Toxicology MSc

This programme provides vocational training in the theoretical, clinical and laboratory aspects of toxicology.

You will learn about the nature and mechanism of adverse effects of chemicals such as those found in industry, in the household, in agriculture, in medicine and those that occur naturally in the environment. We give particular emphasis to molecular and cellular mechanisms of toxicity and to risk assessment.

EU Referendum

Answering your questions and concerns about the outcome of the EU referendum.

This programme acts as a conversion course taking students at entry from a variety of backgrounds and giving them new skills to enable them to move into research and employment in a number of disciplines. 

Specific programme aims

The MSc in Toxicology programme aims to:

  • provide a broad, modern training in the theoretical and practical aspects of toxicology
  • prepare individuals to collate, interpret and communicate toxicological information
  • provide an opportunity to study at the cutting edge of research in a chosen specialist field of toxicology in clinical practice, industry or academia
  • develop student awareness of the importance of toxicology to industry, health, the environment and society

Qamar Walayat

“My degree gave a real taste of what to expect in the real world, to be organised, work well on my own and as a team”

Qamar Walayat - Birmingham Women's Hospital
Read more...

Skills gained

As well as specialist disciplinary knowledge, graduates of the MSc Toxicology programme will also acquire many transferable skills such as the ability to design experiments using a variety of research techniques, collate and interpret the data, use of specialist computer software packages to predict metabolism and toxicity, communication and interpersonal skills, which will all provide an appropriate grounding for employment or further study.

Careers

Toxicology relates to many aspects of our everyday activities, so a career in this field promises to provide a variety of opportunities aimed at improving the standard of life and the environment. Career opportunities are excellent, as even in times of economic hardship toxicology remains a necessary and important area for funding.

Why study this course

Zhongrui Li,
MSc Toxicology graduate, China

"the experts in different areas gave plenty of presentations about the latest technologies and methodologies in the course and I had opportunities to discuss with them to get more details."
Read a profile for Zhongrui Li here

Modules

tox-comet-medium-damageDamaged DNA fragments stream out from a cell nucleus in a Comet assay but how can chemicals damage DNA?

The MSc is of 12 months duration commencing late September and can be take either full-time over one year or part-time over two years. It comprises six 20 credit taught modules and a 60 credit research project. There are two taught modules in both semester 1 and 2 that run in parallel and are taught on Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday respectively making the course suitable for part-time students who can take one module each semester over a 2-year period:

Semester 1

  • Module 1 Metabolism and Mechanisms of Toxicity
  • Module 2 Forensic, Clinical and Occupational Toxicology

Semester 2

  • Module 3 Assessing Toxic Potential
  • Module 4 Regulatory Science and Toxicology for the 21st Century

Twenty credits of generic and specific training is embedded throughout the taught modules reinforcing teaching and providing a wide variety of transferable skills. A final synoptic exam encourages the development of an integrated view of the subject. During the year you will make several site visits to establishments involved in toxicological research and development. International experts from outside the university make a substantial contribution to the taught modules and the material covered is driven by the needs of industry for toxicology training.

Adam Jennings, MSc in Toxicology Graduate
"I found the structure of the course was excellent, and the introductory module really built on and extended my basic biochemical knowledge, and got me thinking like a toxicologist!"

tox-nucleusNanoparticles (red) surround the nucleus (blue) of a lung cancer cell — how do nanoparticles enter cells and how are they toxic?

Module 1: Metabolism and Mechanisms of Toxicity

This module describes the disposition of foreign compounds within the body of living organisms. It covers the methods used to study xenobiotic metabolism – their absorption, distribution and excretion and includes the application of molecular biology techniques to study drug metabolism of pharmacogenetics. The major metabolism pathways are discussed including phase 1, 2 and 3 reactions. The effect of species, age, sex and nutrition on these reactions is also discussed. Aspects of enzyme kinetics and pharmacokinetics are covered as are the role of receptors and cell signalling pathways. The cellular basis of cell toxicity and death are also introduced and discussed with the use of examples (e.g. reactive oxygen species). Other aspects covered include an introduction to the role of drug metabolism in the drug development process and an introduction to safety pharmacology. In addition there is a series of lectures introducing clinical toxicology where the effects of poisoning with a range of pharmaceutical drugs are discussed in detail along with aspects of their clinical management; this is taught by clinical staff from City Road Hospital.

