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Welcome to The MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences graduate program in Immunology. The Immunology Graduate Program is designed to provide high-quality, comprehensive education and research training in the exciting field of immunology, allowing graduates to successfully pursue careers as independent investigators in academia or industry.

Course Requirements

In addition to general GSBS course requirements, the Immunology Program has the following course requirements and electives:

Course Requirements for PhD students who matriculated in or after 2021

  • Required courses
    • GS06 1013 Fundamental Immunology (formerly Immunology I)
    • GS06 1103 Emerging Concepts in Immunology (formerly Immunology II)
  • Two or more elective courses for a total of 4 or more hours are required. Program Directors and the student’s advisory members can assist the student in choosing elective(s). The following courses are recommended but others may be taken to meet the educational goals of the student's training program:
      • GS04 1235 Basic and Translational Cancer Biology
      • GS04 1093 The Biology of Cancer Metastasis
      • GS04 1253 Principles of Genetics and Epigenetics
      • GS13 1024 Molecular Basis of Cell Signaling
      • GS04 1103 Principles of Therapeutics
      • GS06 1132 Application of Tumor Immunology in the Clinical Setting
      • GS06 1611: Advanced Topics in Immunology
      • GS01 1041 Computational Approaches for Single-Cell Data Analysis
      • GS04 1251 Practical Bioinformatics
      • GS01 1143 Introduction to Bioinformatics
      • GS04 1072 Principles of Stem Cell Biology

    Course Requirements for PhD students who matriculated before 2021

    • Required courses
      • GS06 1013 Fundamental Immunology (formerly Immunology I)
      • GS06 1103 Emerging Concepts in Immunology (formerly Immunology II)
    • One or two electives from the above elective list are required (2 credit hours total). Program Directors and the student’s advisory members can assist the student in choosing elective(s). 

    Course Requirements for MS students

    • Required courses
      • GS06 1013 Fundamental Immunology (formerly Immunology I)
      • GS06 1103 Emerging Concepts in Immunology (formerly Immunology II)

    Course Descriptions

    • Advanced Topics in Immunology
      Course Detail

      GS06 1611 (1 credits)

      This course is an analysis of current topics in immunology.  Weekly oral presentations of an assigned topic will be made by participating students.  Course emphasis is on the development of communication skills and analysis of current research areas.

    • Application of Tumor Immunology in the Clinical Setting
      Course Detail

      GS06 1132 (2 credits)

      This course builds upon basic immunology to provide a foundation for tumor immunology as it is applied in the clinical setting.  Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and medical residents/fellows who participate in this course will gain an understanding of immune surveillance, tumor markers, human tumor immune responses, novel cancer immunotherapeutics, and regulatory process and clinical trial design for cancer immunotherapeutics.

    • Basic and Translational Cancer Biology
      Course Detail

      GS04 1235 (5 credits)

      The Cancer Biology Core course will synthesize knowledge of critical aspects in human cancer biology for understanding disease development, multidimensional molecular signatures, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Auditing this is permitted with Course Directors' approval.     

      >> Curriculum Committee commended course for Academic Year 2020-2021 <<

    • Emerging Concepts in Immunology
      Course Detail

      GS06 1103 (3 credits)

      The chief objective of this course is to teach students about recent discoveries and techniques used in the field of immunology. Students will critically evaluate and present publications from top-tier journals under the guidance of leading experts in the selected fields. Topic areas include basic, translational, and clinical studies in antigen processing, lymphokines, complement, tumor microenvironment, T and B lymphocytes, vaccines and adjuvants, immunotherapy, CAR T cells, and monoclonal antibodies. The course generally runs for 10 weeks with two meetings per week for 2 hours each session. Auditing this course is permitted with Instructor's consent. 

    • Fundamental Immunology
      Course Detail

      GS06 1013 (3 credits)

      Topics covered in this lecture series include anatomy and development of the immune system; structure, function and genetics of antibodies; T-cell antigen receptors; functions and cooperative interactions of lymphoid cells; structure and function of molecules encoded by the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC); lymphokines and their receptors; cellular interaction molecules; and specific immunological tolerance.  Medically-related subjects that will be covered from a basic science perspective include immunopathology, immunodeficiency, allergy and other hypersensitivities, autoimmunity, organ transplantation, tumor immunology, and AIDS.  

    • Introduction to Bioinformatics
      Course Detail

      GS01 1143 (3 credits)

      This course is intended to be an introduction to concepts and methods in bioinformatics with a focus on analyzing data merging from high throughput experimental pipelines such as next-gen sequencing. Students will be exposed to algorithms and software tools involved in various aspects of data processing and biological interpretation. Though some prior programming experience is highly recommended, it is not a requirement.

