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July 7, 1993

The Development of American Pharmacology: John J. Abel and the Shaping of a Discipline

JAMA. 1993;270(1):98-99. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510010104043

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John Parascandola became a historian of pharmacology after joining the faculty of the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy in 1969. His present book, about John Abel and the beginnings of pharmacology in the United States, is based on hitherto unavailable primary sources. It focuses on the role Abel played in the development of the new discipline.

Most of us are not aware that pharmacology became a separate discipline in this country only about 100 years ago. Before then, the subject was taught as Materia Medica, a didactic course concerned with the physical and chemical properties of drugs rather than their actions. A few experimental studies of drugs were undertaken by Weir Mitchell and Horatio Wood in the middle of the 19th century, but these were exceptions.

John Abel, whose first love was chemistry, was destined to change this course. Abel, a dedicated and ambitious young man, studied extensively in