Undergraduate Background

To qualify for admission, applicants must demonstrate strong enthusiasm and ability for the vigorous pursuit of scientific knowledge for optimal human health. Minimal requirements include a bachelor's degree and undergraduate preparation in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry, both physical and organic.

Applicants wishing to do research in areas of metabolic dysregulation in complex disease (obesity, metabolic syndrome, cancer), health effects of environmental exposures (air pollution, lung infection, asthma), nutritional biochemistry (nutrient transport and metabolism), gene-environment interactions (epigenetics, inflammation, stress response), immunology and infectious diseases (host-pathogen interactions and protozoa, helminths, viruses or bacteria) usually apply to the Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH) program.

Program of Study and Academic Requirements

The program offers opportunities in a wide range of laboratory experiences and considerable interaction among the program components. Academic programs fulfill individual needs and goals through core and advanced courses, seminars, rotations in laboratories, and a qualifying examination. Rotations are an integral part; they allow students to investigate several types of research and laboratories before choosing a disseration laboratory by the end of their first year.

Students generally take a qualifying examination during their second year. After successful completion of the qualifying examination, the dissertation advisor supervises the doctoral candidate's research and study, with an advisory committee periodically reviewing progress.

Typically, about five to six years of laboratory work are needed to complete the dissertation research, which is defended before three examiners.

BPH Competencies

  • Apply fundamental and advanced knowledge of molecular biology, cell biology, genetics, physiology, toxicology, and immunology.  Understand public health relevance to infectious and complex diseases.
  • Evaluate and apply fundamental and advanced knowledge of biological sciences as related to public health through critical review of research journals, articles, etc.
  • Demonstrate the capacity to interpret and implement statistics and epidemiological data commonly used in research.
  • Demonstrate the capacity to analyze and interpret ethical theories and principles in the collection and use of data for research purposes.
  • Apply ethical theory and principles to the collection and use of data, including animal and human research.
  • Present the results of research in a scholarly manner in both written and oral form, preparing cogent research presentations appropriate for both professionals in the field and the public.
  • Demonstrate a broad public health perspective in the application of research.

Programs and Disciplines

Genetics and Complex Diseases

The complex interplay of biological processes with environmental factors as they apply to chronic, multigenic, and multifactorial diseases is the focus of the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases. Department faculty aim to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying the intricate interaction between genetic determinants and their divergent responses to environmental signals to affect the health of human populations. Research focuses on several broad categories, including metabolism, stress response and inflammatory signaling. Areas of study include diseases such as diabetes and cancer, disease-risk conditions such as obesity, age-related (chronic) diseases, and the normal aging process. These are investigated both at the mechanistic level and in the context of population studies.

Immunology and Infectious Diseases

The Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases focuses on the biological, immunological, epidemiological, and ecological aspects of viral, bacterial, protozoan, and helminthic diseases of animals and humans and the vectors that transmit some of these infectious agents. Research emphasizes basic pathogenic mechanisms that may lead to better diagnostic tools, the development of vaccines and other immune interventions for prevention and control of infection and disease, and the identification of new targets for antiviral and antiparasite drugs. Laboratory-based research may be supplemented by field-based studies of epidemiological and ecological aspects of infectious disease transmission and control. Diseases of developing countries are emphasized, including HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other parasitic diseases. Immunologic studies focus on genetic regulation of the immune response; molecular mechanisms of the regulation of class II genes; the function and regulation of T-cell-derived cytokines; and cytokines involved in the regulation of inflammation.

Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences

The concentration focuses on normal and pathological functions of organisms. It centers on the respiratory system because the system presents an immense, thin surface area to the environment, and thus is an important route of entry to the body as well as a site of damage from toxins and infections. Areas of study include molecular and cellular mediators and adhesion molecules involved in pulmonary inflammation; toxic mechanisms of inhaled air pollution particles; biomechanics of cells and tissues in normal and diseases lungs; smooth muscle and airway constriction in asthma; and environmental agents and risk of lung infection.


Current research covers a wide range of topics, including large prospective studies of dietary factors in relation to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and ophthalmologic disease; development of methods to assess nutritional status by an analysis of body tissue; the interaction of nutritional factors with genetic determinants of disease; the interaction of nutritional factors and infectious agents; nutritional influence on blood pressure; effects of nutrition programs on the mental and physical consequences of malnutrition; nutritional determinants of blood lipid factors; lipoprotein metabolism; molecular mechanisms of diabetes and obesity and regulation of the intra- and inter-cellular delivery of macromolecular nutrients; determinants of blood lipid factors, lipoprotein metabolism; molecular mechanisms of diabetes and obesity; regulation of the intra-and-inter-cellular delivery of macromolecular nutrients; and the molecular mechanisms leading to atherosclerosis and thrombosis.