Author: Rachel Crowley

Rachel enjoys using her medicinal chemistry training to create accessible public health content and engaging science education resources.

Posts by Rachel Crowley

What Happens to Medicine in Your Body?

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Cutaway diagram of the human body (head, arms, and torso) showing the blood (arteries in red and veins in blue) and internal organs. Drug delivery is shown by intravenous drip with a blue arrow into the arm, medicine tablet with a black arrow into the mouth, and inhaler with a blue arrow through the mouth into both lungs. The life of the drug in the body is shown by black arrows from mouth to stomach, from stomach to liver, from liver to heart, from blood to kidney, and from liver to intestines.
Medicines administered orally, by inhaler, and intravenously enter the stomach, lungs, and veins, respectively. They’re absorbed, then circulate throughout the body in the blood, are processed by the liver, and excreted by the kidneys and intestines. Credit: NIGMS.

Have you ever wondered what happens inside your body when you take a medicine? An area of pharmacology called pharmacokinetics is the study of precisely that. Here, we follow a medicine as it enters the body, finds its therapeutic target (also called the active site), and then eventually leaves the body.

To begin, a person takes or is given a dose of medicine by a particular route of administration, such as by mouth (oral); through the skin (topical), mucous membranes
(nasal), or lungs (inhaled); or through a needle into a muscle (intramuscular) or into a vein (intravenous). Sometimes medicines can be administered right where they’re needed, like a topical antibiotic ointment on a scrape, but most medicines need to enter the blood to reach their therapeutic target and be effective. Those are the ones we’ll continue following, using the common pharmacokinetic acronym ADME:

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Up Your Game With NIH Kahoot! Quizzes

NIH and Kahoot! logos on an abstract gray and purple background.
NIH is now a premium partner with Kahoot! Credit: NIGMS.

We’re excited to announce our new partnership with Kahoot! Although we aren’t new Kahoot! gamers, we’ve recently partnered with them to provide you quizzes from across the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a single place. “Reaching young people to teach them about biomedical science and inspire them to pursue careers in science is critically important to ensuring a diverse and vibrant biomedical research enterprise,” says NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch, Ph.D. “Our partnership with Kahoot! expands NIH’s STEM offerings, providing educators with free, interactive learning tools to spark student interest in health sciences.”

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What Is Pharmacology?

A collage of different cartoon images showing scientists working across a spectrum of basic science, chemistry, biology, research, genetics, and medicine, illustrated by images of an EKG readout, test tubes and a pipette, a syringe and medicine bottle, a chemical structure, a microscope, a pill bottle and pill, a data chart, a hospital, a DNA strand, and a human silhouette.
Credit: iStock.

Pharmacology is the study of how molecules, such as medicines, interact with the body. Scientists who study pharmacology are called pharmacologists, and they explore the chemical properties, biological effects, and therapeutic uses of medicines and other molecules. Their work can be broken down into two main areas:

  • Pharmacokinetics is the study of how the body acts on a medicine, including its processes of absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME).
  • Pharmacodynamics is the study of how a medicine acts in the body—both on its intended target and throughout all the organs and tissues in the body.
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Copper Keeps Us Going


Copper pipes, copper wires, copper…food? Copper is not only a useful metal for conducting electricity, but it’s also an essential element we need in our bodies for a variety of important activities—from metabolizing iron to pigmenting skin.

A graphic showing copper’s symbol Cu, atomic number 29, and atomic weight 63.546, all connected by lines to illustrations of the Statue of Liberty, a lightning bolt labeled “conductor,” and a crab labeled “blue blood.” New York’s Statue of Liberty is coated in 80 tons of copper, and oxidation causes its green color. Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity. It’s used in wiring, electronics, and lightning conductors. Crustaceans use copper complexes to transport oxygen in their blood, giving it a blue color. Across the bottom is the logo for the Royal Society of Chemistry celebrating IYPT 2019, the Compound Interest logo, and #IYPT2019. Copper is required to keep your body going. Enzymes that use copper are called cuproenzymes, and they catalyze a wide range of reactions, including making neurotransmitters and connective tissue. The element is found on the Statue of Liberty’s covering, in wiring and electronics, and in the blue blood of crustaceans. Credit: Compound Interest CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Click to enlarge.
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In Other Words: What’s It Mean to Be Organic?


