Molecular and Cellular PhD Concentration

MCT Program Description

The objective of the MCT Concentration is to provide students and postdocs with the skills and knowledge necessary to investigate and elucidate how environmental toxicants/cellular stressors contribute to toxicity and influence human disease outcomes.  Our mission is to train the next generation of toxicologists/environmental health scientists to be competent scientists who are capable of conducting high impact independent research as well as working as part of a multidisciplinary team aimed at understanding the deleterious effect of environmental factors on human health and disease.

PhD students acquire a solid background by completing coursework in toxicology, molecular biology, pharmacology, statistics, and pathology.  Pre/postdoctoral trainees receive training in ethics, grant writing and oral communication skills.  Mentors and committee members of pre/postdoctoral trainees provide training in research skills and knowledge associated with each specific research field in molecular and cellular toxicology.  Pre/postdoctoral trainees participate in a weekly seminar program both as members of the audience and as presenters. Each semester a former trainee is invited back to present a seminar and to share their career experiences with current trainees.

If you have questions about the MCT Concentration or would like to arrange a visit to our campus please contact Dr. Jun Ninomiya-Tsuji, the Director of the MCT concentration.

MCT Research

The broad research theme is to understand how toxicants and cellular stressors perturb cellular signaling pathways and deregulate gene expression and how this contributes to toxicity, adverse human health outcomes and human disease. Specific environmental-associated human diseases/health conditions such as asthma, lung fibrosis, reproductive/endocrine abnormalities, developmental abnormalities and cancer as well as reactive oxygen species (ROS)-related toxicity are the focal molecular/cellular research areas. Examples of types of environmental agents that are being investigated include environmental carcinogens, pesticides, particulates, metals, endocrine disrupters and nanoparticles. For more information about MCT faculty research interests, visit the Toxicology Research page.

MCT Course Requirements

Core course requirements for all Ph.D. students
TOX 701 Fundamentals of Toxicology (3 credits)
TOX 710 Molecular & Biochemical Toxicology (3 credits)
Tox 715 Environmental Toxicology (3 credits)
GN 701 Molecular Genetics (3 credits)
CBS 770 Cell Biology (3 credits)
ST 511(a) Experimental Statistics for Biological Sciences (3 credits)
TOX 801(b) Toxicology Seminar (1 credit/semester)
TOX 820 001 Responsibility in Science (1 credit)
TOX 820 003 Lab Rotation (1 credit/semester)
  1. Another graduate-level statistics course can be substituted with approval of the student’s committee
  2. Enrollment is required for each semester registered while in Doctoral Program (6 credits minimum)
Research requirements for all Ph.D. students
TOX 895 Doctoral Dissertation Research (6 credits minimum)
TOX 896 Summer Dissertation Research (as needed)
TOX 899 Doctoral Thesis Preparation (as needed)
Additional requirements for Molecular & Cellular Toxicology Concentration
GN 820 Professional Development (1 credit)
Electives 6 credits related to Molecular and Cellular Toxicology must be selected

Normally a total of 72 credit hours is required, with the majority of these credits being dissertation research. See the 2017-2018 Handbook for specific credit hour and residency requirements.

Current Students and Recent Graduates in MCT

The heart and soul of the MCT concentration are the current and former students. Listed below are the names of recent graduates of the MCT concentration along with their thesis titles, the MCT laboratories in which they conducted their doctoral research, and their current research positions. You will also find a list of current students and their areas of research and the laboratories in which they are studying. Feel free to contact any MCT student for information about their specific research project, their laboratory, or the MCT concentration. Complete contact information for all current students may be found on the People/Student page.

