Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics

Our department administers a training program that prepares students for research in emerging topics of biomolecular pharmacology. Advanced research in the translational sciences requires an understanding of the principles and precepts of a broad range of scientific 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 at 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.

Faculty employ a wide range of cutting-edge technologies, including genomics, high-throughput compound screening, high-resolution microscopy, molecular genetics and nanotechnology, and neural circuitry. Other experimental methods include molecular and opto genetics; behavioral pharmacology; high-density in vivo electrophysiology; laser microdissection; viral gene therapy; rat, mouse, and zebrafish 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 interdisciplinary, composed of approximately 55 faculty throughout basic and clinical science departments at Boston University. Faculty research is focused on elucidating mechanisms of disease initiation and progression and new approaches for treatment of these diseases. Approximately 35 students are enrolled at various stages in the PhD program. The program has been supported since 1997 by a highly competitive predoctoral training grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, titled 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 pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Biogen Idec Inc. Through laboratory rotations, entering students gain access to a broad range of techniques and academic perspectives in the pharmaceutical sciences. The central goal of the program is to advance science through a better understanding of disease process, its treatment, and eventual cure. Predoctoral students are expected to publish at least one research manuscript in a peer-reviewed publication prior to defending their dissertation.

In some 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 (DRx) 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

Pharmacology is multidisciplinary field of study that investigates the physiological effects and mechanisms of action of natural and synthetic bioactive molecules. From the behavior of atoms in macromolecules to the effect of molecules on the behavior of organisms, pharmacology trains students 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 partners Pfizer and Biogen, in order to provide unique learning opportunities for our students.

Pharmacology has, historically, provided the basis for most medical treatment, and it is 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 on a sophisticated understanding of biological macromolecules, tissue structure and function, therapeutics for unmet clinical needs, and the chemistry and structure of drugs and drug targets.

Pharmacology has always been a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, positioned at the intersection of translational medicine with physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, and molecular to behavioral neuroscience. Typically, important advances in the pharmacological sciences have followed from research that bridges these fields. Emerging research in pharmacology 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. Students in the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics will be introduced to these emerging technologies in an intellectually rich and vibrant training environment.