PhD, MD/PhD in Molecular & Translational Medicine

The Graduate Program in Molecular & Translational Medicine (MTM) at Boston University is an interdisciplinary program based in the Department of Medicine. The overarching goal of the MTM graduate program is to train students to lead hypothesis-driven investigations into the mechanisms of human disease. The curriculum consists of a year of basic science courses offered through the Graduate Medical Sciences followed by a second year of advanced electives covering integrated physiological systems, current technologies and methodological applications, biostatistics and dissertation-specific advanced electives tailored for each student’s area of future dissertational work.

Molecular & Translational Medicine curriculum includes the following courses:

  • Genetics and Epidemiology of Disease
  • Cancer Biology and Genetics
  • Organ System Diseases
  • Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
  • Biology of the Lung and Pulmonary Disease
  • Biological Core Technologies
  • Biostatistics
  • MTM Colloquium

During the first year and intervening summer, students rotate in different laboratories within the Department of Medicine or affiliated laboratories and choose a laboratory where they will conduct their research leading to a dissertation. In the fall of their second year, students take the Tier 1 Qualifying Examination, which is a review of a scientific paper in an examination format. Following completion of all coursework, students write and orally defend their Tier 2 Qualifying Examination, which is a mock research proposal in an F31 format on the topic of their dissertation research. Following completion of the Tier 2 qualifying exams, Dissertation Advisory Committees (DACs) are assembled and are required to meet at least twice per year.

Students are expected to participate in the MTM Colloquium, BUSM seminars, ARCs, the annual Evans Medicine Research Days, and the Henry I. Russek Student Achievement Day.

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Effectively communicate the background, major results, and implications of their dissertation research.
  • Provide constructive feedback to peers on their dissertation research.
  • Critically present and evaluate contemporary literature.
  • Gain necessary skills to incorporate rigor and reproducibility in the planning, execution, and analysis of data for their dissertation research and beyond.
  • Be able to develop and defend the scientific premise for their dissertation research and contextualize their major conclusions within their field.

Course of Study

Candidates for a PhD in Molecular & Translational Medicine will have varied scientific and medical backgrounds. To meet the stated goals of the MTM and provide intensive scientific training and research experience culminating in a PhD, as well as equip its graduates to carry out independent research, the course of study will be individualized for each candidate depending upon their background and research interests. This course will be developed by each candidate and their program advisor in the MTM. The program of study must be approved by the Student Performance Committee.

The Graduate Program in Molecular & Translational Medicine participates in the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS), which offers training towards the PhD degree by integrating the foundations of interdisciplinary biomedical research with focused investigation and preparation for career advancement. The PhD program is divided into three parts: Part I, Basic Science Curriculum; Part II, Molecular & Translational Medicine Curriculum; and Part III, Dissertation Research. After successful completion of Parts I and II and prior to officially initiating dissertation research, each candidate will be expected to complete the Tier 2 Qualifying Examination.

Part I: Basic Science Courses

The first-year basic science curriculum for almost all PhD programs and departments is set up as one major course called Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FBS) that runs the full academic year, with a September start date. This innovative and interdisciplinary core course will encompass material that has been traditionally taught in courses of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics and genomics, and molecular biology. These four major topics will be taught as sequential modules. A fifth module will be available as well with a choice of topics, from development and stem cells to physiology and metabolism. This should be a particularly exciting student experience across the graduate school at BUSM. The goals of this new curriculum are to encourage students to think in a rigorous and interdisciplinary fashion; coordinate content across courses and programs; reduce redundancy in course content; decrease lecture hours; and promote collegiality among participating doctoral students.

Modules

  1. Foundations in Biomedical Sciences I (FC 701): Protein Structure, Catalysis and Interaction (“Biochemistry”)
  2. Foundations in Biomedical Sciences II (FC 702): Structure and Function of the Genome (“Genetics and Genomics”)
  3. Foundations in Biomedical Sciences III (FC 703): Architecture & Dynamics of the Cell (“Cell Biology”)
  4. Foundations in Biomedical Sciences IV (FC 704): Mechanisms of Cell Communication (“Signaling”)
  5. Foundations in Biomedical Sciences V (FC 705): Electives (i.e., Development, Physiology, Bioinformatics, Metabolism, etc.)

