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 theoretical and practical aspects of fundamental and applied 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
develop student awareness of the importance of toxicology to industry, health, the environment and society
As well as specialist disciplinary knowledge, graduates of the MSc Toxicology programme will also acquire many transferable skills such as research methods, the ability to collate and interpret data, communication and interpersonal skills, which will all provide an appropriate grounding for employment or further study.
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.
The MSc programme is of 12 months duration commencing in late September, and comprises four taught modules, a skills module, a synoptic module and a research project. To accommodate students who might be released from their posts in industry for short periods, or those wishing to undertake part-time study for other reasons, modules can also be taken separately over a period of 2 years.
The taught modules (5 or 6 weeks long) are as follows (descriptions below):
Module 1 Metabolism and excretion of xenobiotics
Module 2 Pharmacological, forensic and clinical aspects of toxicology
Module 3 Molecular and cellular mechanisms of toxicity and carcinogenesis
Module 4 Toxicology in Practice: Safety assessment in industry and the environment
Generic and specific skills training is embedded throughout the taught modules, and during the year you will visit a number of external establishments involved with toxicology. The research project (12 weeks from May to August) takes place in a university, research institute, industry or a hospital environment. Many take place away from the University and/or Birmingham giving you the opportunity to experience other working environments.
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!"
Module 1: Metabolism and excretion of xenobiotics
The module describes the disposition of foreign compounds within the body of living organisms. It covers the methods used to study xenobiotic metabolism; their absorption and distribution and excretion, and includes the application of molecular biology techniques to drug metabolism and pharmacogenetics.
The major metabolic pathways are described including phase I and phase II reactions. The effect of species, age, sex and nutrition on these reactions is included. Metabolism and distribution are discussed as a basis for the toxicity of a range of xenobiotics.
Module 2: Pharmacological, forensic and clinical aspects of toxicology
This six week module consists of two weeks of lectures in clinical pharmacology / forensic toxicology and two weeks of lectures in clinical toxicology. The lectures are given by clinicians and research staff from the Division of Medical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, the Regional Toxicology Laboratories and the National Poisons Information Service/West Midlands Poisons Unit as well as external lectures from industry.
The module covers the principles of pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and pharmacogenetics in the context of drug development and adverse drug reactions. The effects of poisoning with a wide range of pharmacological and chemical agents are detailed along with aspects of diagnosis and management. Methods used to detect drugs of abuse and other toxic agents are described together with their application in investigation of deaths
Module 3: Molecular and cellular mechanisms of toxicity and carcinogenesis
The module describes molecular mechanisms of toxicity, including the induction of necrosis and apoptosis, by such processes as covalent binding oxidative toxicity, lipid peroxidation, aberrant Ca2+ status, receptor interactions and altered gene expression.
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."
The mechanisms of carcinogenesis are covered and include the contribution of oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes in cell cycle control. DNA damage and mutations are considered alongside non-genotoxic influences on carcinogenesis including the action of peroxisome proliferators.
Specialised topics such as immunotoxicity and in vitro toxicity testing are included as is a computer-assisted study on structure toxicity relationships. Recent developments in high throughput screening and the application of molecular biology including genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to toxicology are discussed.
Module 4: Toxicology in Practice; safety assessment in industry and the environment
The module focuses on the assessment of chemical toxicity and includes core training in the statistical analysis required to undertake this successfully. Students learn how to detect acute and chronic toxicity in animal studies with emphasis been placed on pathological responses to toxic substances in different organ systems (e.g. kidney, liver, lung, blood). Students will learn to recognise acute and chronic inflammation, necrosis, neoplasia, hypertrophy and other cellular changes as demonstrated by histology. Students will also consider the choice of experimental species to demonstrate toxicity and reproductive toxicology where the effects of toxic compounds on fertility and embryogenesis will be discussed.
The second part of the module centres on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology. Students are taught how toxic compounds can lead to occupational disease and how this is assessed and managed by monitoring, epidemiological studies and the setting of appropriate safety standards in the work place. Students also consider the effects of chemicals on the environment. Air, water and land contamination and effect on humans and non human species is investigated. This includes lectures on assessment procedures, regulatory aspects and environmental control and remediation.
This module is aimed at improving the communication, IT, data handling and team working skills of the students and is embedded throughout the MSc Toxicology programme. Students are instructed in communication and presentation skills which they develop independently by undertaking exercises in literature searching / information retrieval and communication of their findings in written, oral and poster formats. Students learn how to design experiments and to apply statistics to toxicological data using computational techniques. More specialist IT skills involving structure toxicity relationships (DEREK) and bioinformatics are also gained during workshops. Group exercises in toxicological risk assessment train the students in data interpretation and analysis and enhance their team working skills.
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.
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
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