Recent MCT Graduates

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Year Graduated Graduate Name
Dissertation Title/Faculty Advisor
Current Position, Organization, Address, Postdoctoral Position
(if prior to current)
2018 Mark Ihrie
Requirement of STAT6 in Exacerbation of Allergic Lung Inflammation in Mice by Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes. Mentor-J. Bonner
Post Doctoral Associate, Duke University
2018 Zachary Messenger
TAK1 “C/EBPbeta and Synthetic Lethality Reminding Oncogenic Ras Who’s Boss Mentor-Robert Smart
Toxicologist, Radeas
2017 Katherine Hlavinka Duke
A tale of two carbon nanotubes: Inflammatory, fibrogenic and immune responses to tangled and rod-like multi-walled carbon nanotubes in genetically susceptible mouse models. Mentor-J. Bonner
Senior Associate Toxicologist, ICF
2017 Yosuke Sakamachi
TAK1 Regulation of Macrophage Survival. Mentor-J. Ninomiya-Tsuji
Postdoctoral Fellow IRTA, NIEHS
2016 Alexander Bogdan
Revisiting the iron-mediated degradation mechanisms of Transferrin Receptor 1 mRNA Mentor-Y. Tsuji
Toxicologist/Risk Assessor, Minnesota Dept. of Health
2016 Hann Tam
Overcoming the dominant negative effect of mutant p53 in p53+/R172H mice. Mentor-Smart
2015 Renee Beardslee
Investigations of the molecular determinants of lesion bypass fidelity. Mentor-McCulloch
Research Lab Specialist, Department of Surgery, Section of Vascular Surgery, University of Michigan
2015 Kimberly Herman
Regulation of by-pass polymerases. Mentor-McCulloch
 Senior Medical Writer, PRA Health Sciences
2015 Kelly Shipkowski
How inflammasomes are affected by multi-walled carbon nanotubes and their role in asthma and pulmonary fibrosis. Mentor-Bonner
 Lead Health Scientist, ICF
2015 Alicia Simmons Wellman
The role of TGFß-Activated Kinase 1 Signaling in Reactive Oxygen Species and Intestinal Homeostasis. Mentor-Ninomiya-Tsuji
Postdoctoral Fellow IRTA, NIEHS
2014 Samuel Suarez
Investigating the role of accessory proteins in pol eta dependent 8-oxo-G bypass. Mentor-McCulloch
 Orise Postdoctoral Researcher, US EPA
2014 September Mihaly
The role of the MAPKKK TAK1 and it’s associated binding proteins in macrophage survival. Mentor-J. Tsuji
 Senior Medical Writer, MMS
2013 Brian Sayers
Mechanisms of nanomaterial – Induced Cell Differentiation. Mentor-Bonner
 Senior Research Investigator, INCYTE
2013 William Randall Lampe
Effects of ozone on airway epithelial cell mucus production. Mentor-Adler
2013 Ellen Glista
Growth factor regulation induced by nanomaterials. Mentor-Bonner
 Senior Associate, Toxicology at SC Johnson
2012 Bo-Wen Huang
Characterization of novel regulators of the ferritin H ARE. Mentor-Y. Tsuji
 Postdoctoral Fellow, ScitoVation
2012 Paul Ray
Ferritin and Neurodegeneration. Mentor-Y. Tsuji
 Regulatory Writer, Synchrogenix, a Certara Company
2011 Christopher Sistrunk, PhD
The effects of the loss of Skp2 on keratinocyte proliferation and tumorigenesis. Mentor-M. Rodriguez-Puebla
Assistant Professor, City of Hope, Department of Population Sciences
2011 John House, PhD
Simultaneous removal of C/EBPalpha and C/EBPbeta reveals their critical roles in sebocyte and keratinocyte differentiation. Mentor-RC Smart
Research Scientist, Bioinformatics Research Center, NC State University
2010 Peter Broglie, PhD
The Role of TAK1 – associated binding protein 2 in Tumor Necrosis Factor Signaling and Cell Death. Mentor-J. Tsuji
Scientist, KBI BioPharma
2009 Edward L. Croom, PhD
Human hepatic expression of CTP2B6: developmental pattern and in vitro bioactiviation of chlorpyrifos. Mentors-E Hodgson & R Rose
QA/QC Manager, Filltech, USA
2009 Rakesh Ranjan, PhD
Role and regulation of C/EBP alpha in response to DNA damage. Mentor-RC Smart
Product Safety Manager, Bayer Crop Science
2009 Jae Young Kim, PhD
