A program that focuses on the scientific study of poisons and other biohazards; their interactions with organisms and their food and respiratory systems; and their prevention, management, and counteraction. Includes instruction in toxicological biochemistry, toxic agents and transporters, toxin fate, toxicokinetics and metabolism, toxin classification, molecular toxic mechanisms, extracellular matrices and cell function, bacterial pathogenesis and mutagenesis, pathophysiology and apoptosis, cell stress and injury, studies of specific toxins, and studies of specific organ systems and physiological functions in relation to toxicological problems.
Toxicologists study the harmful effects of manmade and natural chemicals.
Chemicals come in many forms, including pesticides, pollutants, pharmaceuticals, and poisons. The introduction of chemical compounds to a body or environment can throw its systems off balance and cause all kinds of problems, from allergic reactions to birth defects, brain damage, or death. Toxicologists study the effects of all kinds of potentially harmful chemicals, with the goal of understanding what makes them dangerous. They engage in risk assessment practices, determining the amount of a chemical that can be safely interacted with before any damage can be observed. This information can be used to influence environmental policy and enhance public safety.
Some toxicologists focus their work on the body's reactions to specific toxins, while others may investigate chemical interactions local to one organ, like the brain or lungs. By applying their knowledge of chemical processes and
Environmental toxicologists work with large-scale pollutants to determine whether they can be absorbed to any degree without causing harm; they then work to regulate the spread of these chemicals to an appropriate level. Others work in product safety, ensuring that manufactured goods do not contain dangerous chemicals before they go to market.
Work in toxicology may include...
- Testing tissue samples for traces of toxins
- Examining natural or man
- made chemical compounds
- Determining harmful dosages or exposure rates
- Assessing the risk posed by chemical exposures
- Developing regulatory guidelines and standards
Many toxicologists work as researchers; they may be employed by universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, or government labs. Others lend their expertise to poison control centers and hotlines or work for government agencies, where they may influence policy or contribute to public health initiatives. It's not uncommon to find toxicologists in legal settings, particularly in forensic labs or in court as expert witnesses. Many work in the industrial sector, particularly in product safety and chemical management, and others serve on nonprofit boards, work in clinical settings, or teach.
Learning about toxicology can be a very involved process, and requires a good deal of foundational knowledge. Most toxicologists start by obtaining a Bachelor's degree in biology or chemistry; coursework in molecular biology, organic chemistry, pharmacology, physiology, and of course toxicology is essential. While it's possible to work in the field with a Bachelor's degree, it's typical for someone on this path to pursue further study at the graduate level, which can mean getting an M.D. or veterinary degree or working toward a PhD in toxicology. This whole period will involve a copious amount of lab work, since most of the techniques and specialized equipment used take practice to master. Additionally, qualified candidates can get a certification, which is awarded upon the successful completion of a written exam covering organ systems, types of toxins, and general principles of toxicology.
It's impossible to avoid chemicals entirely, but the work of toxicologists allows us to exist in a less hazardous world. If you want to put your scientific knowledge towards that goal, consider pursuing a career in toxicology.
For more information, please follow the links below:
- The Society of Toxicology is a professional and scholarly organization of scientists who practice toxicology and aim to create a safer and healthier world by advancing the science.
- The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry is a worldwide professional organization dedicated to the study of environmental problems, the regulation of natural resources, research and development, and environmental education.
- The American Association of Poison Control Centers is a national organization representing each of the 55 poison control centers in the United States and advancing public health through information, advocacy, education, and research.