Graduate Program in Pathobiology

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Program Overview

Pathology is an integrative discipline that looks simultaneously at the whole organism and its component cells, tissues, and molecules to study the causes and mechanisms of disease. It is a discipline that strives to understand the mechanisms of disease at fundamental levels, and to apply this understanding to improve management of these diseases in the clinical setting. The Pathobiology Graduate Program provides a strong background in pathology and related basic sciences to prepare students for academic, research, teaching, and biotechnology careers.

Program of Study

The Graduate Program in Pathobiology of the Department of Pathology offers a program of study leading to the Ph.D. degree in Pathobiology. Candidates are not accepted to work for the M.A. degree.

The Graduate Program provides students with opportunities to elucidate the mechanisms and origins of human diseases through an integrative approach emphasizing systemic processes based on molecular and cellular pathologic underpinnings. Students are prepared with formalized classroom instruction in all general areas of disease mechanisms and undertake specialized training (including thesis research) one of five programmatic areas:

  • Immunopathology
  • Microbiology & Infectious Disease
  • Neoplasia
  • Neuropathology
  • Vascular Biology & Hemostasis

Applicants are not required to designate a specific programmatic area of interest at the time of application or matriculation, and laboratory rotations across multiple disciplines are usual for students in the Program. However, special funding opportunities may be available for applicants with commitment to a particular discipline.

Pathobiology encompasses fundamental and applied studies of the biological basis of disease. Like the discipline of pathology itself, it straddles the traditional basic and clinical sciences. Research in pathobiology is typically aimed toward the discovery of the basic mechanisms that cause disease with the goal of developing fresh insights leading to improved treatments or preventative measures. Thus, the students in the pathobiology program are prepared for careers in the translation of basic biological principles to solve specific disease problems. The pathobiology curriculum combines an understanding of modern research methods on the molecular, cellular, organismal and populational levels with knowledge of the disease processes as they occur in human beings and animals. The program places heavy emphasis on innovative investigations, independent thinking and critical analysis of data. Trainees are equipped to communicate with both basic scientists and clinicians. Students are deliberately exposed to a broad variety of practical experiences where they encounter a range of specialized disciplines, different modes of thinking, and varying points of view. Learning to function in the medical world is as much a process of acculturation as the acquisition of fundamental biologic knowledge. A graduate program seeking to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical medicine must not only teach the conceptual and factual basis of medicine, but convey its culture as well.

In 1999, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (JHMI) created the innovative Graduate Program in Pathobiology. Centered in the Department of Pathology, the program includes carefully selected faculty of many departments of the School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. The goal of the program is to generate a cadre of Ph.D. biomedical investigators who can effectively combine clinical and basic science in cross-cutting programmatic areas, including neoplasia, neurobiology, infectious diseases, and immunology.

Because of its emphasis on disease, entering students initially undertake a course on general basic pathology. The course introduces the students to the normal function of the body and the many ways in which disorders can arise. Students then take a sequence of courses on macromolecular structure, molecular genetics and genomics, cell biology, bioinformatics, regulatory mechanisms, and immunology. Finally, first year students take three courses on special applications of pathology in the study of neoplastic disease, neurologic disease and infectious immunologic disease. A contemporary course, Pathobiology and Disease Mechanisms, integrates pathology with classical and recent literature on disease mechanisms. At the same time, the pathobiology students will be completing three laboratory rotations designed to acquaint them with the numerous opportunities for thesis research in the Department of Pathology or related departments of the School of Medicine. It is expected that during this time the students will select the advisor in whose laboratory they will conduct their doctoral research.

During the remainder of their training, students will spend the bulk of their time in their mentor's laboratory conducting their research. All dissertation projects have a disease-related dimension and are guided by an interdisciplinary advisory committee. At the same time students will continue to broaden their education by taking two translational rotations in laboratories of the Department of Pathology carrying out patient related activities and participating actively in a course in communication ("grant writing"). Annually students also select advanced elective courses designed to supplement their previous education and expand their research skills. These courses may be taken in the School of Medicine, the Bloomberg School of Public Health or the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Finally, students will attend the weekly molecular pathology journal club, weekly pathology grand rounds, and a selection of the many conferences, journal clubs and seminars conducted at the JHMI. In many of these activities, the students will be interfacing with pathology residents and fellows as well as medical students. For example, pathobiology students will attend autopsies in order to become familiar with disease through its clinical history and its gross, microscopic, and molecular dimensions. These experiences will help graduate students to better communicate with their clinical colleagues and to understand the special needs in dealing with patients.

As a consequence of this rigorous training, young investigators will be equipped to advance medical knowledge in the academic community, the private sector or government service.