Part II: Molecular & Translational Medicine Curriculum

MTM curriculum consists of two semesters covering topics on the scientific basis and research methodology of the molecular basis of disease and foundations for translational applications. These courses are taught as advanced graduate seminars. They are required of all MTM students in the second year and are open to other students in the Graduate Medical Sciences.

Six courses are offered that address major fields in the molecular basis of human disease: GMS MM 701, 703, 707, 710, 725, and 730. Each course meets one day a week for one to two hours. MTM students are required to take an advanced elective in the student’s area of future dissertational research, an integrative, physiology-based course, and a current technologies course. A course in biostatistics is also required, and acceptable classes are listed below. Each course will have its own outside reading.

Integrative Physiology (2–4 credits)

Required
The medical school curriculum (taken by MD/PhD students), SPH EH 710 Physiological Mechanisms of Health and Disease, and GMS MM 725 Biology of Lung and Pulmonary Disease satisfy this requirement to train students in broad-based integrative physiology and would be acceptable electives.

Current Biomedical Research Technologies (2–3 credits)

Required
To satisfy the requirement for learning about current technologies and methodological applications, students will have an option to enroll in either MM 730 Biological Core Technologies or BI 777 Techniques in Biomedical Research.

Biostatistics (2–4 credits)

Required
Fall semester and spring semester
This requirement will be fulfilled with a statistics course under advisement by the program director and would include the following examples: GMS CI 670 Biostatistics with Computing, SPH BS 831 Genomics Data Mining and Statistics, GMS FC 721 Research Design and Statistical Methods for Biomedical Sciences, GMS MS 700 Elementary Biostatistics, SPH BS 704 Introduction to Biostatistics.

GMS MM 701 Genetics & Epidemiology of Human Disease (2 credits)

Elective
Fall semester, alternating years. Course director: Lindsay Farrer (farrer@bu.edu)
Topics include: Human Genome Structure and Function; Population Genetics; Genetic Risk Assessment; NonMendelian Inheritance; Approaches for Studying the Genetics of Complex Traits; Chromosomes and Chromosome Abnormalities; Principles of Cancer Genetics and Genetic Diagnostics; Methods of Human Linkage Analysis; Identifying Human Disease Genes; Genotype-Phenotype Correlations; and Applications of the “New Genetics.”

GMS MM 703 Cancer Biology and Genetics (2 credits)

Elective
Fall semester, next offered in fall 2022. Course directors: Rachel Litman Flynn (rlflynn@bu.edu) and Neil Ganem (nganem@bu.edu)
This course will cover topics in human tumor biology including: Tumor Progression, Invasion, and Metastasis; Viruses, Immunodeficiency, and Cancer; Chemical Carcinogenesis; Signal Transduction; Anti-Oncogenes and Familial Cancer Syndromes; Apoptosis and Cancer; Cell Cycle Control; DNA Repair; Principles of Cancer Therapy; Immunotherapy of Cancer; Anti-Angiogenesis Therapy; and Modern Molecular Diagnostic Techniques.

GMS GE 703/704 MTM Colloquium (2 credits each)

Elective
Fall semester and spring semester. Course director: Matthew Jones (mattj@bu.edu)
This course is a highly participatory journal club and work in progress series where students will be asked to give presentations on cutting edge research with a focus on communication skills in addition to delivering scientific content. All first-year students in MTM will prepare presentations for the journal club on a rotating basis. More advanced students will deliver work in progress seminars. In addition to these sessions in class, students will spend additional hours attending practice sessions of their classmates or their own practice sessions with faculty or students. Students will receive critical feedback after each presentation from the program director and MTM faculty who attend each week.

