Areas of Concentration

The BBS program encompasses a very broad range of research topics from investigation of fundamental biological principles to the mechanisms of disease.  These topics reach from organismal to cellular to atomic resolution. In order to support the ongoing scholarship of students and faculty dedicated to particular areas of investigation, a series of departmental and interdepartmental communities have been formulated within BBS around several areas of interest. Each area is supported by basic and advanced graduate courses, and by a number of paracurricular, community-building activities, such as seminars, journal or data clubs, retreats and symposia.


Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology 

The Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology (BCMP) is home to research and teaching focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of fundamentally important life processes. BCMP offers a broad range of medical and basic research topics using the analytical tools of biochemistry, molecular biology, biophysics, chemical biology, and structural biology. The research interests of the faculty include the structure and function of proteins with particular interest in large multimeric complexes; the control of all stages of gene expression; the mechanisms of DNA replication, recombination, and repair; the organization and regulation of chromatin structure; the biosynthesis of membrane lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins; principles of antibiotic and natural product synthesis, and the induction of morphological and biochemical differentiation of cells.


BCMP Department Website

Therapeutics, Targets and Discovery Area of Concentration Website


Cancer Biology 

Cancer Biology concentration is a collaboration with faculty at the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. The program provides advanced training and an integrated community for those students interested in pursuing cancer-related research. The curriculum emphasizes topics relevant to cancer biology, including signaling, basic cell biology, disease pathology, and translational research. Additional activities, including an oncology seminar series and a student data club, provide opportunities for students to extend their studies and community beyond the classroom and thesis laboratory.


Cancer Biology Area of Concentration Website


Cell Biology  

Cell Biology Department Website 

Cell Biology Program Website


The cell biology training program offers a wide variety of courses to provide its trainees with strong core knowledge as well as opportunities to expand their knowledge base throughout their training years. Half courses are intended to serve as an exploration of a broader topic of study, while quarter courses and nanocourses give insight into more specific areas of study in a condensed format.


Half Courses



Cell Biology 201. Molecular Biology of the Cell
Course Faculty: Malcolm Whitman, Adrian Salic, and members of the Faculty Current concepts in Cell Biology with an emphasis on experimental approaches. Topics include the molecular basis of cellular compartmentalization, protein trafficking, cell cycle, cytoskeleton, molecular motors, signal transduction, cell death/survival, and cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. The course format includes both lectures and small group section discussions of primary literature, designed to give students deeper insights into particular topics of current interest.


Cell Biology 207. Developmental Biology: Molecular Mechanisms of Vertebrate Development
Course Faculty: Andrew Lassar, Patricia D’Amore, Alan Davidson, John Flanagan, Xi He, Jordan Kreidberg, Richard Maas, Clifford Tabin, Malcolm Whitman  Analyzes the developmental programs of frog, chick, zebrafish, and mouse embryos, emphasizing experimental strategies for understanding the responsible molecular mechanisms that pattern the vertebrate embryo.


Cell Biology 211. Molecular and Systems Level Cancer Cell Biology
Course Faculty: Piotr Sicinski, Jarrod Marto, Marc Vidal  Examines the molecular and systems basis of cancer including alterations in signal transduction, cell cycle, apoptosis and DNA repair.


Cell Biology 212. Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer
Course Faculty: James DeCaprio and Myles Brown  Examines the molecular basis of human cancer, including lung, breast, prostate, melanoma and leukemia. Concepts including stem cells, senescence, genomic instability, angiogenesis, oncogenes, tumor suppressors and viruses in human cancer will be examined.


Cell Biology 214. Developmental Biology and Genetics: Molecular Mechanism of Invertebrate Biology
Course Faculty: David Van Vactor, Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, Jarema Malicki The course will explore genetic tools for the analysis of developmental phenomena in flies, worms, and mice. We cover a continuum from pattern formation, cell growth, and cell fate to cell differentiation and morphogenesis.


Cell Biology 225: Hormonally Active Pollutants
Course Faculty: Joan Ruderman A surprising number of environmental pollutants can mimic or interfere with developmental and physiological effects of steroid hormones. This course examines landmark discoveries and covers current work in this emerging area.


Cell Biology 226. Concepts in Development, Self-Renewal and Repair
Course Faculty: Laurel Raftery, Alan Davidson, Iain Drummond, Niels Geijsen, N. Nanda Nanthakumar, Lizabeth Perkins, David Scadden Explores developmental mechanisms through the life cycle, contrasting pluripotency and cell fate restriction in embryos and adult tissues. In depth analysis of in vivo approaches, with emphasis on adult stem cells, tissue repair and self-renewal.


