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Toxicology & Pharmacology


Toxicology is the study of the adverse effects of chemicals on living systems, whether they be human, animal, plant or microbe. ‘Adverse effect’ can range from a life threatening injury to something that might be considered a minor annoyance. For e.g. the harmful effects of pesticides in the food we eat, pollutants in air, chemicals in water, toxic dump sites.  Which chemicals are really dangerous? How much does it take to cause harm? What are the effects of a particular chemical? Toxicologists plan and carry out laboratory and field studies to identify, monitor and evaluate the impact of toxic materials and radiation on human and animal health, the environment, and the impact of future technology.

Toxicologists work in the Chemical, Consumer Products, Pharmaceutical and Other Industries, Universities, Government Agencies and Laboratories.

  • Clinical Toxicologists is carried out in larger hospitals, as well as NHS regional toxicology units.
  • Medical Toxicologists: Medical Toxicology is a medical subspecialty focusing on the diagnosis, management and prevention of poisoning and other adverse health effects due to medications, occupational and environmental toxins, and biological agents.
  • Environmental toxicologists work on environmental hazard assessment in government, industry and consultancy.
  • Forensic Toxicologists work in the Forensic Science Service, private forensic labs and hospital departments of forensic medicine

Toxicology is an inter-disciplinary science that integrates the principles and methods of many fields: chemistry, biology, pharmacology, molecular biology, physiology and medicine



Pharmacology is related to toxicology and involves the study of the effects of drugs and chemical compounds on humans and animals. They are very similar disciplines that require an understanding of basic properties and actions of chemicals. However, pharmacology places more emphasis on the therapeutic effects of chemicals (particularly drugs) while toxicology focuses more on the adverse effects of chemicals and risk assessment.

Pharmacology involves the study of the action of biologically active components (drugs) on the body and vice versa. It is thanks to pharmacologists that you can take an aspirin when you get a headache or have an anaesthetic when the dentist gives you a filling.

Pharmacologists work as part of a team including chemists, biochemists, geneticists, microbiologists, molecular biologists, toxicologists and pharmacists. They work in research, development and clinical trials of drugs. They are employed by pharmaceutical companies, universities, chemical, food and drink, household goods and cosmetics manufacturers, hospitals, the Health Protection Agency and government or charity-funded research institutes such as the Institute of Cancer Research.


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