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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.
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.
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 2014 Program included the following elements.
Week 1: Book Discussion: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
Faculty Presenters: Linda Griffith and Bevin Engelward
Trainee Presenters: Bridget Wall and Nicole Billings
Week 2: The Lab," Part I ‒ Interactive video program providing multiple pathways for avoiding scientific misconduct) Introductory article.
Faculty Presenter: Steven Tannenbaum
Trainee Presenters: Bridget Wall and Rebecca Lescarbeau
Week 3: The “Red Team III.” From the series “The Newsroom” ‒ Reporters, like scientists, collect, analyze and publish information. They also are tempted to exaggerate or downright fabricate data to make a better story. To minimize misconduct, they 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 episodes dealing with data on a weapons of mass destruction story.
Faculty Presenter: Jacquin Niles
Trainee Presenter: Marcus Parrish
Week 4: Data Collection and Integrity, Intellectual Property ‒ Students will excerpt fragments from “Glory Enough for All,” a film that details the discovery and commercialization of insulin. Students also researched the use of electronic notebooks, and presented to the group the pros and cons of this new form of record keeping, as compared to pen and ink on paper.
Faculty Presenters: Ram Sasisekharan and Katharina Ribbeck
Previous Trainee Presenter: Charles Knutson; Knudson is a recent K99 awardee and we have incorporated him into this program as part of his next-stage training.
Week 5: “Race for the Double Helix” ‒ Much of the pace and style of modern biological research was set in the 1950s, and the pressure we all feel to publish and have high impact is captured in this film. The film is rife with ethical issues that stimulate one to pause and think about how science is done and how we treat our colleagues. (This film was originally titled “Life Story" put out by the BBC). Watch Here.
Faculty Presenters: Forest White and Douglas Lauffenburger
Trainee Presenters: Kim Davis, Brandon Russell and Adides Williams
Week 6: “Cross-cultural Ethical Issues in Global Collaborations” ‒ More and more companies rely on overseas partners to do research leading to drug discovery, to assure quality control and to do marketing. Glaxo Smith Kline, Sanofi and Novartis have been charged with unethical behavior stemming from their overseas operations. Trainees will be assigned the task of investigating these cases of alleged misconduct and reporting on what is being done, or should be done, to assure ethical behavior in the era of outsourcing.
Faculty Presenters: Jonathan Runstadler and Leona Samson
Trainee Presenters: Irene Blat and Nathan Stebbins
*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.