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Molecular Pathology PhD & Molecular Pathology track in BMS

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: The Molecular Pathology Graduate Program has integrated within the Biomedical Sciences Umbrella program at UCSD School of Medicine. The Molecular Pathology Track link will take you to our new location within the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program. As a track within Biomedical Sciences, our courses are now available to all graduate students at the School of Medicine. The integration is also advantageous for students in the new Molecular Pathology Track, as they now have a broader selection of both elective courses and thesis research mentors from within the Biomedical Sciences Program. Our Howard Hughes Medical Institute Med-into-Grad Program, which was spearheaded by the Molecular Pathology graduate program and the departments of Pathology and Medicine, is now more fully integrated for all students.

Students interested in Molecular Pathology should now follow the application instructions for BMS, and specify your interest in Molecular Pathology in your personal statement. With the exception of first quarter courses, all Molecular Pathology courses will be offered to all BMS students. These courses are described in the freestanding Molecular Pathology Website (below), and are being transferred to the BMS website as they receive formal approval. Likewise, faculty in the Molecular Pathology Program are receiving formal approval within BMS, and most are currently listed on that site. Our freestanding Molecular Pathology Website will be retained (below) for the purpose of providing information to current Molecular Pathology students.

If you have already applied to Molecular Pathology for Autumn 2008, we will take your application to the BMS admissions committee, which evaluates candidates for all BMS tracks, including Molecular Pathology.

The Molecular Pathology Ph.D. program, and its cognate track in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), provides training in the biochemistry and molecular biology of human disease for students with undergraduate majors in biochemistry, molecular biology, biology, and genetics. The goal of the program is to prepare students for independent research careers in academia or the biotechnology sector, using a cooperative effort of academic and institutional faculty in San Diego that are specifically interested in human disease. While sponsored by the UCSD Department of Pathology and the Burnham Institute, program faculty are drawn from the School of Medicine, the Chemistry & Biochemistry and Biology departments, and the Salk, Scripps, and Burnham Institutes. Courses provide the most recent developments in the molecular understanding of human diseases and highlight the open questions that need to be the focus of today's generation of graduate students. Medical education in histology and pathology are added to the first year curriculum of all students, providing them an accurate understanding of diseases as they initiate and progress in humans. This establishes a framework for students to understand the relevance of their laboratory studies. The Molecular Pathology Graduate Program also serves as the organizational unit of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Med-into-Grad Program at UCSD School of Medicine.

Faculty research is focused on human disease and divided among six groups. The Cancer Biology group combines faculty from the independent National Cancer Centers at UCSD and at the Burnham Institute. Their interests are divided among signal transduction, differentiation, cell death pathways, metastasis, and DNA-repair. The Stem Cell and Developmental Biology group focuses on the cellular and genetic events of differentiation and how the knowledge of such systems may be applied in the context of cellular and molecular therapeutics. The Neurobiology and Neurologic Disease group studies brain development, neurologic diseases, and pain research. The Structural Biology and Signal Transduction group investigates how protein-protein interactions and protein modifications control normal and disease processes. The Microbiology and Immunology group focuses on the pathogenic mechanisms of viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, as well as the innate and acquired immune responses to infection. The Cardiovascular, Muscle, and Organ group is interested in diseases of the heart and skeletal muscles, the circulatory system, and the kidney. Most program faculty reside in the Departments of Pathology, Medicine, Neurosciences, Pediatrics, and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the UCSD School of Medicine or at the Burnham Institute. A smaller number of faculty are located at Scripps Research Institute and the Salk Institute.

The goal of the program's academic research training in the first year is to teach students how to identify important scientific questions and to solve them using modern research approaches. In the autumn quarter, students take classes in Molecular Biology of the Cell, and in Molecular Research Methods. These classes focus on components of cell biology that control normal and disease responses and how to address unanswered questions in molecular biology research using a broad array of current and emerging techniques. Such techniques include traditional essential methods such as protein purification, DNA/protein microinjection, confocal and electron microscopy, gene/promoter analysis, protein-protein interaction analysis by yeast 2-hybrid system, transgenic and knockout mouse construction, as well as more recently-developed techniques such as laser-capture microscopy and the screening of genomic or proteinomic arrays. Labor-intensive techniques, such as the generation of knockout and transgenic mice, are provided by a network of Core Facilities.

