I guess I see chemistry as being a crucial part of medicine in two ways.
Chemistry is what I call the ‘how’ and ‘why’ part of science. Biology can tell us a lot about what is involved in biological systems, but when we look at the human body in terms of wanting to cure disease, we need to understand:
- How the body works normally, so we can see what may have gone wrong.
Chemistry is involved in modelling chemical systems in the body, to increase our understanding of how we work. For example, the way haemoglobin (a protein that stores iron) takes up and releases iron in the body has been studied* and found to work using chemical oxidation and reduction processes.
- Why something may have gone wrong, and how we might be able to fix it.
What might have gone wrong: Chemists have developed useful diagnostic tools used everyday in hospitals, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and CT scanning. These techniques allow pictures (using magnetic waves or x-rays) to be taken so doctors can see the organs, bones and tissue inside a patient.
Trying to fix it: Chemistry also plays a huge role in the development of synthetic drugs such as antibiotics, antimalarials and analgesics (pain killers). New research is being done on possible ways chemistry can be used to target cancer cells without killing the healthy cells around the cancer growths.
And this is where Chemistry is so important in medicine.
*see Ahmad, S. Singh, V. Rao, G (2005) Release of iron from ferritin by 1,2,4-benzenetriol. Chemico-Biological Interactions 96(2),103-111