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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

2020 Responsible Conduct of Research training will be held on the following Wednesdays in room 56-614 from 4pm-6pm.  

1.  Wednesday, April 29.  Movie Discussion: “Race for the Double Helix.”  

MIT is grappling with issues in which we are trying to address the unmet needs of people who have been historically marginalized.  The pace and style of modern biology in the fast lane might have begun with the work done by Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins in which structural studies led to insights into the nature of DNA as the vehicle of inheritance.  Two students will view this film and excerpt segments from it that deal with the pressures that scientists and engineers feel to solve problems in a way that acknowledges the contributions of all who have helped solve the problem.  

2.  Wednesday, May 6. “Coronavirus.” 

The students and faculty will watch selected episodes from “Pandemic: How to Prevent and Outbreak”, which is on Netflix. We are all part of the public health network of the USA. While basic research is our day job, anyone who works with NIH support should think about what we can do, as members of this public health network, to prevent, detect and mitigate outbreaks such as the one that now is looming as a global threat.  

3.  Wednesday, May 13.  “The Red Team.” 

Reporters, like scientists, collect, analyze and publish information. They are also tempted to exaggerate or downright fabricate data to make a better story.  The issue of “fake news” is very “topical” for those of us who follow the dialog in Washington.  To minimize the likelihood of misconduct, reporters use the “Red Team” strategy to pressure-test data and conclusions. The Newsroom” is an Emmy Award winning HBO series that addressed this issue in its episode dealing with data on a WMD story. The episode can be viewed at: Amazon.com The Newsroom Season 

4.   Wednesday, May 20. "Editing Babies."

This is a continuation of a story that broke last year; we covered the first part when it was fresh and the goal this year is to follow what happened in the international community over the past 12 months. 

We will start by showing a Netflix Explained episode entitled Designer DNA Explained.”  Unless you have been living with your head in the sand, you probably have heard of experiments recently done in an attempt to design children who are refractory to infection by HIV.  The Trainees who choose this topic will show the short video above and then lead a discussion of the ethical issues regarding genetic manipulation of humans.                                                                                                                                                                                      

5.  Wednesday, May 27.  Whistleblowing and Research Misconduct: “The Challenger Disaster.”  

CEHS owns this film, which details the activities of an investigation that is similar to that of a research misconduct investigation.  In 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch.  People were not forthcoming with the truth, which was eventually revealed with the help of a then-anonymous whistleblower who helped the committee figure out what actually happened.  Egos were bruised.  Tempers were inflamed.  But the truth eventually was teased out of a process that is a model for how investigations are performed today. 

6.   Wednesday, June 3. Movie Discussion: “Erin Brockovich."

Our Superfund community deals at many levels with environmental contamination from point sources of pollutionThe movie “Erin Brockovich” (starring Julia Roberts, who won an Academy Award as best actress for her role) tells the story of the town of Hinkley California, where chromium (VI) was used in a cooling tower and leaked into the aquifer, contaminating the drinking water supply.  The video shows the role of the legal system in determining a settlement for the people unwittingly exposed to this metal toxicant.  CEHS will get the video or make arrangements for the students who select this topic to view it by streaming.  Once again, the idea is for a group of Trainees to view the video material and make a list of points to use to lead a structured discussion.  This selection would be good for students or postdocs on the MIT Superfund program.

*Generally each session above is run by one to three trainees, with at least one to two faculty mentors present.   

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.