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MUSC Bulletin | College of Graduate Studies

Molecular and Cellular Biology and Pathobiology

The goal of the Molecular and Cellular Biology and Pathobiology (MCBP) Training Program is to produce basic researchers who are qualified to pursue investigative careers and to become leaders in fundamental cellular and molecular biology. One of the major themes pf the program is the utilization of state of the art molecular approaches to obtain a better understanding of the disease process in man. The program offers opportunities for study and investigative work in many phases of cellular and molecular biology. Members of the faculty are engaged in a variety of interdisciplinary projects which include clinical applications as well as basic studies. The granting of the Ph.D. degree is based on evidence of general proficiency and of distinctive attainments in the field of cellular and molecular biology and pathobiology, particularly upon the demonstrated ability to carry on independent and original investigation.

The Molecular and Cellular Biology and Pathobiology training program includes over 140 faculty members who participate in one or more of seven inter-departmental doctoral research training tracks or divisions representing areas of significant interest in the basic biomedical and clinical sciences. The MCBP Divisions or program tracks of study are:

Cancer Biology - The Cancer Biology Division, an interdisciplinary program leading to a Ph.D. degree, was established in 2001 to provide students with training in diverse areas of cancer biology research. Cancer is a multi-step disease resulting from a series of genetic and epigenetic changes that abrogate normal cellular controls. The goal of the program is to develop within each student the approach to scientific thought founded upon basic molecular biology relevant to cancer needed for original research as an independent investigator in cancer biology.

The Cancer Biology Program is composed of MUSC faculty whose interests include basic studies in molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, cell biology and immunology and translational research focused on problems of immediate clinical applicability. The Cancer Biology curriculum provides an overview of cancer biology and allows students the opportunity to pursue research under faculty mentors who conduct research relevant to understanding the molecular or cellular basis of any aspect of the cause, characteristics and treatment of cancer. Students are encouraged to use the resources and expertise of several laboratories during the development of their cancer-related dissertation projects, providing an enhanced experience that increases the expertise and competitiveness of our graduates. Successful students complete a publishable research project under a faculty mentor and present the research as a thesis.

Cardiovascular Biology - The Cardiovascular Biology Division is made up of over thirty faculty members from basic science and clinical departments with the goal of training students for careers as independent investigators studying the molecular and cellular aspects of cardiovascular physiology and disease. One of the medical triumphs of the latter half of the twentieth century is the remarkable advancement that has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Despite these advances, cardiovascular disease still remains the most common fatal and disabling disorder in the United States. Over the last two decades we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular aspects of biology. Now we have the opportunity to use these new and powerful molecular tools to explore complex biological systems, such as the heart.

The research focus of the Cardiovascular Biology Division is to find bold new approaches to aid our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Some areas of research interests in this program include gene regulation in heart development, differentiation and disease, regulation of cardiovascular function and metabolism, regulation of muscle contraction and protein turnover, and signal tranduction pathways in development and disease.

The Cardiovascular Biology Division is one of the divisions of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program. Students who have satisfactorily completed the First Year Curriculum are qualified to enter the program. During their second and third year, students will complete at least 12 semester hours of advanced course work including Integrative Biology of the Cardiovascular System (MCBP-728) and the Molecular Basis of Cardiovascular Disease (MCBP-739), as well as other electives. These cover topics such as signal transduction, gene expression, genetic engineering and gene therapy, and genetics and development of the cardiovascular system. In addition, students will participate in the cardiovascular journal club.

Cell Regulation - Cell regulation refers to the process by which extracellular substances produce an intracellular response.  This is a normal event by which hormones, neurotransmitters and other substances regulate cell function. In addition to these endogenous agents, many drugs and environmental compounds use these same mechanisms to produce their most important effects.  Many research opportunities related to cell signaling mechanisms, including both basic signaling processes themselves and aberrant signaling mechanisms related to disease states, exist within this program.  Indeed, many of the most recent breakthroughs in drug development stem from basic studies on signaling molecules.

Genetics & Development - The Division of Genetics and Development offers training and research in the field of genetics and developmental biology, which utilizes a variety of animal models to assess gene functions in embryonic development.  Modern developmental genetics has become the central organizing field in all traditional disciplines in biology, such as cell biology, molecular biology, anatomy, evolution, and ecology.  It has also contributed greatly to more practical fields such as medicine, environmental science and agriculture.  The model systems studied by the faculty members include Drosophila (fruit fly) for oogenesis and vascular system development, zebrafish for environmental impact on embryogenesis, Xenopus (frog) for neurogenesis, chick for the formation of cardiovascular system, mice for a variety of organogenesis such as limb and follicle development, hematopoiesis, heart formation and mammary development, and human familial diseases for genetic linkage studies.  In addition to transgenic and knockout technology, a variety of cell culture systems, including those for human stem cells, are utilized in the research.