Cell Biology 330: Experimental Approaches to Developmental Biology
Course Faculty: David Van Vactor, Amy Wagers, and members of the Division  This introductory level course will provide a rapid survey of major topics and themes in
developmental biology in parallel with hands-on exposure to a variety of experimental
approaches, technologies and model systems (Drosophilia, C. elegans, Xenopus, chick & mouse).


Quarter Courses (This list is frequently updated. Check the Nanos and Quarters website for current offerings).


Quantitative Optical Microscopy for Cell Biology
Course Faculty: Tomas Kirchhausen  This five-day total immersion course aims to bring together cell biologists and light microscopy specialists to explore requirements and opportunities offered by advance fluorescence light microscopy techniques applied to the quantitative observation in real-time of single molecules and molecular assemblies in living cells and in isolation. The course will combine lectures with daily hands-on laboratory practices followed by discussion. This advanced imaging course is directed towards students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty with previous working experience using fluorescent light microscopy.

Belief Options for a Practicing Scientist
Course Faculty: Andrius Kazlauskas  While scientific approaches effectively explain the natural world, they fail to resolve moral, ethical and social questions.  These latter issues are part of the scientist’s world and at times even one’s research project.  This quarter course will compare and contrast common belief options to grapple with theological questions that face scientists.  We will read excerpts from a number of authors (such as F. Collins, C.S. Lewis, S. Freud, R. Dawkins, S. Harris) that address how one comes to faith and what that faith can look like.  We will also discuss issues that are typically at the interface between religion and faith such as evolution and the use of stem cells in research.  There will be a total of 6 meetings that will consist of student-led discussion based on the types of readings described above.  While there will not be any exams, successful completion of the course will include writing a final paper/thesis making a case for which of the belief options is best suited for a scientist. 

Histology for Graduate Students
Course Faculty: Gerald Greenhouse and Adrian Salic  A 6-session quarter course for graduate students on histology--the study of structure, and therefore function, in cells and tissues. The class will include a session on each of the major tissue types in mammals--connective, muscle, nerve and epithelial. Each session will include an introductory lecture followed by shared observation of slides using the medical school’s 12-headed light microscope. In the last session, students will do tissue staining with recently developed compounds in the lab of Adrian Salic. This class is recommended for any graduate student whose thesis work will benefit from a strong working knowledge of cell structure and tissue architecture. Students examining cell changes in carcinogenesis, development or regeneration and those characterizing mammalian phenotypes are especially encouraged to participate. Class size is limited to 11.


Hormonally Active Pollutants and Human Disease
Course Faculty: Joan Ruderman  What is the science behind recent headlines like “U.S. Panel Worried About Baby Bottle Chemical Bisphenol A,” “Schwarzenegger Bans Plastic Baby Products Made With Phthalates,” and “The European Union Bans Phthalates from Personal Care Products”?  Many plastics leach components like Bisphenol A and phthalates that mimic estrogens, interfere with the actions of male hormones like testosterone (or both) and increase the risk of breast and prostate cancers – especially when encountered during early development. Certain flame-retardants, PCBs, pesticides and related agricultural products also have adverse hormonal effects.  Some, like the winery fungicide vinclozolin, can lead to epigenetic changes that are passed through the germline for multiple generations.  This course will introduce important experimental work in this newly emerging field. Each session will include a lecture plus a group discussion of some relevant publications.


Experimental Design for Biologists
Course Faculty: David Glass and Randall King  This course will focus on both the theory and practice of experimental design, asking when, how, and whether hypotheses or questions should be used to frame experiments, and how these frameworks may perturb experimental design and interpretation.  A thorough discussion of the various types of experimental controls will be provided.  This will go beyond a standard exposition of negative and positive controls, and will include elements like system design, system controls, controls for underlying assumptions, experimentalist controls. The students will be asked to read some philosophy, a few chapters from Dr. Glass' book on Experimental Design, and then to apply what was learned to their own projects, by giving presentations on their own experimental designs, and flow-charts of their projects.  This is not a statistics course - rather it covers those elements of design that usually precede and follow statistical analysis.