 

Module 2:  Forensic Clinical and Occupational Toxicology

This module introduces students to occupational and forensic toxicology (e.g. drugs of abuse) and further develops the clinical aspects of toxicology introduced in Metabolism and Mechanisms of Toxicity. Aspects of chemical poisoning and management are discussed with the use of occupationally and environmentally relevant chemicals (e.g. metals, pesticides, insecticides). Features of environmental toxicology and occupational health are also covered with specific examples of occupational carcinogens as are the role of biological monitoring and epidemiology studies and how these data are used to set effective exposure limits.

Other specialist examples such as respiratory sensitizers, immunotoxicity and skin toxicity are also reviewed. An overview of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis is also discussed including aspects of cell cycle control, regulation of gap junctions and the roles of cell signalling and epigenetics.

tox-metal-toxicity-stainedCells in the vicinity of this metal fragment have been destroyed by apoptosis — how and why did it happen?

Module 3: Assessing Toxic Potential

This module describes the methodology for testing chemicals for toxic potential using both in vitro and in vivo techniques as well as high-throughput test systems such as cDNA microarrays, proteomics, metabolomics and transgenic animal technologies. Alternative approaches such as in silico testing are also discussed as is the limit of current in vitro approaches and the need for in vivo studies.  Students will learn how to detect acute and chronic toxicity in animal studies with emphasis being placed on the pathological responses to toxic substances in different key organ systems (e.g. liver/kidney/heart/lung). They will be taught how to recognise acute and chronic inflammation, necrosis, neoplasia, hypertrophy and other cellular changes as demonstrated by histology. The choice of experimental species to demonstrate general and reproductive toxicity is also considered. 

Stanley Aniagu, MSc in Toxicology graduate
"It's a well thought out, all-embracing programme which prepares the student for a fulfilling career in any aspect of Toxicology. Hence an 'essential tool kit' for prospective practitioners in the field."

Module 4:  Regulatory Science and Toxicology for the 21st Century

This module focuses on big data-driven science in environmental and toxicological genomics. This module will review current regulatory toxicological and risk assessment practices using the US National Research Council (NRC) publication “Toxicity-testing for the 21st Century” and the UK/EU policy guidelines as points of reference to discuss the proposed changes that incorporate 21st Century innovations in context of their scientific underpinnings, the promises they offer and challenges they present. It will draw from the fields of molecular biology, genomics, genetics, evolutionary biology, computational biology, toxicology, and risk assessment –though these are not prerequisites for enrolment. Theory and concepts will be highlighted by real world applications drawn from the scientific literature. By involving instructions from industry, government agency and NGO scientists, it means to offers a variety of dynamically evolving career paths to students.

tox-dna-sequenceGene sequence analysis, but how can changes in DNA sequence explain individual responses to drugs and toxic chemicals?

Skills Module

This module is aimed at improving the communication, data handling, team working, essay and report writing, presentation and laboratory skills of students and is embedded throughout the other modules of the MSc Toxicology programme (5 credits per module). Students are taught to develop their communication and presentation skills which they develop independently by undertaking exercises in literature searching/information retrieval and communication of their findings in written reports. Students also learn how to design experiments and to apply statistical analysis to toxicological data. There are also more specialised IT skills training involving structure activity relationshipsand metabolism prediction, pharmacokinetics computer simulations as well as data handling workshops and practical classes.