TAK1 is a central mediator of NOD2 signaling and is essential for intestinal epithelial cell protection against chemical-induced colitis. Mentor-J. Tsuji
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Moffitt Cancer Center, FL
Postdoctoral Fellow, Burnham Institute for Medical Research
2009 Elizabeth E. Anderson Thompson, PhD
Localization of C/EBPalpha within human skin, its response to UVB-light, and identification of mutations within the gene in human basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Mentor-RC Smart
Lecturer, NC State University
2008 Kari Loomis, PhD
C/EBPa is an epithelial tumor supressor gene and mitogenic stimulation reciprocally regulates C/EBPalpha and C/EBPbeta. Mentor-RC Smart
Biology Faculty, University of Massachusetts
2008 Rachel N. Murrell, PhD
The effects of brevetoxin and brevetoxin antagonists on jurkat E6-1 cell proliferation, survival and gene expression. Mentor-D Shea & J Gibson
Research Fellow, East Carolina University Office of Technology Transfer
2007 Leslie M. Tompkins, PhD
Identification and characterization of a novel promoter for steroid and xenobiotic receptor (SXR) variant 2. Mentor-A Wallace
Policy Analyst, FDA
2007 Kiros Hailemariam, PhD
HIPK2 is a novel ATF1 kinase and regulates transcription of human ferritin H gene through an antioxidant responsive element. Mentor-Y. Tsuji
Toxicologist, FDA
2007 Sarah J. Ewing, PhD
Functional relationship between Ras and C/EBP-beta in cell survival and skin tumorigenesis. Mentor-RC Smart
 Dean, Morosky College of Health Professions and Sciences, Gannon University
2007 Amber Goetz, PhD
Toxicogenomic study of triazole antifungal modes of action. Mentor-E Hodgson & D Dix
Technical Expert II, Syngenta 
2007 Elizabeth (Libby) MacKenzie, PhD
Regulation of ferritin H in the cellular response to stress. Mentor-Y. Tsuji
Medical Writer/Editor, Education and Training Systems International (ETSI)
2007 Christopher Brynczka, PhD
Nerve growth factor regulation of transcription factor p53 activity. Mentor-Merrick
Principal Scientist, Merck
2007 Wei-Chun HuangFu, PhD
Osmotic stress activates JNK while blocking NF- k B pathway, and modulates immune responses. Mentor-J. Tsuji
Assistant Professor, Taipei Medical University
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania
2006 Jin-Ah Park, PhD
Role of PKC delta in airway mucin secretion. Mentor-K Adler
Mark and Catherine Winkler Assistant Professor of Airway Biology, Harvard University
2006 Jonathan P. Jackson, PhD
The role of the nuclear Receptors CAR and PXR in the drug induced transcriptional regulation of murine CYP2C subfamily of cytochrome P450 monooxygenases. Mentor-J Goldstein & R Rose
Study Director, Qualyst Transporter Solutions
Postdoctoral, University of Arizona
2006 Steven Simmons, PhD
Biochemical and functional analysis of homeoprotein NKx3.1. Mentor-J Horowitz
Research Biologist, US EPA
Postdoctoral Fellow, US EPA
2004 Kyungsil Yoon, PhD
CCAAT/enhancer binding protein-alpha (C/EBP-alpha) is a DNA damage inducible P53 regulated mediator of the G1 checkpoint. Mentor-RC Smart
Senior Research Scientist, National Cancer Center, Korea
Postdoctoral Fellow, Texas A&M
2004 John Couse, PhD
The role of estrogen receptor-alpha and estrogen receptor-beta in the hyperluteinized mouse ovary. Mentors-K Korach & RC Smart
Portfolio Director, Custom Scientific Services
2004 Jason Ralph Pirone, PhD
Stochastic Modeling of Transcription Factor Binding Fluctuations. Mentors-RC Smart & Elston
Senior Computational Biologist, Sciome, LLC
2003 Minsub Shim, PhD
Proteasomal regulation of C/ERPalpha protein and diminished expression in squamous cell carcinomas. Mentor-RC Smart
Assistant Professor, Biology, University of South Carolina
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, NIEHS
2002 Edward D. Karoly, PhD
Mammalian monooxygenases and environmental chemicals. Mentors-R Rose & E Hodgson
