

Prevents infectious diseases such as smallpox, polio, measles, and COVID-19


Isolated from opium poppy seeds by Friedrich Sertürner in 1804

Relieves severe pain and is used as an anesthetic


Isolated from cinchona bark by Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou in 1820

Treats malaria and reduces fever


Extracted from foxglove plants by William Withering in 1785

Treats heart failure and arrhythmia


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