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The Science of Medicines

Learn the science behind how and why medicines work, and what can improve patient's treatment, with this online course.

67,983 enrolled on this course

The Science of Medicines

What do you know about the medicines you take?

The world’s growing population faces major health issues, and medicines are a primary pillar to effect better health. Learn about the science of key medicines used to manage heart disease, depression, diabetes, pain control and smoking cessation.

See each health condition through the eyes of the patient

Week by week you will study a new medicine and health area, starting by looking through the eyes of an affected patient. You will learn the mechanics of a disease and how it affects the world’s population. You will then delve into the science of the medicine to explore the medicine’s chemistry, how it works in the body and why it is formulated in a certain way to become the medicine you see on the pharmacy shelf.

Learn from a diverse team of experts

This course is designed by a team of experts who focus on improving education for pharmacy students at Monash University, Australia. As pharmacists and scientists they bridge the interface between science and the patient.

A valuable course for patients, careers and healthcare workers

The course will be particularly relevant for those who are living with one of the health conditions covered, but it is also extremely valuable for those who care either professionally or personally for people affected by the conditions, as it covers practical patient tips drawn from the understanding of the science.

You can read more about this course in Ian Larson’s article “How much do you know about the medicines you are taking?” on the FutureLearn blog.

This course is part of our Study with Australia collection, with free upgrades and digital certificates supported by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission until 31st July, 2020. Explore more courses from leading Australian education providers.

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  • Week 1


    • Course overview

      The team members introduce themselves and their area of expertise

    • The role of the health care team

      When patients take medicine there is a team involved, with the patient at the centre.

    • The Human Body

      This activity introduces the learner to the human body including: body systems, cells, cell membrane, organelles, nucleus, neurotransmitters and hormones.

    • Chemistry

      This chemistry primer covers the elements, chemical bonds, functional groups, chemical structures and shape, as well as intermolecular interactions.

    • Pharmacology

      Pharmacology, receptors, G protein coupled receptors, GPCRs. How drugs can affect enzymes, ion channels and carrier proteins.

    • Pharmaceutics

      Pharmaceutics is the science of different types of medicines and of how medicines move into and around the body. You will learn about both these areas during this course.

  • Week 2


    • Meet Shirley Park

      Shirley is a 68 year old grandmother with type 2 diabetes. She is moderately overweight and has struggled to lose weight despite many attempts. Diet and exercise have not managed to keep Shirley's diabetes under control.

    • Physiology

      In this section you will see what the main functions of insulin are, and how insulin is normally released from the pancreas.

    • Chemistry

      In this module, a drug side effect was the spark that led to the development of drugs to treat high levels of glucose in the blood, or hyperglycemia.

    • Pharmacology

      Drugs taken orally to reduce blood glucose are called oral hypoglycaemics. Hypoglycaemia means less blood glucose.

    • Pharmaceutics

      I am going to talk about the half-life of gliclazide (we covered half-lives in the introductory week) and how its half-life determines how often Shirley needs to take her tablets.

    • Let's check back with Shirley Park

      Gliclazide is quite an effective drug at reducing blood glucose. However, it can produce some side effects. One effect it can cause is too great a decrease in blood sugar. This is called hypoglycaemia.

  • Week 3

    Heart Disease

    • Meet Steve Park

      You will learn about heart disease and risk factors focusing on the need to treat high cholesterol with statins.

    • Physiology

      You will learn what hyperlipidaemia and atherosclerosis are, observe how lipids are transported around the body, and see why atherosclerosis increases the risk of diseases such as heart disease.

    • Chemistry

      Statins are a group of agents that lower blood cholesterol levels and they’ve had a huge impact on reducing cardiovascular disease worldwide. We will consider the biosynthesis of cholesterol and the mechanism of action of statins.

    • Pharmacology

      In this section, you will see how our drug of interest, atorvastatin works to alter these lipoproteins in the blood, and what it does to cholesterol levels.

    • Pharmaceutics

      In this section, you are going to learn about tablets, the most common type of medicine. Being so common, it is important to know what makes a good tablet and why.

