Friday, July 30, 2010

The University of Iowa's human toxicology graduate program has made a successful return to academia.

In only its third full year as a restarted program, human toxicology has had a positive impact on the field in the state of Iowa, evidenced by the state's membership in the Society of Toxicology (SOT), the professional organization of toxicologists in the United States and abroad.

Iowa's SOT membership has grown exponentially from 18 to 45 since January 2007, when the new interdisciplinary graduate program was launched, led by Professors Larry Robertson and Gabriele Ludewig, who now serve as the program's director and director of graduate studies, respectively, and with the support of the UI Graduate College, the College of Public Health, and the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (Professor Peter Thorne, director).

The field of toxicology as defined by the SOT is "the study of adverse effects of chemical, physical or biological agents on living organisms and the ecosystem, including the prevention and amelioration of such adverse effects."

According to Robertson, the increased growth and participation at both the regional and national levels are due principally to the creation of the new toxicology program and the toxicology effort at the university.

"We have a program now, and students have a real interest in participating in their regional and national SOT, therefore they become members," Robertson said. "In a sense, we feed the membership of the regional and national SOT by having this formalized program."

On October 1-2, twenty-five UI students and faculty attended the Central States (CS-SOT) regional annual meeting in Ames. Three of four possible awards for outstanding student and post-doc presentations went to UI students and post-docs Erin Allen, Izabela Korwel, and Wei Xie.

The Central States regional includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. The 2010 meeting will be held in Iowa City.

While Iowa's SOT membership is increasing, the UI's enrollment figures in human toxicology also are steadily climbing. In the spring of 2007, there were three students—all transfers—in the program. Spring 2009 marked the graduation of both the first master's degree and the first doctoral degree students. This semester, the program boasts an enrollment of 17 Ph.D. students.

"Our applicants are going up. While those numbers are still modest, already for this next fall we have good applicants," Robertson said.

Why the increased participation? Robertson has some theories.

"The subject matter itself is very interesting. It's truly interdisciplinary in that toxicology sits among various disciplines," Robertson said. "It's among chemistry, biology, pathology, and the analytical sciences. While that's extremely interesting, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll get students to study it if there are no jobs on the backside. And the great thing about toxicology is there are lots and lots of jobs."

For starters, you can work for the Environmental Protection Agency checking out pollution sites, the Food and Drug Administration measuring the toxicity of drugs, a pharmaceutical house shepherding in new drugs, or in academia teaching future toxicologists.

For more information about the human toxicology program, go to

What is toxicology?

The field of toxicology is "the study of adverse effects of chemical, physical or biological agents on living organisms and the ecosystem, including the prevention and amelioration of such adverse effects."
— Society of Toxicology

The UI's history in the study of toxicology

  • The University of Iowa's first toxicology program, active for three decades, closed in the early 1980s.
  • The program, which included the Center for Biochemical Pharmacology and Toxicology, produced some of the foremost leaders in toxicology worldwide.
  • Program graduates went on to leadership roles at the highest levels in academia, government, and industry.