In autumn students also begin a series of two classes that will train them to understand disease at the tissue level. The first is Human Histology, which Molecular Pathology students take side-by-side with the medical students, and which teaches them how human tissues are structured (Human Tissue Photosite). The second class is Human Pathology, which describes how disease alters normal tissue structure and organ function. This overview class is taught by the clinical faculty, and has been designed specifically for Molecular Pathology and Pharmacy graduate students as a concise condensation of the larger medical school class. From the standpoint of biomedical research, this background empowers Molecular Pathology graduate students to evaluate transgenic or knockout mouse phenotypes without the need of collaborating with other pathologists, which is the course taken by most graduate students.

In the winter and spring quarters, students take two classes that delve into the molecular mechanisms of Cancer, Nervous System Disease and Therapy, and/or Microbial Pathogenesis (focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying infectious disease). A course in Mouse Models for Human Disease integrates a students understanding of molecular mechanisms and human histology/pathology into the context of accurate animal models that are used to understand disease progress and that are also useful for testing molecular therapeutics. Lectures are delivered by a wide variety of program members who describe the current state of knowledge within their specific discipline, the unanswered questions, and the approach their laboratories are taking to answer such questions. Lectures are accompanied by assignment of an original research paper that provides a good example of how to identify key questions, design good approaches, and use appropriate methods to derive a clear answer.

Molecular Pathology students have direct access to the focused medical training provided by the new HHMI "Med-into-Grad" initiative, a proposal written by our program faculty together with physician-scientists from the departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Neurology. At the core of the program are ten medical specialty-training programs (MSPs) that immerse students in medical activities related to their thesis research. MSPs include oncology, hematology, cardiology, virology (HIV, HPV, Hepatitis), neurodegeneration, microbiology, genetics, rheumatology-allergy-immunology, dermatology, and diabetes-metabolism. Each MSP establishes the interrelationship of molecular mechanisms, tissue pathology, pathophysiology, clinical presentation, diagnostic tests/dilemmas, and treatment modalities among a group of related human diseases, using personal training such as inpatient consult services, outpatient clinics, and case conferences. Trainees attend clinical journal clubs where they will present papers discussing molecular pathologies and their relationship to current methods of diagnosis and treatment, therein cross-educating medical students, residents, and clinical fellows. Interested students may read more about this training program at "Med-into-Grad".

In the spring quarter and thereafter, students may take a broad variety of Electives offered by medical school departments (e.g. Medicine, Pharmacology, etc.) and undergraduate departments (e.g. Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry). These classes should be used to fill any gaps in undergraduate education (such as immunology or virology) or to pursue advanced education in specific interest areas.

To select a laboratory for thesis research, students perform three 6- to 10-week rotations in the laboratories of research faculty during the autumn, winter, and spring quarter of their first year. By summer, students should have identified their thesis research laboratory, and should start their thesis research projects. Students complete their thesis research and receive their Ph.D. degree within 5 to 6 years.

As students develop interests in specific diseases in the context of their thesis studies they are encouraged to select the relevant, short, in depth, advanced pathology elective that focuses on a specific human disease. These sessions are offered by the Pathology Department (Clinical Pathology of: Inflammation, Cancer, Bone/Joint/Skin, Cardiovascular Disease, Gastrointestinal Disease, Lung Disease, Renal Disease, Endocrine System, and Reproductive System). These classes provide the same level of training that medical students receive and explain specific diseases in their greatest clinical detail. In their second or their years, students may also attend Clinical Conferences in which cases of human diseases related to the student's area of thesis research are discussed. Discussions focus on the etiology of the disease, its stage, progression, and clinical treatment. Molecular diagnostics are involved in some cases. The purpose of attending such clinical conferences is to develop a full appreciation of the major issues that characterize a specific disease and to provide an understanding of how the current means of disease treatment could be improved by advances in cellular or molecular therapeutics. Clinical Contact Faculty having a significant or exclusive clinical focus are resources for students to further discuss the relevance of their thesis research to the understanding of human disease. Oftentimes students will select one of these faculty as a member of their thesis committee.

Undergraduate teaching is optional, but not required. The program pays for all fees (tuition, etc.), and offers a stipend of an annual living stipend of 28,000 for all students who remain in good academic standing.

Please tour our site, get to know our faculty, and consider applying to BMS.


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©2008 UCSD/Burnham Molecular Pathology Graduate Program