During the past 150 years, scientists and physicians first discovered that germs, bacteria and viruses caused disease, then found agents that could destroy, thwart and obstruct the pathogens. Disease and its treatments were the topic this winter of a five-part public lecture series sponsored by the Office of Postgraduate and Continuing Medical Education. This year’s series was titled What’s In Your Medicine Cabinet?

“The past few decades have seen remarkable advances in pharmacology and the management of a large number of common diseases,” said James D. Kenney, M.D., associate dean for postgraduate and continuing medical education and the course organizer. “The effectiveness of frequently prescribed drugs, as well as their costs and interactions, are matters of public concern.” The Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, based in Hartford, Conn., provided support for the series, which attracted 44 people from New Haven and surrounding towns.

While scientists today explore the genetic and molecular underpinnings of disease and treatment, early chemists and physicians found medications in unlikely sources. Toxic waste generated in the manufacture of coke yielded synthetic indigo, from which German chemists derived sulfa drugs that stymie the production of bacterial DNA. Arsenic, a heavy metal, became a remedy for syphilis. Scientists developed gramicidin as they exploited bacteria found in soil to control other bacteria.

Speakers for the lecture series included Frank J. Bia, M.D., professor of medicine (infectious diseases), who discussed How We Pick and Choose Antibiotics; Silvio E. Inzucchi, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, Diabetes Treatment in 1998: Something Old, Something New; Karl L. Insogna, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Osteoporosis and Paget’s Disease of the Bone; John F. Setaro, M.D., associate professor of medicine, The Management of Hypertension; and Elena Citkowitz, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine, Treatment of Cholesterol and other Lipid Disorders.