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.

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

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

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.


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


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 (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

Student in laboratoryThis 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

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

Fees and funding

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


  • 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 intenational 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 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

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.

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

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."


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.