The word organic is often used to talk about fruits and vegetables that have been produced in a specific way, typically without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But to chemists, organic refers to carbon-containing compounds that are the basis for all living organisms. Ironically, the chemicals prohibited in the farming of organic produce are usually organic molecules.

Below the title, Organic: In Other Words, two images are separated by a jagged line. On the left is a picture of green fruits and vegetables including kiwis, apples, bell peppers, and Brussel sprouts. On the right is a conical flask filled with blue liquid sitting on a paper with chemical structures on it. Under the images, text reads: Did you know? In chemistry, organic refers to carbon-containing compounds that are the basis for all living organisms.
Credit: NIGMS.

Organic chemists study, create, and explore carbon-containing molecules. Most organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, but they can also include other elements like nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and more. Organic compounds are all around you, from the phospholipids in your body that make up your cell membranes and the NSAID pain reliever that might be in your medicine cabinet to the fabric of the shirt you’re wearing.

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Pump Up the Potassium


The element potassium plays a pivotal role in our bodies. It’s found in all our cells, where it regulates their volume and pressure. To do this, our bodies carefully control potassium levels so that the concentration is about 30 times higher inside cells than outside. Potassium works closely with sodium, which regulates the extracellular fluid volume and has a higher concentration outside cells than inside. These concentration differences create an electrochemical gradient, or a membrane potential.

A graphic showing potassium’s symbol K, atomic number 19, and atomic weight 39.098 connected by lines to illustrations of soap, a nerve cell, and a banana. Potassium hydroxide is used to make liquid soaps. Potassium compounds are also used in fertilizers. In humans, potassium ions regulate blood pressure and transmission of nerve impulses. The potassium-40 isotope causes low level radioactivity in bananas and in humans and animals. Across the bottom of the graphic is the logo for the Royal Society of Chemistry celebrating IYPT 2019, the Compound Interest logo, and #IYPT2019. Potassium is the primary regulator of the pressure and volume inside cells, and it’s important for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, and more. Credit: Compound Interest CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Click to enlarge.
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Manganese: The Magical Element?


The element manganese is essential for human life. It’s aptly named after the Greek word for magic, and some mysteries surrounding its role in the body still exist today—like how our bodies absorb it, if very high or low levels can cause illness, or how it might play a role in certain diseases.

A graphic showing manganese’s symbol Mn, atomic number 25, and atomic weight 54.938 connected by lines to illustrations of steel railways, a bone, and a drinking can. Manganese steel contains ~13 percent manganese. It’s very strong and used for railways, safes, and prison bars. Manganese is essential for organisms. It’s needed for strong bones, and many enzymes also contain it. Drink cans are made with an alloy of aluminum and manganese, which helps prevent corrosion. Across the bottom of the graphic are the logo for the Royal Society of Chemistry celebrating IYPT 2019, the Compound Interest logo, and #IYPT2019. Manganese is necessary for metabolism, bone formation, antioxidation, and many other important functions in the body. The element is found in strong steel, bones and enzymes, and drink cans. Credit: Compound Interest CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Click to enlarge.
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Innovating Education, Outreach, and Mentorship With Organic Chemist Neil Garg

Dr. Garg holding a plastic model of a molecule.
Dr. Neil Garg. Credit: Penny Jennings.

“An important part of being in science is being in a community,” says Neil Garg, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). That philosophy has led him to prioritize mentorship, diversity, and inclusion—while maintaining research excellence—as well as re-envisioning what it means to educate students and the public.

Falling in Love With Chemistry

Science was always a part of Dr. Garg’s childhood. He participated in science fairs as a kid but says he did it for the community and not necessarily for the love of science. “When I look back on those projects, they were always with friends—never by myself,” he says. His parents were both scientists and strongly encouraged him to go into medicine, and although he became a premed major at New York University (NYU), he ultimately chose a different path.

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