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.

Course fact file

Type of Course: Taught

Study Options: Full time

Duration: MSc – 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Start date: September

Details

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

  
Skills gained

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.

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

toxicology msc student

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:

  • 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.

MSc student

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.

Skills Module

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.


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.

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

Fees and funding

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

  • Home/EU students £5,940 FT (£2,970 PT)
  • International students £17,355 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 intenational students.

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:

English to IELTS 6.0 (with no less than 5.5 in any band) or TOEFL Internet based 82 overall with no less than 19 in Reading, 19 in Listening, 21 in Speaking, 19 in Writing.

Entry requirements

A good Honours degree in Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Pharmacy, Physiology or a related discipline. Alternatively you may be qualified in Medicine or Veterinary Science. Graduates without Honours 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

Learning and teaching

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.

Assessment methods

The taught component of the programme is assessed by a combination of examinations and coursework and the dissertation component is assessed by a written report and a short viva. 

Employability

What can I do with an MSc in Toxicology?

First destinations of University of Birmingham Biosciences graduates six months after graduation

Postgraduate destinations

Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education report (DHLE) 2009

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

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.