    • Molecular Basis of Cell Signaling
      Course Detail

      GS13 1024 (4 credits)

      This course provides a detailed exploration of the molecular basis of cell signaling with emphasis on recent developments, structure-function, and quantitation.  The course will include both the regulation of second messenger systems (GPCRs, G proteins, cAMP, IP3 and lipid), ion channels, growth factor-regulated tyrosine kinases, small G proteins (ras, GEFs, Gaps), kinase/phosphatase pathways, steroid hormones/transcription, and the modeling of these systems. 

    • Principles in Genetics and Epigenetics
      Course Detail

      GS04 1253 (3 credits)

      The Principles in Genetics and Epigenetics (PIGE) class is designed for students who have a major interest in the aspects of experimental and human genetics and epigenetics as they relate to human disease, including Mendelian disorders, complex diseases and cancer. Students are required to have completed the core course (or equivalent). This class will provide in-depth instruction in four areas: 1) Experimental genetics, 2) Human genetics, 3) Epigenetics, 4) Applied bioinformatics.  The class will be held two times a week for one and a half hours.  Students are expected to actively participate in the course by initiating discussions, asking questions, and providing constructive comments, as well as completing weekly homework assignments based on the material covered in the lectures of the preceding week.  Students will be evaluated by attendance, participation, bioinformatics workshop participation and completion of assigned exercises, and overall performance on the assigned homework.  As a foundational course, this course is designed to introduce students to the basic principles in genetics and epigenetics and prepare the student to generate novel hypothesis-driven projects as part of their own research in the areas of genetics and epigenetics inside and outside of G&E laboratories.  The course emphasizes active learning through a combination of didactic lectures, selected application lectures and a bioinformatics workshop. Auditing this course is permitted with Course Directors' approval. 

    • Principles of Therapeutics
      Course Detail

      GS04 1103 (3 credits)

      The course establishes a foundation of therapeutic principles from understanding disease pathophysiology to the whole pipeline of drug discovery and moving a drug from laboratory to regulatory filing and clinical implementation. This course includes didactic lectures from >35 experts including 1/3 basic research faculty, 1/3 clinical faculty, and 1/3 pharma/biotech industry veterans. It starts with discussions on disease processes, through therapy development, then to clinical translation.

      The course is grouped into a series of general topics. The first topic includes disease mechanisms in microbial, viral, fungal, neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, aging, and malignant settings to better understand the nature of the problems. The second topic focuses on the development of lead molecules and drug design, including x-ray crystallography, molecular modeling, hit identification, lead optimization, and pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic studies. The third topic puts emphasis on drug screening methodologies, including high-throughput/content technologies and molecular imaging as well as in vitro and in vivo preclinical model systems. The fourth topic covers different therapeutic modalities and improved drug delivery systems. It also describes the latest development in immunotherapy, cell therapy, gene therapy, and stem cell transplantation. The fifth topic focuses on the identification of novel molecular targeting strategies and efforts toward individualization of therapy with state-of-the-art –omics technologies and biomarker development. The final topic group focuses on translating therapeutic strategies to the clinic, including the phases of preclinical studies, clinical trial design and execution, and regulatory considerations.

      >> Curriculum Committee Commended Course for Academic Year 2020-2021 <<

    • The Biology of Cancer Metastasis
      Course Detail

      GS04 1093 (3 credits)

      A didactic introductory level course entirely dedicated to the study of the cellular biological processes that underpin cancer metastasis. This course will cover basic, translational, and clinical knowledge, with specific emphases on the metastatic cascade: seed and soil hypothesis, organ-specific metastasis, cell cycle and metastasis, multiple therapies for various metastatic cancers, and will address the process of taking basic research to the clinic (‘bench-to-bedside') for major metastatic human cancers. 

      This is a prerequisite course for cancer biology students in the cancer discovery track.

    Doctoral Candidacy Exam Requirements

    1. Program students must submit their candidacy exam documents (abstract, GSBS form) to the GSBS Academic Standards Committee (ASC) before the end of their second year. Once the abstract has been accepted by the ASC, the student is given a timeline for preparation of their full written proposal and a timeframe for the oral defense administered by the candidacy exam committee, which is selected by the student and advisor.

