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Center gains $1.2 million training grant

The Center for Molecular and Cellular Toxicology (CMCT) at the College of Pharmacy has received a $1.2 million training grant in support of its program in molecular toxicology and environmental disease.

John Richburg, associate professor and head of the college 's Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology, directs the CMCT and is the principal investigator of the grant awarded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The five -year grant titled "Training in molecular toxicology and environmental disease, " will provide approximately $240,000 annually to support four pre -doctoral and two post doctoral students who are involved in biomedical research within the laboratories of CMCT faculty members.  Specifically, the goal of this training program is to "prepare students for careers that address the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which chemicals found in the environment instigate toxicity and disease. "

Toxicology is the study of the adverse effects of chemicals, including drugs and agents found naturally in the environment, on living organisms.  These harmful agents, Richburg says, fall into two types – toxicants, or man made chemicals, and toxins, or harmful substances made by living organisms naturally.

"There is often a misconception that all man made chemicals are toxic and all naturally occurring substances are non -toxic, " Richburg said, adding that either can be toxic or safe depending upon the level of exposure or the period of life when the exposure occurs.

Dr. Richburg 's own research investigates the adverse effects of toxicants on male fertility.  One of his projects, for which he was recently awarded a five -year grant from NIEHS at a level of $202,500 annually, investigates a class of compounds, called phthalates, used in the manufacture of plastics.  Exposure to low levels of phthalates during the fetal period of testicular development may cause testicular cancer or infertility later in adult life. On the other hand, only exposures to very large doses of phthalates cause infertility in adult males. Dr. Richburg 's research is directed at understanding the underlying mechanisms, at the molecular and cellular level, that account for these age - and dose -specific effects of toxic compounds.

The goal of mechanistic toxicology research, like that performed by Dr. Richburg and CMCT member faculty, is to allow for the development of strategies to better predict and prevent exposures to harmful levels of chemicals during sensitive periods of life and prevent the development of disease.

In addition to Richburg, other College of pharmacy faculty members participating in CMCT programs include Drs. Shawn Bratton, Andrea Gore, Ted Mills, Carla Van Den Berg and Casey Wright.   Participating CMCT faculty also come from the UT Austin 's College of Natural Sciences, the Cockrell School of Engineering 's Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering as well as the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center -Science Park Research Division located in Smithville, TX. For more information on the College of Pharmacy 's program in toxicology and the CMCT, please visit

Last Reviewed: September 15, 2009

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