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This training program in toxicology prepares scientists to make original research contributions on the impacts of hazardous chemicals, organisms and other environmental agents on human health.  Our principal goal is to contribute toward the training of the next generation of toxicologists who will work in academia, government and industry.  Historically, we have emphasized the development and application of in vivo and in vitro experimental models designed ultimately to elucidate the molecular, cellular and tissue based mechanisms underlying environmentally induced disease.  A particular emphasis area has been on the synergisms that exist between chemical agents in the environment and inflammation by the innate or adaptive immune systems, sometimes in association with infectious biological agents (e.g., the synergism between aflatoxin and hepatitis in the etiology of human liver cancer).  We also emphasize the development of chemical, biochemical and genomic tools that aid in health-hazard identification. In this latter area, we have been particularly active in the development of novel genomic, proteomic and chemical biomarkers, which provide a modern approach for detection and characterization of the adverse effects of environmental agent exposure. 

The program encompasses a number of important areas: genetic, biochemical, pathological, and analytical toxicology. Thirteen full time members of the academic faculty and one full professor with a full time commitment to research supervise research activities available to the trainees. This grant currently funds seven predoctoral and six postdoctoral trainees in toxicology. 

Program Requirements

Requirements for doctoral program

Graduate students who wish to study toxicology at MIT must first gain admission to the Department of Biological Engineering.  Most students are in the Applied Biological Sciences area of the department, although some are in the Bioengineering PhD program.  Students take the coursework listed below, which prepares them for an MIT doctoral degree with an area of specialization  in Molecular and Systems Toxicology.  Students also attend a 6 week course in Responsible Conduct in Research. While training in toxicology is open to all students, only US residents or permanent citizens are eligible for financial support on the Training Grant. 

Requirements for the postdoctoral doctoral program

There are no formal course requirements but postdoctoral applicants must have  a background relevant to the research programs of the toxicology faculty.  Postdoctoral trainees attend two seminar programs [Bioengineering and Toxicology Seminar (BATS; 20.200) and the External Seminar Series (20.952)] along with the 6 week Resposible Conduct in Research Series.  They are also invited to participate in any coursework that matches their current or future interests.  Each postdoctoral trainee is mentored by two faculty members: their research supervisor and a career mentor appointed by Professor Leona Samson.

Required Courses

Training for participants in this Training Grant involves formal didactic courses, formal and informal seminars and other means of information exchange, as well as laboratory research projects utilizing appropriate model systems for problem definition and solution.  The Training Grant in Environmental Toxicology is run out of the academic program in Molecular and Systems Toxicology, which is a sub-program of the Department of Biological Engineering (BE). All faculty participants except for Dr. Selin have appointments in this Department, making it a convenient administrative home for the Training Grant.  All faculty also are members of the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS), which provides world class support via its research facilities cores. The BE Department of MIT has sub-disciplinary areas entitled Bioengineering and Applied Biological Sciences.  Professors Engelward and Dedon convene the toxicology faculty approximately 5 times per year to discuss curricular issues.  The Applied Biosciences (reflecting the name of Toxicology’s original departmental home) track within BE leads toward the PhD or ScD with areas of specialization in Molecular and Systems Toxicology and Pharmacology and Molecular and Systems Bacterial Pathogenesis.

In summary, BE has three areas of specialization, (i) Bioengineering, (ii) Molecular and Systems Toxicology and (iii) Pharmacology and Molecular and Systems Bacterial Pathogenesis. Most students supported on the Toxicology Training Grant come through the toxicology or pathogenesis tracks, although the Personnel Steering Committee (Professors Engelward, Dedon and Essigmann) looks at the nature of the research project more than the area of specialization when making appointments.

The typical program of study of students in the toxicology and pathogenesis tracks includes the following courses:

Genetic Toxicology (20.213)
Systems Toxicology and Pharmacology (20.201)
Animal Models in Toxicology and Pharmacology (20.202)

This area of specialization is on top of a Core curriculum consisting of:

Bimolecular Kinetics & Cellular Dynamics (20.420)
Analysis of Biological Networks (20.440)
Molecular and Cellular Pathophysiology (20.450)

Specialty courses in Molecular Epidemiology (20.215) and related areas are offered as restricted electives. 

Responsible Conduct in Research Program

Training in Responsible Conduct of Research occurs during a six week period each year.*  The 2017 Program included the following elements. 

1.  Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Our responsibilities to the public.

Faculty Host:  Bevin Engelward    Student Presenters:  Jon Franklin; Michael Lee; Jing Zhang

Tax dollars support our work. Do we have responsibilities as Scientists that go beyond our own research?  What are some ways of engaging? This session includes a brainstorming session and discussions of possible ways to have a positive societal impact beyond the lab.


2.    Wednesday, May 24, 2017 – What is the responsibility of scientists when they talk to the press?

Faculty Host: Tim Swager     Student Presenters:  Kate Dupont; Jason Nguyen; Roman Hildebrand

We watched this video by John Oliver: https://www.facebook.com/LastWeekTonight/videos/896755337120143


3.    Wednesday, May 31, 2017 –  Movie Discussion: The Challenger Disaster – a BBC film from 2013 

Faculty Host:  Pete Dedon     Student Presenters:  Christy Chao; Elizabeth Ward; Devin Quinlan; Anthony Ortiz

We had this DVD to watch, and it ran 90 mins.  The last 30 minutes of the session were discussion. 


4.    Wednesday, June 7, 2017 – Authorship Dilemmas

Faculty Host:  Katharina Ribbeck     Student Presenters:  Christopher Richard; Meg McCue; Lauren Stopfer; Rachel Soble

Discussion with Faculty host about research manuscripts and authorship. What are the criteria for authorship? How do they vary among journals and among disciplines? Does shared first authorship make sense? What is the cost/benefit? These and other dilemmas were discussed.


5.    Wednesday, June 14, 2017 – Book Discussion:  Elements of Power 

Faculty Host:  Bevin Engelward    Student Presenters:  Nathanial Chu; Joshua Jones;  Maggie He

The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age

Our future hinges on a set of elements that few of us have even heard of. In this surprising and revealing book, David S. Abraham unveils what rare metals are and why our electronic gadgets, the most powerful armies and indeed the fate of our planet depend on them. These metals have become the building blocks of modern society; their properties are now essential for nearly all our electronic, military, and "green" technologies. But their growing use is not without environmental, economic, and geopolitical consequences.


6. Wednesday, June 21, 2017– Ethics and the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis  

Faculty Host:  Jesse Kroll    Student Presenters:  Kim Davis ; Joseph Elsherbini; Faye Marie Vassel; Sarah Schwartz

Lead exposure can have many deleterious effects. Among them, children exposed to lead have reduced intellectual capacity. When lead was found in the water in Flint Michigan, why didn’t people take action? What happened and what should have happened?

*Each session above is run by one to three Trainees, and at least one to two faculty mentors are present.  The venue includes dinner supported by the Biological Engineering Department, during the training session.  

Applying to the Program

The trainee candidate works with his or her faculty supervisor to assemble an application package for Professor John Essigmann, who distributes it to the Training Grant Steering Committee for evaluation.  We strongly encourage women, underrepresented minority candidates, and persons with disabilities to apply for funding.  The training program faculty are always prepared to discuss the career opportunities in this interesting and useful field.