    2. Immunology Program students must complete the Scientific Writing requirement before taking the candidacy exam. If the grant-writing course is used to fulfill the requirement, the subject of the course proposal is preferred to be different from the subject of the student's candidacy examination, but the same subject is acceptable as long as the candidacy exam proposal is written solely by the student, and the decision regarding subject is discussed and approved by the student’s advisor in advance. 

    3. The examining committee should be comprised of five faculty members as detailed by the GSBS guidelines for the Examining Committee. The examining committee must include a minimum of two Immunology Program Faculty and cannot include the primary mentor or co-mentor. Immunology Program students should consult with Program Directors prior to forming the examining committee.

    4. The candidacy exam can be off-topic or on-topic. Click here to view the complete policy.

    Advisory Committee Requirements

    The student’s Advisory Committee composition and requirements are the same as described by the GSBS. The student, in consultation with their mentor, chooses the Advisory Committee. The Advisory committee consists of at least five members including the faculty sponsor/mentor and the co-mentor, if any. At least three of the five committee members must be Immunology Program Faculty. Students should consult with Immunology Program Directors prior to assembling the Advisory Committee.

    The committee must meet with the student at least once every six months to monitor research and academic progress and to ensure that the Program’s standards of excellence are maintained. The committee is assembled by the student and must be approved by the GSBS Academic Standards Committee and is responsible for administering the dissertation defense.

    Other Program Requirements

    • Academic Policies

      Eligibility and Requirements

      1. Students wishing to claim affiliation with the Immunology Program must satisfy the entrance requirements of the GSBS for the MS, PhD, or MD/PhD degree, matriculate, and affiliate with a laboratory as well as with the Program.
      2. During the first year of studies, the student should fulfill the following requirements: (a) completion of research tutorials consistent with the GSBS requirements, (b) identification of a potential research sponsor within the Program by mutual agreement with the faculty member, and (c) begin coursework, as outlined below.
      3. Students enrolled in the MD/PhD Program are required to first satisfactorily complete medical school coursework prior to entrance into the Immunology Program.

      Course Requirements

      1. The minimum required coursework for Immunology PhD students is determined by the Curriculum Committee of the Immunology Program and will be consistent with the GSBS requirements. This requirement includes Fundamental Immunology, Emerging Concepts in Immunology, and elective course(s) totaling 4 credit hours. Electives are selected in consultation with the research advisor and the advisory committee and can be taken during any semester.
      2. Students pursuing the MD/PhD are required to successfully complete Fundamental Immunology and Emerging Concepts in Immunology, in addition to any GSBS requirements.
      3. Students pursuing a Master’s degree or a second Area of Research Concentration in Immunology must complete the Fundamental Immunology and Emerging Concepts in Immunology courses.

      Doctoral Candidacy Exam

      1. Program students must submit their candidacy exam documents (abstract, GSBS form) to the GSBS Academic Standards Committee (ASC) before the end of their second year

      Thesis Research

      Given a positive outcome on the candidacy exam, the student registers for dissertation research and proceeds with their thesis research while continuing to meet at least every six months with their advisory committee. The advisory committee plays an active role in monitoring the progress of each student. A thesis defense date is scheduled in consultation with the research mentor and faculty advisory committee. Thesis document format and timelines are prescribed by GSBS Academic Affairs.

      Scientific Engagement

      1. Student Retreat

      Every year the Immunology Program sponsors a student-organized Research Retreat, which includes student talks, poster sessions, and a keynote speaker. The retreat is considered to be valuable time away from the laboratory, allowing students and faculty to become better acquainted with each other. All students are required to actively participate in retreat activities and present their research consistent with expectations for the year of their studies.

      1. Immunology Club

      Each month the GSBS Immunology Program students hold an Immunology Club meeting to discuss subjects relevant to cancer immunology, graduate school, and career advancement. Topics presented by speakers in the past include developing effective fellowship proposals, non-traditional career opportunities, and cutting-edge research in immunology. Several social events for students are also held at this time. Students are strongly encouraged to attend these events.

      1. Seminar Series

      Students are encouraged, but not required, to attend immunology-related seminars. Several seminar series are offered by the Center for Cancer Immunology Research (CCIR) and the Center for Inflammation and Cancer (CIC); both Centers are based at MD Anderson and specialize in translational immunology research. The seminars provide opportunities for students to learn about research led by accomplished scientists. The CCIR also holds seminars in which students, postdoctoral fellows, and PhD-level research staff give talks about their projects, and in return they receive feedback regarding presentation style, experimental design, and interpretation of results from faculty.

      • CCIR Grand Rounds
      • CIC Distinguished Lecture Series
      • CCIR Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Seminar Series
    • Program Bylaws