How do drugs know where to go in the body? A pharmaceutical scientist explains why some medications are swallowed while others are injected

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When you take aspirin for a headache, how does the aspirin know it’s going to the head and relieving the pain? The short answer is no: molecules cannot be transported through the body, and they have no control over where they end up. But researchers can chemically modify drug molecules to make sure they bind strongly to the places we want and loosely to the places we don’t.

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Pharmaceutical products contain more than just an active drug that directly affects the body. Drugs also include “inactive ingredients” or molecules that improve stability, absorption, taste, and other qualities that are critical for a drug to do its job. For example, the aspirin you take also contains Ingredients which prevent the tablet from breaking during transit and help it fall apart in your body.

As a pharmaceutical scientist, I have been studying drug delivery for the past 30 years. That is, the development of methods and the development of non-drug components that help to obtain medication where it should go in the body. To better understand the thought process behind the creation of various drugs, let’s follow each drug from the moment it first enters the body to where it eventually ends up.

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How drugs are absorbed into the body

When you swallow a tablet, it first dissolves in your stomach and intestines before the drug molecules are absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the blood, it can circulate throughout the body to access various organs and tissues.

Drug molecules act on the body by binding to various receptors on cells that can trigger a specific response. Even though drugs are designed to act on specific receptors to produce the desired effect, there is no way to prevent them from circulating further in the body. blood and binding to non-target sites that potentially cause unwanted side effects.

Drug molecules circulating in the blood also degrade over time and eventually leave the body in your body. urine. A classic example is the strong smell your urine can have after you have eaten asparagus, due to how quickly your kidneys excrete the asparagus. Similarly, multivitamins usually contain riboflavin, or vitamin B2, which causes your urine to turn bright yellow when it’s cleared. Because how efficiently drug molecules can cross the intestinal mucosa can vary depending on the chemical properties of the drug, some of the drugs you swallow, never absorbed and expelled in faeces.

Because not all drugs are absorbed, some drugs, such as those used to treat high blood pressure and allergies are taken repeatedly to replace the eliminated drug molecules and keep the blood levels of the drug high enough to maintain its effect on the body.

Delivery of drugs to the right place

Compared to pills and tablets, a more efficient way to get a drug into the bloodstream is to inject it directly into a vein. Thus, the entire drug circulates throughout the body and is not destroyed in the stomach.

Many medicines that are given intravenously are “biological” or “biotech” drugs, which include substances derived from other organisms. The most common of these types crayfish drug called monoclonal antibodies, proteins that bind to tumor cells and kill them. These drugs are given directly into a vein because your stomach can’t tell the difference between the drug being digested. protein and digestion of proteins in a cheeseburger.

In other cases, drugs that require very high concentrations to be effective, such as antibiotics for severe infections, can only be delivered by infusion. While increasing drug concentration can help ensure that enough molecules bind to the correct sites to produce a therapeutic effect, it also increases binding to non-target sites and the risk of side effects.

One way to get a high concentration of a drug in the right place is to apply the drug exactly where it is needed, such as rubbing an ointment into a skin rash or using eye drops for allergies. Although some drug molecules are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream, they will be diluted so that the amount of drug reaching other sites is very low and unlikely to cause side effects. Similarly, an inhaler delivers medicine directly to lungs and avoids affecting the rest of the body.

Patient Compliance

Finally, a key aspect of all drug development is the easy preparation Patients take medicine in the right amount at the right time.

Because many people find it difficult to remember to take medication several times a day, researchers are trying to develop dosage forms that only need to be taken once a day or less.

Likewise, pills inhalers or nasal sprays are more convenient than an infusion, which requires a trip to the clinic to have a trained doctor inject it into your arm. The less troublesome and costly it is to administer the medicine, the more likely patients are to take the medicine when they need it. However, sometimes infusions or injections are the only effective way to administer certain drugs.

Even with all the science that goes into understanding disease good enough to develop an effective drug, it often depends on the patient how to make it all work as intended.

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