Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program

Program Director Welcome

Fernanda LaezzaWelcome to the Pharmacology & Toxicology Graduate Program!

The University of Texas Medical Branch offers unprecedented opportunities for training and career development in the area of Pharmacology & Toxicology. With the growing need for new therapeutics against human diseases, the discipline of Pharmacology & Toxicology is taking center stage among biomedical sciences. A PhD in Pharmacology & Toxicology offers an opportunity for advanced studies in the field of drug discovery ranging from identification of new targets for therapeutic development to clinical trials that precede new drug marketing. Because of its interdisciplinary nature and intimate connection with the industrial sector, training in Pharmacology & Toxicology will equip graduates with the most diverse technical skills and instill a rigorous approach to science while promoting independent thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit in students. 

Our program includes 14 students and 34 graduate program faculty members. Our students are members of the Pharmacology & Toxicology Student Organization (PTSO) that includes 4 officers and is responsible for planning annual events such as the PSTO Meet and Greet and the summer Symposium. Our graduate program is largely housed in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology ranked in the top 25 nationwide for NIH funding with a total budget of almost $ 8 million dollars/year. The Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology includes and/or works closely with specialized Centers including 1) the Center for Addiction Research (CAR, Dr. Kathryn Cunningham, director) where students are able to utilize specific core resources to conduct cutting edge behavioral and neuropharmacological research related to actions of abused drugs, 2) the Sealy Center for Cancer Cell Biology (Dr. Lawrence Sowers, director) that focuses on applying advanced “omics” approaches to unravel the epigenome of tumors and solve outstanding problems in the cancer field, 3) the Center for Environmental Health Sciences and Medicine which is engaged in basic and translational research linking environmental toxin exposure to human health (Dr. Cornelis Elferink, director) and with 4) the Chemical Biology Program (led by Dr. Jia Zhou) which includes medicinal chemistry  as an approach to create new probes, leads, and drugs to treat addiction, cancer, and mental health disorders. A number of our Faculty are members of and work closely with the Sealy Center for Structural Biology (Dr. Montgomery Pettitt, director) and the Sealy Center for Vaccine Development (Dr. Alan Barrett, director) which offer additional unprecedented opportunities for training in the areas of biophysics, computational chemistry, and vaccine development. We have two NIH funded T32 training grants: one in the area of addiction (Dr. Cunningham, director) and another in the area of Environmental Toxicology (Dr. Ameredes, director) that are available to our students as specialized platforms for training and infrastructure for career development. In addition, UTMB is part of the Gulf Coast Consortia that offer additional intra-institutional T32 training grants in areas of research that span from computational biology to neuroscience and pharmacology. 

The research strengths in our program are based on the disciplines of genetics, biochemistry, cell biology, and experimental psychology with a focus on diseases such as cancer and drug addiction, and special interests in the role of epigenetics and the discovery of potential therapeutic approaches to combat these conditions. Our research involves methodologies such as neuro- and behavioral pharmacology, molecular pharmacology and toxicology, electrophysiology and advanced cell imaging, signal transduction, structural analysis of receptor and enzyme proteins, vaccine development, and drug design and synthesis.  

Our philosophy is centered on training students to achieve academic excellence, nurturing independent thinking, and stimulating early stage participation in the academic life. As part of the UTMB Quality Enhancement Plan, we support IPE2Practice, a forward looking initiative designed to enhance student learning and prepare student to excel in interprofessional teams. Our curriculum includes 20 courses from the Basic Science curriculum, 4 laboratory rotations, 18 Pharmacology & Toxicology graduate courses. Ad hoc seminars and grant writing courses are offered throughout the PhD Program and encouraged to elevate the quality of presentation and science dissemination skills of our students. 


Fernanda Laezza, M.D., Ph.D.

Associate Professor & Graduate Program Director
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology


                  News & Events                 

Congratulations to our symposium award winners!
June 14, 2018

Best Graduate Student Presentation
Omneya Nassar

Best Graduate Student Poster 
Luke Bourner

Best Post-Doctoral Fellow Poster
Dr. James Kasper

Eric Dr. Zhou

Program Introduction

The mechanisms by which chemicals interact with biological systems unify the diverse research themes within the Graduate Program in Pharmacology and Toxicology. We are particularly interested in advancing our basic understanding of cancer biology, environmental toxicology, and drug abuse. To pursue these questions, we capitalize on recent advances in chemistry, genomics and proteomics, molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience, structural biology and psychopharmacology. Complementing many of these areas of interest are strong cores in mass spectrometry, protein chemistry, chemical synthesis, bioinformatics and animal behavior, especially as related to drug abuse. Exciting opportunities for research and advanced education await students in these basic areas of investigation.