Stem Cells: Properties and Applications
Course Faculty: George Q. Daley and Amy Wagers  This quarter course will discuss scientific problems in both ES and adult stem cell research, providing an historical context for stem cell research as well as a discussion of the basic biological properties and applications of these cells and the questions and controversies that currently drive the field.  We will conclude with a discussion of the societal and ethical implications of stem cell research and the impact of federal guidelines on research.  Students will be responsible for reading and critically discussing 3-5 relevant papers each week.  Papers for discussion will be taken from both classic and current literature. Class participation is required and enrollment is limited to 16 students.


Nanocourses are a relatively new course format designed to teach specific subjects at an advanced level and in a condensed format. These courses are aimed at bringing students, post-docs and faculty up to date on a particular field, to provide insight into the current problems in that field, and to define a solid basis for further study in that field, all within a short time period. Each course meets for a minimum of 6 hours over 2 days. The first session is lecture-based and taught by 1 to 3 faculty who present an advanced level of knowledge on current research areas, specific experimental approaches and new technologies. The second-session is discussion-based or hands-on and gives students an opportunity to explore the topic in depth in a small-group setting.

The cell biology training program offers a variety of nanocourses each semester. Check the Nanos and Quarters website for current course offerings. (link to

Microscopy Education

The Nikon Imaging Center (NIC) is a core facility affiliated with the Cell Biology, Systems Biology, and Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Departments. Trainees in the cell biology program are invited to participate in a number of workshop courses offered by the NIC each year to gain experience in basic and advanced light microscopy techniques.


Seminar Series

The Cell Biology Department hosts a weekly seminar series and attracts top-level scientists to give research seminars to the HMS community. The department also hosts a second weekly seminar series that serves as an informal venue for cell biology students and postdocs to share their unpublished work and gain valuable mentored experience in giving a research seminar. Prior to giving a ‘pizza talk,’ each speaker is paired with a faculty mentor who gives feedback in a practice talk setting.


Mentoring and Community-building Activities

The Cell Biology Department sponsors monthly student-faculty mentoring lunches, which are designed to provide students with support in their career development.  These sessions were first offered in June 2007 and were developed in response to meetings with students in our community. Students meet with departmental faculty in a small group setting and gain valuable advice on topics such as ‘finding and interviewing for a postdoc position’ and ‘preparing to attend a scientific meeting’.


Mentoring lunches have also been incorporated into the yearly Cell Biology departmental retreat. During this event, students have a chance to hear research talks from departmental faculty, present their own work in seminar or poster format, and get to know students, post-docs and faculty in the Cell Biology community. Weekly happy hours hosted by labs in the Department of Cell Biology provide another opportunity to connect with cell biology community members.


Developmental and Regenerative Biology 

If you are a prospective student interested in our program, you can check out curriculum and extracurricular activities at the Developmental and Regenerative Biology website or the cell biology section of the BBS website.


Developmental and Regenerative Biology Website

Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department Website


Genetics and Genomics 

The last several years have seen tremendous advances both in terms of our understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying biological functions and in the genetic approaches and technologies that are now available in the laboratory to investigate these functions. While classical methods are still central to genetic studies, newer approaches, particularly in the realm of genomics, have also been developed and are now widely-used, opening up entire new areas of research. As these advances have occurred, they have led to expansion of the number of laboratories at HMS and our affiliated hospitals that pursue rigorous genetic studies. Labs at HMS now study genetics in a wide range of fields using state of the art technologies, including host-pathogen interactions, development, gene expression, chromosome segregation, chromatin function, cell division, systems and networks, population genetics, human diseases, and more. In turn, this expansion has led to an increase in the number of graduate students who are interested in training in the fields of genetics and genomics.


Genetics & Genomics Program Website

Genetics Department Website


Microbiology and Immunobiology 

The Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School possesses a faculty and training program that are ranked at the top of the field. Faculty interests include basic research on the genetics and molecular biology of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, microbial pathogenesis, and vaccine development. The Department is located centrally on the HMS campus at the Longwood Medical Area, providing an excellent environment for collaboration with investigators in other fields. State-of-the-art facilities and a vibrant research community exist at both Longwood and the main Harvard campus in nearby Cambridge, and collegiality among different laboratories is further promoted by the close proximity of MIT, Tufts, and Boston University. In addition, world-class training in infectious disease is offered at the many hospitals affiliated with HMS, ensuring that researchers always have access to clinical expertise and the opportunity to work with physicians.


Microbiology and Immunobiology Department Website





BBS Program Office

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Gordon Hall, Room 005

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