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
Project titles offered to MSc Toxicology students 2014/15
- Nanotoxicology Assessment of Carbon Based Nanomaterials in Cell Culture Models
- Investigation of whether cell stress induces nuclear translation
- Understanding the links between translation and transcription
- Does x-ray damaged DNA persist in tissues long after their initial irradiation?
- The radiation-induced DNA damage response in the eye lens
- Is the ApcMin/+ mouse a model for radiation-induced acute myeloid leukaemia?
- Understanding regulation of apoptosis-induced cell proliferation in cancer and tissue regeneration models
- Endocrine disruptors: over-hyped or serious risk to human health?
- Mechanisms of Ethanol-Induced Carcinogenicity
- Do supramolecular iron cylinders inhibit DNA repair?
- 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 acceptor oxidoreductase 1) and NQO2 (NRH: quinone oxidoreductase 2)
- Deciphering the anti-leukaemic actions of VBaP against acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cells
- Determining whether AKR1C3 selective inhibitors can sensitise tumour cells to chemotheraphy
- Development of novel dual Kappa Lambda staining for diagnostic use
- Wavelength dependence of responses in human skin cells exposed to UVA and UVB radiation
- Exploring the effects of carbon-based drug delivery systems on the signalling pathways of cancer cells
- Can SERCA overexpression be cyto-protective against cell toxicity
- Role of epigenetic mechanisms in regulating tissue-specific transcriptional responses to stressors in Daphnia magna
- An assessment of the health effects from the addition of flouride to drinking water
- Development of high throughput electroencephalogram (EEG) recording from zebrafish larvae for drug screening
- Development of a genetically sensitized Drosophila model for drug delivery for neurotoxicity testing and treatment of neurodegeneration
- Toxicity of novel ferrocene analogues
- Bio-informatic analysis of a new dataset to explore the ways in which human cells resist chemotherapeutic toxins
- Overcoming the natural resistance of human cells to chemotherapeutic drugs with novel inhibitor combinations
- Miniaturisation and automation of Daphnia magna ecotoxicity testing: Towards higher throughput biology to facilitate the hazard assessment of chemicals under REACH
- The validation of computational models and tools for predictive toxicology
- Mechanisms of Flexibility in Ligand Binding to I-FABP
- Resurrection ecology as a servant in in a climate change prediction: dissolved organic carbon as a real threat in changing lake ecosystems.
- Transgenerational epigenetic effects of food quality in a twin model organism
- Male formation in clonal organisms - is the epigenetic key player?
- Epigenetic effects of vitamin B12 in clones