Senior Study Director, Metabolon, Inc.
Postdoctoral Fellow, US EPA
2002 F. Javier Cisneros, DVM, PhD
Epigenetic inheritance of 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine (5-AZA-Cdr) induced alterations. Mentor-S. Branch
Research Scientist, Charles River Laboratories
Postdoctoral Fellow, US FDA
2001 Karen L. Porter, PhD
17-beta-estradiol is abundant in skin and influences hair follicle cycle and mirex tumor promotion. Mentor-RC Smart & Robinette
Toxicologist, US Army Center for Environmental Research
2001 Barbara A. Wetmore, PhD
Herbicide alachlor nasal carcinogenicity and hepatotoxicity involve site-specific bioactivation and oxidative stress. Mentor-Meyer & GA LeBlanc
Toxicologist, Human Exposure Modeler, US EPA
IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow, NIEHS
2000 Michael E. Viana, PhD
A functional role for protein kinase C in epidermal Langerhans cells. Mentor-RC Smart
Senior Toxicologist, CSS Dynamic
Postdoctoral Fellow, US EPA
2000 Hui-Qin Wang, PhD
Overexpression of protein kinase C in the epidermis of transgenic mice results in striking alterations in phorbol ester-induced inflammation but nt tumor promotion. Mentor-RC Smart
Research Investigator, Novartis Biomedical Research Institute
Postdoctoral Fellow, Fox Chase Cancer Center
1999 Lynn M. Crosby, PhD
Mechanisms of potassium bromate-induced mesothelial carcinogenesis in the male F344 rat. Mentor-DeAngelo
 Toxicologist, FDA, Office of Science, Center for Tobacco Products
1999 Theresa Allio, PhD
The role of genomic instability and mutation hypersensitivity in tumor development. Mentors-RJ Preston & RC Smart
Regulatory Officer, NIH
Postdoctoral Fellow, UNC-CH Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
1998 James G. Christensen, PhD
Dysregulation of apoptosis during nongenotoxic hepatocarcinogenesis in mice. Mentors-Goldsworhy & RC Smart
Chief Scientific Officer, Mirati Therapeutics
1998 Christopher Saranko, PhD
The roles of two epoxide metabolites in the mutagenicity of 1,3-butadiene. Mentor-Recio
Principal Toxicologist, Geosyntec Consultants
1998 Theresa S. Klose, PhD
Polymorphisms, structure activity relationships and expression of the human CYP2Cs. Mentor-JA Goldstein
Manager, Grants, Strategies, and Support at SciKon Innovation, Inc.
1998 Nathan Cherrington, PhD
Murine hepatic flavin-containing monooxygenases (FMO):gender differences across species, developmental pattern and molecular cloning and expression in E. coli. Mentors-R Rose & E Hodgson
Professor, University of Arizona
Postdoctoral, Kansas University Medical Center
1997 Hye-Sun Oh, PhD, D.A.B.T.
Role of estrogen receptor pathway and CCAAT/enhancer binding proteins in keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation. Mentor-RC Smart
Research Leader, Hoffman-La Roche Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Postdoctoral Lecturer, Harvard Medical School
1996 Tae-Won Kim, PhD
Mirex promotes a unique populatio of epidermal cells that cannot be distinguished by their mutant Ha-ras genotype. Mentor-RC Smart
Executive Director, Isis Pharmaceuticals
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California at San Francisco
1996 David M. Owens, PhD
Genetic alterations cooperate with ras to influence premalignant progression in skin. Mentor-RC Smart
Associate Professor, Columbia University
Postdoctoral Fellow, Imperial Cancer Research Fund

Current MCT Students

Year Enrolled Student Name
Research Area/Faculty Advisor & Laboratory
2014 Marissa Kosnik
Assessment of Perinatal Exposures to Firemaster 550 in Wistar Rats. Mentor-Smart
B.S. Biochemistry, Chemistry, NC State University
2014 Catherine Wise
Using canines as a comparative model to investigate environmental influences on human cancer. Mentor-Breen
B.S. General Biology, University of Southern Maine