    • Let's check back with Steve Park

      Most people that take atorvastatin will not have any problems in terms of side effects as it is generally well tolerated. Some of the more common side effects generally occur in less than 10% of patients.

  • Week 4


    • Meet Ari Contos

      Ari is a married 50 year old gentleman with ongoing back problems resulting from a car accident. He has seen a variety of health practitioners about his back including his GP, a physiotherapist and a chiropracter.

    • Physiology

      Pain is normally classified into 2 main types: Nociceptive (arising from being “sensed” by pain receptors called nociceptors) & neuropathic (neuro meaning nerve, pathic meaning disease or condition).

    • Chemistry

      In this chemistry module we will take a detailed look at the chemical structure of morphine.

    • Pharmacology

      In this section, you will look at how drugs such as morphine can reduce pain but are also addictive. You will also briefly see what some non-drug options are to relieve pain in people like Ari.

    • Pharmaceutics

      In this recording I am going to discuss the half-life of morphine and how it impacts on how often it needs to be taken and the use of slow release tablets.

    • Let's check back with Ari Contos

      Morphine activates mu receptors in the brainstem which decreases neuron firing and slows the breathing rate. this is called respiratory depression. Respiratory depression is the most common cause of death caused by morphine.

  • Week 5


    • Meet Tracey Wilson

      There are a range of options available to Tracey; many of these products contain nicotine and work by replacing the nicotine from cigarettes to avoid the withdrawal symptoms.

    • Pharmacology

      In this section you will see what effects nicotine has in the body, and how these effects are produced. You will also learn why people become dependent on nicotine, and see what withdrawal symptoms may occur.

    • Chemistry

      This week we will look at the structure of nicotine and to understand the important features of this molecule for binding to its receptor.

    • Pharmaceutics

      People like Tracey often uses stick-on patches to help stop smoking. In this section we need to learn about the skin to understand how these patches works.

    • Let's check back with Tracey Wilson

      Our patient Tracey Wilson is thinking seriously about trying to quit smoking again. In this video Tracey visits her local pharmacist for some advice about taking the first step towards quitting.

  • Week 6


    • Meet Maria Tarantino

      Maria describes how she is feeling, and is recommended to see the doctor to discuss treatment.

    • Pharmacology

      In this section, you will be guided through the causes of depressive disorders, followed by a discussion about how depressive disorders can be treated either with or without medicines.

    • Chemistry

      In this chemistry module we will take a look at the evolution of drugs used for treating depression. From Maria’s perspective, our understanding of the chemistry of depression gives us insight into helping her with her problem.

    • Pharmaceutics

      In this section we will learn another outcome from innovative medicine design. We have also learnt about about half-lives and how they impact dosing frequency.

    • Let's check back with Maria Tarantino

      SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are much better than most other antidepressants in terms of side effect profile.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

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

  • Describe the physiological impact of common medical conditions on the human body.
  • Investigate the chemical structures of modern medicines.
  • Explain how the chemical structures of medicines make them effective in treating specific medical conditions (pharmacology).
  • Explore how the design, delivery and dosage of medicines influence their effectiveness (pharmaceutics).
  • Discuss the human aspects of taking medicines, including side effects and addiction.

Who is the course for?

No previous knowledge is necessary. Being a course about pharmacy, we discuss a number of important chemistry concepts in the course. If you haven’t studied chemistry for a long time, don’t worry - supporting references will be provided for extra background where needed.

What do people say about this course?

This course was one of the best MOOCs I have done and I have done a few. The videos and the graphics explained everything really clearly and I learnt a few things reading the posts from my fellow students. Pharmaceutics was something I had not learnt before so I especially enjoyed that part. I would love to do another version of this course, covering other health conditions.

Yausan Ward

Who will you learn with?

Ian is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash University. He is widely recognised for his innovations in student learning in the pharmaceutical sciences.

Who developed the course?

Monash University

Monash University is one of Australia’s leading universities, ranked in the world’s top 1% by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It was established in Melbourne in 1958.

  • Established1958
  • LocationMelbourne, Australia
  • World rankingTop 60Source: QS World University Rankings 2021

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