GMS MM 707 Organ System Diseases (2 credits)

Elective
Spring semester, alternating years, next offered in spring 2022. Course director: Matthew Jones (mattj@bu.edu)
The Organ System Diseases course is designed to explore contemporary research on the molecular basis of diseases in a variety of tissues and organs within the body. The content of this course will introduce students to the structure and function of major organ systems including, but not limited to bone, heart, lungs, kidney, and brain and then interrogate how molecular and cellular disorders in these organs can lead to physiologic dysfunction and human disease. Examples of topics that will be covered include the molecular basis of sickle cell disease; inflammatory bowel disease; molecular basis of hematologic disorders; amyloidosis; endocrine dysfunction; and cystic fibrosis.

GMS MM 710 Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine (2 credits)

Elective
Spring semester, alternating years, next offered in spring 2022. Course director: Gustavo Mostoslavsky (gmostosl@bu.edu)
This course is designed to teach basic research and translational research skills to students in the Molecular Medicine Curriculum, using general principles of stem cells and their potential use in regenerative medicine. Students will first be exposed to the basic concepts and definitions of stem cells, the detailed study of different types of adult vs. pluripotent stem cells, and discuss ethical and practical considerations. Students will also learn about stem cell manipulation by novel gene editing techniques, recent advances in disease modeling, and the potential use of stem cells in tissue and organ regeneration.

GMS MM 725 Biology of the Lung and Pulmonary Disease (2 credits)

Elective
Fall semester, alternating years, next offered in fall 2022. Course directors: Jay Mizgerd (jmizgerd@bu.edu) and Lee Quinton (lquinton@bu.edu)
This course will cover topics in basic lung biology including cellular components and functions in the respiratory system and how the processes of immunity and development influence lung structure and function. The course will apply this basic biology to cutting-edge developments in pulmonary diseases including the acute respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, asthma, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.

GMS MM 730 Biological Core Technologies (3 credits)

Elective
Fall semester. Course director: Louis Gerstenfeld (lgersten@bu.edu)
The major goal of this course is to provide an overview of the principles and applications of modern techniques, which are regularly employed in academia and industry as tools for biomolecular and biomedical investigation. This course will focus on technologies which are available at BUSM. Specific technologies include microscopy, FACS, IHC, qPCR, genomic (next gen sequencing and microarrays), proteomics techniques, HTS, fluorescence molecular tomography, ultrasound, and metabolic phenotyping techniques.

Research and Facilities

The Department of Medicine occupies modern research laboratories on the Boston University Medical Campus in the Center for Advanced Biomedical Research and the Evans Biomedical Research Center. These buildings provide state-of-the-art research space in an open, spacious environment that is fully supported by research core facilities for computing, animals and transgenic mice, sequencing, microarrays, and others.

Boston University is among the top 20 institutions in the country in NIH-derived research support. The faculty of the Evans Department of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine conducts research programs in basic biomedical sciences, translational medicine, and clinical outcomes and epidemiology.

Evans Center for Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research

The Graduate Program in Molecular & Translational Medicine avails itself of the Evans Center for Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research. The purpose of this center is to promote growth and discovery in emerging interdisciplinary biomedical research and educational areas by providing faculty affiliated with the Department of Medicine and various schools, departments, and centers at Boston University with a dynamic, interdisciplinary organizational structure that allows investigators with different areas of expertise to collectively address mechanisms of disease and to facilitate new training opportunities.

Medical Campus

Boston University’s Medical Campus (BUMC), which comprises Boston University School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, BU School of Public Health, and BU’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine, is located in the city’s historic South End, approximately one mile south of downtown Boston.

Admissions & Financial Assistance

Students can matriculate into the Graduate Program in Molecular & Translational Medicine after completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree program or through the combined MD/PhD program at Boston University School of Medicine. In addition, MDs who desire to pursue rigorous scientific training in preparation for a career in academic medicine and research are encouraged to apply. Students admitted to the program are offered full tuition support and an annual stipend.

Applicants interested in the Graduate Program in Molecular & Translational Medicine should apply to the first-year Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS) through the Boston University School of Medicine Graduate Medical Sciences. Applicants should forward an undergraduate transcript, a medical school transcript (post-MD candidates only), MCAT, or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores, if applicable.