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Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program


LabToxicology Graduate Training Program

The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology offers excellent pre- and postdoctoral training in the field of cellular and molecular toxicology and immunotoxicology — with a long and distinguished history of growth and accomplishments in the area of toxicology.

There is growing concern that environmental pollutants pose a severe hazard to human health, which has generated interest and opportunities for well-trained toxicologists in academia, government and industry. Toxicology of environmental chemicals is an interdisciplinary field, and our department provides broad-based training on the molecular, cellular, biochemical and immunological aspects of toxicology. Such training will provide students with knowledge in safety assessment, prevention and treatment of toxic effects of exposure to xenobiotics. Continually funded by National Institutes of Health, the training program in toxicology has been in existence since 1979, making it one of the oldest in the country.

Forty-eight pre-doctoral students and 22 postdoctoral trainees have been supported and are currently in leadership positions in academia, government or industry, or are undergoing further training in the area of environmental health sciences. At present, more than 12 faculty members from our department pursue research in the area of toxicology and provide training to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

The didactic training for graduate students is multidisciplinary and involves courses in toxicology, immunology, biochemistry, physiology, cellular and molecular biology, bioethics, and biostatistics.

The research training includes two main areas:

  • Investigate the mechanisms by which pesticides, environmental and occupational hazardous chemicals, industrial organic solvents, and other xenobiotics cause adverse effects at the molecular, cellular, organ and organ-system levels.
  • Develop strategies to prevent, moderate and/or treat toxicity. The postdoctoral trainees also receive advanced training in toxicology with emphasis to improve grant-writing and communication skills.

Both the pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees pursue research on several NIH-funded projects in the areas of toxicology. These include:

  • effects of exposure to hazardous chemicals on antigen processing and presentation,
  • immunomodulation induced by pesticides, environmental contaminants and other xenobiotics particularly affecting T cell activity leading to susceptibility to infections, cancer, allergies and autoimmunity,
  • role of chemical mixtures in induction of apoptosis of immune cells,
  • neurological and behavioral effects of organic and industrial solvents as well as combination of stress and pesticides/fuel products,
  • metabolic pathways regulating the toxicity of environmental pollutants and the beneficial effects of chemoprevention in the toxicity,
  • effects of environmental toxins, ionizing radiation and radionuclides on double stranded DNA breaks and other lesions with emphasis on repair mechanisms,
  • use of analytical tools to study forensic toxicology and biological monitoring,
  • mechanisms by which hepatotoxic chemicals (ethanol, acetaminophen, chlorinated hydrocarbons, etc.) and aging produce liver cell dysfunction, and
  • the effect of alcohol on the immune system and nervous system.

The long-term goals of the toxicology graduate program in our department include:

  • training future scientists in the field of toxicology,
  • providing an interactive environment that fosters broad-based research and training,
  • performing cutting-edge, in-depth research in the areas of immunotoxicology, neurotoxicology, genotoxicology, analytical toxicology, forensic toxicology and hepatotoxicology,
  • developing strategies for the prediction, prevention and treatment of human disorders related to environmental and occupational exposure and
  • examining the toxicological effects at the genomic, molecular and cellular, and organ and organ-system levels.

One of the unique aspects of our toxicology training program is its strength in the area of immunotoxicology. Several of our faculty members are pursuing research on how drugs and chemicals alter the immune functions, which may lead to increased susceptibility to infections, cancer, allergies and autoimmunity. The overall goals of the toxicology program are to pursue cutting-edge research in toxicology and provide training to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows so that they can apply their knowledge in a clinical setting, as well as develop skills to face a wide range of professional challenges providing career opportunities in industry, academia and government.

The following faculty members have research interests in the area of toxicology:

Robert L. Balster
W. Hans Carter Jr.
Robert DeLorenzo
Louis S. Harris
Edward J.N. Ishac
Alphonse Poklis
Lawrence F. Povirk
Joseph K. Ritter

For more information about toxicology training contact:

Dr. Joseph K. Ritter
Associate Professor
1217 East Marshall Street
Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building
P.O. Box 980613
Richmond, Virginia 23298-0613
Phone: (804) 828-1022
Fax: (804) 828-0676



Virginia Commonwealth University   |   School of Medicine   |   Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
1112 East Clay Street, Suite 100, P.O. Box 980613, Richmond, Virginia 23298-0613   |   Phone: (804) 827-0375
E-mail:   | Updated: 9/9/2013