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Good Brain, Bad Brain: Drug Origins

Explore our past, present and future understanding of drugs with this online course. Where do drugs come from? How do they work?

53,852 enrolled on this course

A pile of various pill packets, representing drugs and medicines
  • Duration

    2 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Where do drugs come from?

We’ll start by reflecting on the nature of medicines and look at the history of some everyday drugs that have been taken by humans for centuries.

This will show us that many commonly used drugs were found somewhat accidentally - and often without any understanding of the science behind how they worked. Over time, this apparently random process has been refined and improved, so we’ll go on to consider recent advances in identifying potential drugs.

What topics will you cover?

  • What is meant by the term “drug”
  • What do we need drugs for
  • How drugs are discovered: from natural substances to rational drug design
  • What factors have to be considered when developing the chemical molecule with therapeutic potential into a drug that patients can take
  • How is the safety of the drug tested and monitored

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify a definition for the term drug
  • Discuss how the purpose of drugs can be for symptom relief, to cure a disease or to prevent a disease
  • Compare estimates for the length of time it takes to produce a drug and the cost of the process
  • Identify the different mechanisms by which drugs have been discovered and how these have changed over time
  • Explain how an understanding of the molecular structure of a drug target molecule can lead to the development of new drugs
  • Describe the journey that a drug has to take through the body to its target and the factors that influence how much drug arrives at the target
  • Compare the different routes by which drugs can be administered
  • Explain how drug formulation impacts on how the drug works in the body
  • Discuss the purpose of the various phases of clinical trials of drug development

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at anyone with an interest in finding out where the drugs that keep us healthy come from. To take the course, the only experience you need is to have taken a drug - even just a throat lozenge.

Who will you learn with?

Alison Cooper is a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, where she teaches neuroscience and pharmacology.

Who developed the course?

University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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