Oral Health Sciences - The Department of Oral Health Sciences (formerly Department of Craniofacial Biology) was established in 2008 to unify the development of oral-related research in the College of Dental Medicine. Department of Oral Health Sciences research and educational activities are fully integrated with the multi- and interdisciplinary research community of the Medical University of South Carolina which includes the Colleges of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Nursing.

The department's activities are further integrated with graduate training programs provided by the College of Graduate Studies and administered through The Molecular and Cellular Biology and Pathobiology Program.

All members of the Department of Oral Health Sciences have joint appointments in the basic science departments of the College of Medicine and/or the Department of Bioengineering with Clemson University. Most members of the department are members of the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The research foci within the department includes:

  • Molecular and cellular biology of periodontal inflammation and disease progression.
  • Head and neck cancer cellular and molecular biology with focus on the signaling pathways involved in neoplastic development and progression.
  • Bioengineering/Biomechanics of temporamandibular joint and craniofacial regeneration with emphasis on dentin regeneration.
  • The role of microbial ecosystem in the epidemiology of inflammatory diseases in the oral cavity.

Marine Biomedicine & Environmental Sciences (MBES) - The MBES track provides training for the Ph.D. degree in numerous aspects of marine molecular biosciences that relate to environmental and human health.  Key to the program is the active collaboration of our other on-site partner institutions, National Ocean Service (NOAA), Grice Marine Lab (College of Charleston), Marine Resources Research Institute (SC Department of Natural Resources), and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. These institutions and MBES occupy a 90-acre campus at Ft. Johnson, site of the beginning of the Civil War. Together these institutions provide a rich collection of varied research mentors and training opportunities for MBES students in federal, state and academic institutions.  In addition to separate laboratories on the same campus, these partner institutions occupy space in the newly-constructed Hollings Marine Laboratory, an 94,000 sq. ft. facility dedicated to molecular biology and structural chemistry of the marine environment.

The purpose of the MBES curriculum is to combine a solid background in molecular and cellular biology with flexible, individually-tailored programs in which students use cutting-edge molecular skills to solve environmentally relevant questions including those affecting human health. Thus students are prepared for future leadership roles in marine environmental and health-related sciences. Areas of focus within MBES include marine genomics, eco-genomics and marine molcular ecology, eco-toxicology, proteomics, bioinformatics, environmental carcinogenesis, marine natural products chemistry, marine biotoxins, marine mammal immunology, and structural biology (x-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance). New students begin their training in the first year curriculum taken by all matriculating doctoral students. The first-year curriculum involves comprehensive and integrated studies of biochemistry, molecular and cell biology with journal clubs, seminars, and workshops. The second year consists of specialized courses in which the principles of the first year are applied to focus topics such as Marine Genomics, Eco-genomics and Marine Molecular Ecology Proteomics, Bioinformatics, Biogeochemistry, Pollution Microbiology, Marine Natural Products Chemistry, and Molecular Immunity in Marine Animals. Students’ knowledge is then applied to "real world" environmental and human health problems through the MBES student’s doctoral research.

More detail on the MBES program can be found at

The MCBP student in the structural biology track will obtain a solid foundation in macromolecular structure, biophysical methods, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Specific methods for structure elucidation include X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, and mass spectrometry. Macromolecular structure/function relationships as they relate to disease processes and therapies will also be studied.

Selection of Graduate Advisory Committee

After the student has chosen an advisor, he/she will form an advisory graduate committee with the help of his/her advisor of at least four other members of the graduate faculty. The advisory committee needs to be organized no later than November of the second year. The advisory committee will provide guidance and monitor progress during the remainder of the student's Ph.D. program. Students are required to have their first committee meeting by December of their second year. At this meeting, students should present a brief outline of the specific aims of their proposed research. You are required to meet with your committee once a year.

Advanced Course Work

Students are required to take 12 units of advanced course work beyond the common first year curriculum. Students can take any course offered in any of the MCBP Divisions. In addition, students may take advanced courses offered by any of the other departments in the graduate program at MUSC.

Predoctoral students must enroll for 15 hours each semester. Students can elect to take their advanced courses during their second year or to spread them out into their third year as well. It is expected that the majority of the student's time from the second year on will be devoted to research.

MCBP Seminar Series (MCBP 724)

Students must register for Seminar, MCPB 724, every semester while in the program. The Thursday 4:00 pm MCBP External Seminar Series invites leading scientists from the United States and foreign countries to present their work to both students and faculty in the MCBP Program. These seminars are on a broad range of topics representing each of the six divisions within the MCBP Program. Importantly, students have the opportunity to meet informally with the speakers over lunch. Students must attend two thirds of the Thursday Seminars during the semester. Excused absences must be approved by the MCBP Seminar Series Director.

