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MSc in Human Health and Toxicology

Overview of human health and toxicology

Human health is about protecting ourselves from harm and treating disease once it occurs. Researchers within the toxicology of human health field encompass both these aspects. You might be interested in protecting children from exposure to chemicals such as BPA or in stopping dioxin from contaminating the food chain. Do want to know more about how alcohol affects an unborn child or develop safer chemotherapeutics? You could study any one of these topics, and more, within the MSc (Tox) programme.

The MSc (Toxicology) is designed to be flexible, you select the papers that interest you and the research supervisor that has the most interesting project. You conduct research into occupational, regulatory or basic science questions. We don’t expect you to limit yourself to papers or research run through the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, staff there just do the administration for the degree. This course can be tailored to suit people who not only want to work in science but also those interested in policy and government.

We’ve included some ideas of papers and potential research supervisors below, but the world is your oyster. Let us know what you want to do/research/be and we’ll help you put your course together!


Once you have talk to us and are happy with your course, enrolment is via eVision.

Course advising at the University of Otago

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Students are required to take PHAL 428, the basic toxicology paper, and the research preparation course PHAL 495 (or an equivalent). These two papers comprise 60 points of the required total 120 points that students are taken in the first year of MSc study. The remainder of the papers are your choice!

Required papers

PHAL 428 (20 points)

PHAL 428 is a multi-disciplinary paper that teaches the core concepts of Toxicology. Each year the content will be aligned to the current student cohort allowing them to investigate how basic toxicology principles align to their areas of interest. The paper is taught using current toxicology literature that is partially selected by the students. This means that students with little or no prior toxicology knowledge can participate and learn at a level that is relevant for them.

Core concepts covered:

  • Basic toxicology concepts including; mechanisms of toxicology, absorption, distribution and excretion of toxicants, xenobiotic metabolism, toxicokinetics, chemical carcinogenesis, hepatotoxicology.
  • Based on student interest some of the following areas may be covered may include: genetic toxicology, developmental toxicology, renal toxicology, toxic effects of pesticides, toxic effects of metals, toxic effects of radiation, venoms and animal poisons, air pollution, ecotoxicology, food toxicology, forensic toxicology, occupational toxicology, regulatory toxicology, other.

Core skills developed:

  • Critical analysis and thinking
  • Scientific study design
  • Communication of technical information to a non-specialist audience
  • Time management and organizational skills
  • Problem solving
  • Written and oral presentation skills
  • Listening skills

PHAL 495 or equivalent (40 points)

PHAL 495 is the research preparation course. It is normally taken in the first year of the Master’s course and provides an opportunity for students to read and interpret literature that is directly related to their proposed research project. Students will produce a literature review relevant to their study and present two research papers to the Departmental staff. Students who are planning to work with a supervisor in a department other than The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology will normally take an equivalent research preparation course.

Core skills developed:

  • Sourcing and evaluating scientific literature
  • Scientific study design
  • Presentation of information in a research (scientific) style
  • Time management and organizational skills
  • Problem solving
  • Written and oral presentation skills

Possible papers

In addition to the two required courses (PHAL 421 and PHAL 495) students must take additional courses to make up an additional 60 points to reach the necessary 120 point study load for the first year of the MSc course. This means students can take an additional two 30-point papers, three 20-point papers or an additional four 15-point papers. Unlike many other courses students are free to choose just about any combination of papers that they like, this means it is possible to combine a zoology paper with a geology paper and a genetics paper if this is the best combination. However if students select a paper that is outside your undergraduate study area, you must seek approval from the department teaching the postgraduate paper during course approval (e.g. if you studied science as an undergraduate but wish to take a postgraduate law paper, you must gain approval from the Faculty of Law to do this).

Some papers relevant to human health that could be included in the MSc (Toxicology) are listed below:

  • ANAT 451 Functional Human anatomy (20 points)
  • BIOC 462 Molecular Biology (20 points)
  • GENE 411 Current Topics in Genetics (20 points)
  • HAZA 401 Management of Chemical Hazards (20 points)
  • HAZA 408 Radiation Hazards (20 points)
  • HUNT 452 Nutrition and Human Health (20 points)
  • MICR 464 Medical Microbiology and Immunology (20 points)
  • NEUR 461 Clinical Neurology (20 points)
  • PHSL 471 Systematic Physiology (20 points)

Note: this is not an exhaustive list; students are encouraged to contact us with their research and subject interests so we can help them find the appropriate courses.

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Possible supervisors and research projects

Professor David McBride, Preventive and Social Medicine

  • My professional scope of practice lies in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. A strong interest in the 'evidence base' for practice has led to a research career in Occupational Epidemiology and biostatistics. I try to put theory into practice by identifying, through 'dose response' relationships, harmful levels of occupational exposure.

Associate Professor Grant Butt, Physiology

  • Movement of drugs and other substances across the gut wall
  • Effect of outer membrane vesicles from gram-negative bacteria on intestinal epithelial cells

Professor Richard Cannon, Dentistry

  • Professor Cannon is using metabolomics to investigate the changes in metabolism that are associated with the change from yeast to hyphal growth. A major focus of his research is the drug resistance of human fungal pathogens.

Professor Susan Dovey, General Practice and Rural Health

  • I have researched clinical topics in general practice for nearly 30 years, addressing research questions in postmenopausal osteoporosis, respiratory tract infections, diabetes, breaking bad news, attitudes to death and dying, immunisation, and preventive medicine

Professor Stephen Duffull, Pharmacy

  • Currently my research involves the development of pharmacological models, modelling of data and the design of clinical studies. These foci essentially revolve around the therapeutic areas of coagulation, malaria and clinical toxicology.

Associate Professor Anita Dunbier, Biochemistry

  • The majority of breast cancers require the hormone oestrogen to grow. Drugs that act by preventing the production of oestrogen are the most effective treatment currently available for this type of cancer. However, these drugs do not work well for all patients. Our previous research suggests that attracting immune cells to the cancer site may cause the cancer to keep growing during therapy. This project aims to identify which immune cells are recruited to breast cancer cells during treatment and how the cancer cells signal to recruit them to the tumour.

Dr Khaled Greish, Pharmacology

  • Dr Greish's areas of interest span the formulation and characterization of different advanced drug delivery systems, anticancer drug discovery/development, tumour vascular biology and animal tumour models.

Professor Kurt Krause, Biochemistry

  • Structural biology of infectious diseases, structure-aided drug design, protein crystallography, x-ray diffraction, structure and function of enzymes and proteins including antibiotic targets, redox proteins, nucleases, luciferase, and bacterial pathogenesis factors.

Professor Brian Monk, Dentistry

  • The main aim of Dr Monk's research is to develop new anti-infectives, particularly antimicrobial agents, by understanding of the structure and function of accessible membrane proteins at the surface of pathogenic organisms.

Professor Rhonda Rosengren, Pharmacology

  • Toxicological research in my laboratory involves the identification of novel treatments for estrogen receptor negative breast cancer and hormone refractory prostate cancer. In conjunction with Associate Professor Bill Hawkins in the department of Chemistry we are synthesizing novel drugs and examining their activity in both in vitro and in vivo models of breast and prostate cancer. In conjunction with Dr Khaled Greish we are developing our novel drugs into nanomedicines.

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