Synoptic Module

This is a module based on student-centred learning. Students are given time to work through all the topics covered in earlier modules on their own and to raise any areas of concern with the members of staff responsible, who give additional guidance as necessary.

JR Foster PhD, FRCPath, FIATP, (Hon)FBTS, Emeritus Professor & Senior Consultant Pathologist
"The course provides the ideal background for anyone intending to undertake a career in toxicology, and the close industrial contacts which the university maintains, ensures that the best graduates are readily employable with the best companies"

Research project

This takes place over 12 weeks from May to August and is an opportunity for the student to select a research topic from their area of interest. Projects can be based in the University, a research institute, a hospital, an environmental agency or in industry in this country or overseas. They can be laboratory based, computer based or literature/survey based. So a wide variety of exciting opportunities are available but in all cases students will investigate a toxicological problem in depth and write a detailed report of their findings for submission.

Collaborating organisations have included:

  • Cancer Research Campaign laboratories
  • the Regional Toxicology Unit
  • AstraZeneca
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Unilever
  • the Health Protection Agency
  • the MRC Toxicology Unit
  • the MRC Institute for Environment and Health
  • the National Center for Toxicological research, Jefferson, USA.

There is an industry sponsored prize awarded annually for the best project dissertation

Recent project titles offered to MSc Toxicology students

  • Molecular pathology of radiation‐induced mammary tumours
  • Does x-ray damaged DNA persist in tissues long after their initial irradiation?
  • In vitro alternatives to determine skin sensitization of agrochemical products
  • Identification and characterization of novel regulators modulating programmed cell deathand tissue recovery
  • Target Safety Review of PI3 Kinase Inhibition
  • Cellular responses and resistance to histone deacetylase inhibitor treatment in Burkitt'sLymphoma
  • Endocrine disruptors: over‐hyped or serious risk to human health?
  • Phytoestrogens: beneficial or hazardous to human health?
  • Analysis of phospho‐proteomic datasets from human breast cancer cells addicted to FGFRsignaling
  • The role of MCL1 in Breast Cancer Cell survival
  • Do supramolecular iron cylinders inhibt DNA repair
  • Utility of In vitro models of the respiratory tract to replace animal models for agrochemicalsafety testing
  • Indentification of novel anti‐tumour agents from marine sediments
  • Characterisation of nitroreductase‐ an enzyme proposed for use in cancer gene therapy
  • The cellular role(s) of the enzymes NQO1 (cytosolic NAD(P)H: quinone acceptoroxidoreductase 1) and NQO2 (NRH: quinone oxidoreductase 2)
  • Bacterial Toxins: structures, mechanisms, use and abuse
  • The role of Dynasore in intracellular membrane trafficking
  • Cracking the code of suspended animation
  • Structure‐activity and safety assessment of chloroacetanilide pesticides and theirenvironmental metabolites
  • An assessment of the health effects from addition of fluroide to drinking water
  • Effect of topoisomerase II inhibitors on genome stability
  • Toxicity of novel ferrocene analogues
  • ZnO nanoparticle mediated toxicity and perturbation of algae‐Daphnia kairomone signalling
  • Optimisation and validation of a high‐throughput imaging system for Daphnia toxicity tests;automating the measure of key phenotypic endpoints for use in environmental riskassessment (ERA) and in the context of adverse outcome pathways (AOPs).
  • Crystallographic structure determination of E. coli nitroreductases.
  • Epigenetics effects of vitamin B12 in clones
  • Epigenetic key players in sex determination for toxicological model organism

Fees and funding

Standard fees apply - This programme is in Fee Band B (Laboratory) for Internationals Students

2016

  • Home/EU students £8,370 FT 
  • International students £18,900 FT only

Learn more about fees and funding 

Scholarships and studentships
International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government. 

Find out about scholarships for international students.

For further information contact the School directly or get in touch with the Student Funding Office via the online enquiries system.

