Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics

Our department administers a training program that is directed toward preparing students for the pharmacology of the next generation. Advanced research in the translational sciences requires an understanding of the principles and precepts of a broad range of disciplines.


The mission of the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics is to advance research in pharmacology and provide training in pharmacology and therapeutics for students of Boston University.


The faculty of the department lead research teams dedicated to discoveries in translational sciences from the behavior of atoms in macromolecules, to the effects of molecules on the behavior of organisms, to drug discoveries for treatment of disease. Primary areas of research interest include the pharmacology of the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and cancer. Many faculty hold joint appointments with other departments and participate in collaborative research groups such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Whittaker Cardiovascular Center, and the Cancer Research Center.

The experimental methods employed by faculty include molecular and opto genetics, behavioral pharmacology, high-density in vivo electrophysiology, laser microdissection and microgenomics, viral gene therapy, rat and mouse models, primary cell cultures, computational chemistry, molecular modeling, tissue engineering, and biophysical methods such as NMR, CD, and X-ray crystallography.


The department offers a PhD program in pharmacology, designed to prepare students for leadership positions in academic and pharmaceutical research positions and related careers. This training program is an interdisciplinary one, comprised of about 55 faculty from throughout Boston University, whose research focuses on elucidating the mechanism of disease and new approaches for treatment, and about 45 students at various stages in the 5–6 year program. The PhD program has been supported since 1997 by a highly competitive pre-doctoral training grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, entitled Training in Biomolecular Pharmacology. Highlights of this program include a strong foundational curriculum in the biomedical sciences and pharmacology; advanced courses in systems pharmacology, drug discovery and development, and other electives; collaborative training of PhD candidates in Pharmacology, Biomedical Engineering, and the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, interested in innovative research in drug discovery and drug delivery; and opportunities for student internship experiences through partnerships with industry research groups. Through laboratory rotations, entering students gain access to a broad range of techniques and academic perspectives that are united by a central pharmacological goal: to advance science through a better understanding of disease process, its treatment, and eventual cure.

In exceptional cases the department offers the MA degree for students seeking a curriculum in pharmacology and a more limited research experience culminating in a library or laboratory-based MA thesis.

Faculty contribute their expertise to training students in the MD and PA programs through participation in the second-year Disease and Therapy course, which integrates the teaching of pharmacology and therapeutics with the study of disease. The department also participates in the training of students in the MA in Medical Sciences program and the DMD program through elective and required courses in pharmacology, respectively.

About Pharmacology

From the behavior of atoms in macromolecules to the effect of molecules on the behavior of organisms, the pharmacologist must be trained to think in terms of several dimensions simultaneously. This need is reflected in the training partnership that we have developed among the Departments of Pharmacology and Biomedical Engineering and the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, as well as our industrial training partner Pfizer, in order to provide unique learning opportunities for our students.

Pharmacology has, historically, provided the basis for most medical treatment, and remains the preferred mode of intervention in disease. It also has provided powerful tools for probing the function of biological systems. Much of the progress in pharmacology in the last century has resulted from the development of improved methods for evaluating drug action, whereas the process of drug discovery has remained largely empirical. In the past decade, progress in a number of fields has converged to the point that the traditional trial-and-error method of drug screening is beginning to be replaced by rational drug engineering based upon sophisticated understanding of the chemistry and structure of drugs and receptors.

Pharmacology has always been a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, positioned at the intersection of physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, molecular to behavioral neuroscience, and medicine. Typically, important advances in the pharmacological sciences have followed from research that bridges these fields. The pharmacology of the next century will bring together an even wider range of disciplines, combining traditional aspects of pharmacology with novel approaches drawn from disciplines such as genetic engineering, materials science, systems and computational biology, and nanotechnology.