What Do Medications Do?
By: Lilianne Sutton
Have you ever watched TV and seen an advertisement for a new medicine? If so, you might have noticed lots of advertisements for many different kinds of medicines. Maybe the medicine is for when you’re sick, or for when you hurt yourself. There are also certain types of medications designed for people who need to take them regularly. While some sicknesses are caused by invading viruses and bacteria, also known as germs, other illnesses are actually caused by our own body. How can this happen?
You, just like all living things (organisms!) are made up of cells, which are like tiny factories that take food and nutrients and turn them into fuel for your body. Your cells also move around, fight off invaders (like germs!) and communicate with each other. Every time you touch something with your hands, millions of cells communicate almost instantly to translate that signal to your brain! There are many different types of cells that do all sorts of things that are necessary for your body to maintain homeostasis, or the internal balance you need for your body to be healthy.
Remember that a cell is like a factory. Factories themselves are made up of many smaller pieces, too. Similarly, cells are made up of many smaller pieces, called proteins, lipids, and a few other types of molecules. There are many different kinds of proteins that do all sorts of jobs in the cell. They are just like the machinery in a factory! So, what happens if the ceiling caves in? Or if a machine inside breaks? What if all the machines produce the right thing, but just much more slowly than they’re supposed to? Proteins can malfunction, causing the cell to malfunction. Maybe the malfunction is so bad that the entire factory, or cell, has to shut down. Malfunctions in those proteins are often due to mutations (a mutation means that a change has occurred).
Proteins can get mutated in a variety of ways. Most of the time, a mutation in a single protein won’t change the cell. However, if many or all the proteins are mutated, then the cell might malfunction. This is how our body can cause sickness by itself. Some medicines are able to go to these mutated proteins and fix them, so that the cell is able to function like normal. So, part of the reason we have all sorts of medicines is because of all the different ways that the proteins in your cells can be mutated. Surprisingly, some mutations can actually help your cells. They might make your bone cells stronger, for example!
To summarize, some medicines fight off outside germs, and other medicines help your proteins do their jobs in your cells. Many scientists study these mutated proteins! They might try to design a medicine for a particular protein. Or, they might study how a protein is mutated, and why it’s not doing its job the right way. There are many other problems that scientists study and questions they try to answer, but these two categories are really common, because there’s so many mutations and so many proteins.
I am a scientist (in training) and I fall in the second category! Some people have mutations in a special protein inside their heart. The protein is called myosin. I study how those mutations in myosin can change how the heart functions. Maybe you'll become a scientist that studies mutations, too!
Experts, K. H. M. (Ed.). (n.d.). What is a gene? (for kids). KidsHealth. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/what-is-gene.html