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Microbiology and Immunology

Rance Berg, PhD, Graduate Advisor
Research and Education Building 416D
Phone: 817-735-2121
E-mail: Rance.Berg@unthsc.edu

Graduate Faculty: Alizadeh, Berg, Borvak, Hodge, Jones, Kim, P. Mathew, S. Mathew, Mummert, Simecka, Su, Vishwanatha, Williamson

Infectious diseases have a major impact on health around the world. New infectious agents have emerged, and diseases caused by known pathogens have reestablished themselves. Many of these infections result in life-threatening diseases. To complicate matters, many of these infectious agents have developed resistance to antibiotics routinely used in treatments. Thus, prevention and treatment of these infections are of tremendous importance. The development of new antibiotics and vaccines is dependent on an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms of disease caused by these organisms and their basic biology. Also, many findings arising from the investigation of the molecular biology of microbes has significantly contributed to our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer.

Cancer continues to be a significant health problem and is associated with genetic factors, diet, and exposure to environmental insults and infectious agents. Cells of the body normally are limited in their growth. In contrast, cancer cells are derived from normal cells but divide uncontrollably, forming tumors. Also, cancer cells spread (metastasize) from primary tumors to distant tissues in the body. Understanding the biology of cancer and the process of metastasis will provide important clues in prevention and treatment of cancer.

Immunology is the study of the defense mechanisms of the host against infectious pathogens, cancers and other pathologic conditions. By inducing immune responses, as in the case of vaccines, infection and disease can be prevented. Enhancement of appropriate immune responses can also result in the destruction of cancer cells. The study of the immune response during autoimmune diseases is another important aspect of immunological research. Understanding the complexities of the host immune response has tremendous potential for the development of new treatments to prevent or recover from cancer and infectious disease.

Faculty members of the Microbiology and Immunology graduate program maintain active and productive research programs with special emphasis on infectious disease, microbiology, cancer, and immunology. Specific research interests of the faculty include regulation of prokaryotic and eukaryotic gene expression; T cell and NK cell biology; antigen presenting cell function; host response to respiratory, intestinal, and systemic infections; molecular immunology; tumor immunology; vaccine development; regulation and function of cytokines; cancer biology and metastasis. Faculty programs are funded by extramural sources including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Texas Higher Education Board Advanced Research Program.

Students may enter the program with a variety of academic backgrounds, providing that they have fulfilled prerequisite courses. The graduate training program involves basic courses in microbiology and immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry and advanced courses in selected topics. Students participate in seminars and discussion of current research and receive extensive training in techniques of contemporary microbiology, molecular biology and immunology. Utilizing state of the art technologies, students perform original, publishable research and present their research findings at national and international scientific meetings. Approximately two years are required to complete the Master of Science degree while the Doctor of Philosophy degree is typically completed in approximately five years.

Graduates with advanced degrees find employment in higher education, industry and government agencies.

Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination ensures that the doctoral student has mastered information needed to succeed as a PhD in the field of microbiology and immunology. A list of key topics, compiled by the Microbiology and Immunology faculty, will be distributed to the student after completion of the first year of course work. The student is expected to become knowledgeable in each of these topics through their course work, reading of textbooks and scientific literature, and discussion with faculty members.

The qualifying examination is administered by a committee comprised of members of the Microbiology and Immunology graduate faculty and the student's university member. The oral examination consists of questions from a selected list of topics provided to the student.

The qualifying examination will be administered during the summer after completion of the core course work. Two attempts to successfully pass the qualifying examination are allowed. Failure of the student to pass the qualifying examination results in dismissal of the student from the doctoral program. A doctoral student who does not pass may be allowed to complete the requirements for a Master of Science degree.

Grant Writing (BMSC 6310)

Successful completion of Grant Writing (BMSC 6310) requires the preparation and oral defense of an original NIH-style grant proposal. BMSC 6310 should be registered for during the spring of the student's second year.

The graduate advisor will serve as the examination coordinator and select an examination committee consisting of five graduate faculty. One of the faculty will serve as the committee chair. The student's major professor may not serve as a committee member. The student's university member will oversee the entire examination process.

The faculty coordinator instructs the student on the regulations of the course and assists in initiating and preparing the proposal. The student should submit a report which presents the hypothesis, experimental strategy and specific aims for the proposal to the examination committee by mid-semester. The proposal must consist of the student's original ideas and is expected to significantly extend scientific knowledge in the chosen research area if the proposed experiments were conducted. The proposal should be unrelated to any previous research performed by the student and unrelated to any research currently being pursued in the major professor's laboratory. The committee must approve this summary of the research proposal.

The student must prepare a detailed written report of the research proposal in NIH format after the summary has been approved. The final proposal will be prepared and presented to the committee at least two weeks prior to the oral defense. The grant proposal and presentation will be evaluated on the basis of originality, experimental design, and data interpretation as well as the ability to synthesize and communicate this information, both written and orally.

If the proposal and defense are satisfactory, the committee will recommend that the student be advanced to candidacy. Two attempts to successfully complete Grant Writing (BMSC 6310) will be allowed. Failure to pass Grant Writing (BMSC 6310) will result in dismissal from the doctoral program. In this case, a student may be allowed to complete the requirements for a Master of Science degree.

This page last modified January 28, 2011

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