Select a Journal Club

At the beginning of the second year with the help of their mentor, students will pick a division in the MCBP program. Each Division offers track-specific advanced courses as well as one or more journal clubs.  Students must register for one of the Journal Clubs offered each semester.  Attending Journal Clubs from other graduate programs is allowed with the approval from the MCBP Director.

Written Qualifying Examination

The MCBP written Qualifying Examination is administered once a year in June. The students will have one week to answer one long answer question and three short answer questions. The objectives of the examination are to determine if the student understands the principles of cell and molecular biology, are able to read and comprehend relevant literature related to the question, and can synthesize a coherent and well-written response.

When the student has passed the written examination, a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the student's performance will be compiled and forwarded to the student's dissertation committee, along with the student's graded examination questions. A critique of the student's performance on each exam question will be provided to the student. If a student fails a single examination question, he/she has the opportunity to retake the question within 2 weeks of receiving their grade for the examination. If a student fails the entire exam, the student must petition the MCBP Examination Committee to be allowed to retake the examination the following June. The student's progress in the program, performance on the exam, and letter from the student's advisors will be important factors in determining if the student will be permitted to retake the examination. If the examination is failed after a second attempt, the student will be dismissed from the MCBP Doctoral Program.

Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral qualifying examination must be taken within 8 months of successfully passing the written qualifying examination. The student will submit the SPECIFIC AIMS page of his/her research proposal to his/her graduate committee at least 7 days before the oral examination. The examination committee consists of the student's dissertation committee, (but not the student's mentor) and is chaired by a senior MCBP faculty member appointed by the MCBP Director. The examination will consist of general questions to test the student's background, questions related to areas covered on the student's written examination, and general questions focused on the student's proposal Specific Aims. The objectives of the oral examination are to test the ability of the student to think on his or her feet, test the student's general knowledge of cellular and molecular biology, knowledge of his/her area of research and to examine weaknesses in the student's knowledge base that were identified in the written examination.

Research Proposal

Within 6 months of successfully passing his or her oral qualifying examination, the student will submit a research proposal in NIH format on his or her research topic. The length of the research proposal is suggested to be between 5 and 8 pages. It must be submitted to each member of the thesis committee at least 1 week before the student's committee meeting. The student will orally present his/her proposal to the committee in a 30-minute seminar. The student's committee will evaluate the proposal and the student must make all changes to the written proposal recommended by the committee. The committee must approve the research proposal, but this committee meeting is not part of the oral examination, and committee members may be helpful in advising the student on experimental strategies or alternative approaches in the aims proposed by the student.

Dissertation in Seminar & Defense

During the fourth and subsequent years of graduate study, students are primarily responsible for conducting their research project and meeting with their committee at least once a year. A dissertation based on original investigation is required which gives evidence of mature scholarship and critical judgment, indicates knowledge of research methods techniques and demonstrates the ability to carry out independent investigation. After your mentor has approved your written dissertation, it should be submitted to each of your graduate committee members. The graduate committee requires 7-14 days to review your dissertation before they sign the dissertation notice certifying that it is ready to defend. The Dissertation Defense Notice needs to be turned in to the graduate office at least 3 weeks before the scheduled public defense.

Publication of doctoral dissertations is required of all students. The dissertation committee will not sign the Dissertation Defense Notice form until the candidate has a first author manuscript accepted for publication. Each candidate must present his/her Dissertation in a public seminar. Following this formal presentation of approximately 50 minutes, general questions are taken from the audience, which includes student and faculty members of the MCBP program as well as general faculty. After general questions, a closed-door examination is conducted by the student's dissertation committee and graduate faculty. The dissertation committee will have the primary responsibility for evaluating the student's research, including the written dissertation, the formal oral presentation, and for administrating the final oral examination. Approval of the advisory committee with no more than one dissenting vote is necessary for recommendation for awarding the degree. In the event of disapproval by the committee, the candidate may be permitted to retake the final oral examination in not less than six months and not more than two years from the time that this decision was made. Only one opportunity for re-examination is given.

Faculty Research Interests

Cancer Biology Faculty Research Interests
Faculty research interests can be found on the web at

Cardiovascular Biology Faculty Research Interests
Faculty research interests can be found on the web at

Cell Regulation Faculty Research Interests
Faculty research interests can be found on the web at

Genetics and Development Faculty Research Interests
Faculty research interests can be found on the web at

Marine Biomedicine and Environmental Sciences Faculty and Research Interests
Faculty research interests can be found on the web at

Oral Health Science Faculty Research Interests
Faculty research interests can be found on the web at



Last Published with Edits:July 29, 2016 10:59 AM
Last Comprehensive Review: August 2014

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