Entry requirements

Typical offer:
Good UK Honours degree or overseas equivalent

A minimum of 2.1 or equivalent for EU/overseas degrees or a minimum of 2.2 or equivalent for home/EU degree in Biochemistry, Biology, Human Biology, Microbiology, Zoology/Animal Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Science, Physiology, Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Medical Science. Graduates not fully meeting the criteria but with at least two years approved postgraduate experience may also be considered.

Learn more about entry requirements

International students:

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications, our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Student writingThe School of Biosciences is recognised internationally as a major centre for teaching and research in toxicology. We provide a lively, highly interactive teaching environment, with integrated teaching by well established centres of bioscience, pathology, clinical pharmacology and toxicology, occupational health and environmental and eco-toxicology. You will be taught through a combination of lectures, practical classes, workshops, tutorials and a research project all supported by directed reading and course work.

Most of the teaching takes place at the University but there are important contributions from external experts working in the pharmaceutical and other industries, contract research companies and government establishments as well as visits to external centres of toxicology. These external contacts are very important in relation to the provision of resources, specialist applied aspects of the training and future employment.

NJ Hodges PhD, Programme Director
"Toxicology is an exciting multidisciplinary subject drawing from areas including biochemistry, molecular biology and chemistry that aims to understand the basis of chemical toxicity at the cellular and molecular level"

Assessment methods

The taught components of the programme are assessed by a combination of examinations and coursework including essays, practical reports, data handling and computer workshops and the research project is assessed by a written report, laboratory performance and a short oral viva examination.

Professor Mike Coleman, external examiner 
"Birmingham University's Toxicology Masters Courses are world class in terms of their depth, relevance, cutting edge standard, quality of teaching and student engagement. I am very proud to be associated with these courses as their current external examiner."

What can I do with an MSc in Toxicology?

The success rate of students on the MSc in Toxicology programme is approximately 95% and the career opportunities are excellent. Even in times of economic hardship toxicology remains a necessary and important area for funding. The current concern over environmental safety adds to these opportunities.

Those completing the programme in recent years have been employed, for example, in:

  • the pharmaceutical industries
  • contract research laboratories
  • government bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive, Health Protection Agency, Food Standards Agency
  • NHS Poisons Units
  • water research establishments in pollution control
  • hospital and research laboratories

In the videos below two of our students give their perspective on the MSc Sport Policy, Business and Management:

Professor John Foster talks about MSc Toxicology career opportunities

Laura Knapp gives the alumna perspective

Dr J D Kilgour, MSc in Toxicology graduate. Now working as a Product Toxicologist
"In my experience, the course is well recognised and held in high regard throughout the Industry."

using-microscope

Approximately 30% of our students have gone on to study for a PhD in a specialist area of toxicology. It is encouraging that almost all of our graduates stay in the general field of toxicology.

The high involvement of external contributors in the delivery and planning of the programme ensures that the content is always relevant to employers’ needs and that students make contacts with potential employers.

Birmingham is one of Europe's most exciting cities. If you are already based here you know what this vibrant, forward-thinking, international city has to offer. If you are moving here you are going to have great fun finding out. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Supporting you

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, we'll make sure you have all the support you need to make the most of your time at Birmingham. We have a student mentor scheme and offer other support, such as disability and dyslexia advice and support, childcare and nursery facilities and financial advice.

Postgraduate and Mature Student Association (PGMSA)

If you are a mature student it's worth considering joining the Postgraduate and Mature Student Association (PGMSA). This voluntary, student-led group has an active Facebook group where you can keep up with all the events and activities on offer.

Are you an International Student?

The University of Birmingham has one of the largest international student communities within the UK. The mix of nationalities and cultures on campus greatly enriches our learning and teaching environment and will help you feel at home during your time with us. Find out more at our international student website

Living in Birmingham

Whether you are looking for university accommodation or a rented property in the private sector, our accommodation services team, 'Living', can help you find the right place.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and culture, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work.

Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.