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Cancer and Developmental Biology

Developmental and cancer biology are two complementary disciplines that can be viewed as the yin and yang of cell survival. Whereas developmental biology is concerned with the acquisition and maintenance of normal cellular function, cancer biology focuses on the disruption and deletion of normal cellular function. Research within the Cancer and Developmental Biology track reflects the complete continuum of cell development, from the regulation of normal cell division to the abnormal development of cancer. The track has a diverse group of research faculty with appointments in 11 different departments both at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Interactions and collaborations among the faculty bring together research expertise that focuses on the cell cycle, cell proliferation, cell differentiation, cell migration, angiogenesis, tumorigenesis, metastasis, and apoptosis. Techniques drawn from a wide range of fields, including molecular genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, structural biology, and therapeutics, are applied in this truly interdisciplinary program.

The Cancer and Developmental Biology track is appropriate for students seeking training in cutting-edge research in the following areas:

  • Animal models for tumorigenesis and development
  • Tumor suppressor and oncogenic signaling pathways
  • Angiogenesis
  • Cell proliferation and cell death
  • Differentiation
  • Development
  • Pathology
  • Cancer stem cells/tumor-initiating cells
  • Novel therapeutic approaches
Department of Pathology and Laboratory MedicineFaculty Research Interests


Gustavo Miranda-Carboni, PhD
CDB Track Co-Director
Biomedical Sciences Program
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
Cancer Research Building, Room 264
19 S. Manassas Street
Memphis, TN 38163

Meiyun Fan, PhD
CDB Track Co-Director
Biomedical Sciences Program
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
Center Cancer Research Building, Room 122 
19 South Manassas Street
Memphis, TN 38163


Program Resources


Students in the Cancer and Developmental Biology Track must complete the required curriculum described below. In addition, students may take elective courses, but are encouraged to complete the electives during the fall semester of the second year. Students also participate in journal-club style seminar courses in the Fall of Year 1.

Required Curriculum

  • Cell Biology (3)
  • Molecular Biology (3)
  • Biochemistry (3)
  • Cell Signaling (3)
  • Seminar for CDB track students (1)
  • Molecular Biology of Cancer (3)
  • Statistics (online, 2h)
  • Ethics (1)
  • Dissertation Research (variable)

To be considered full-time, a student must be enrolled in at least 9h of courses (including dissertation research) per semester.


Students may take additional elective courses from any track at any time. As preparation for the "qualifying" (admission to candidacy) exam is time-intensive, it is recommended that any elective courses be completed by Fall of Year 2, or after the student is admitted to candidacy.

Laboratory Rotations

Potential CDB track mentors who are participating in rotations will be identified by August of Year 1. Each faculty member within the IBS program who is interested in recruiting graduate students will present an overview of his/her research interests, prior to the start of the rotation cycles, in research colloquia typically held by each individual track at the end of August, Year 1.

Students will chose up to five (and in extreme cases, six) ~5 week laboratory rotation periods, and are expected to devote up 15-20 hours in the rotation mentor's laboratory. Rotations begin in September of Year 1.

Admission-to-Candidacy Exam

The admission to candidacy exam will consist of a 6-page written proposal in current NRSA format for oral defense. The exam must be completed by May 15 of the second year.

Sample curriculum

Year 1

Fall Semester

  • Cell biology
  • Biochemsitry
  • CDB track seminar series
  • Up to three laboratory rotations (as Dissertation Research)

Spring Semester

  • Cell Signaling
  • Molecular Biology
  • Up to three laboratory rotations (as Dissertation Research)

Year 2

Fall Semester

  • Molecular Biology of Cancer
  • Statistics
  • Dissertation Research

Spring Semester

  • Ethics
  • Dissertation Research, including completion of Admission to Candidacy Exam

Year 3 and Beyond

  • Dissertation Research
  • Additional coursework, if any, recommended by mentor or thesis committee
  • Participation/presentation in departmental or campus-based seminar series

Expected Length of Program

  • Most CDB track students complete the requirements for the Ph.D. degree within 5-6 years of entering the IBS program.
Student Testimonials

Brittany E Greenberg, Guy and Hatley laboratories (joint mentors):

The strong collaborative interactions amongst students and faculty is an attractive feature to the program. In addition, the academic and professional settings at UTHSC and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital foster a unique opportunity for translational research and support my career goals of translating laboratory research into patient care.

Brittany E Greenberg

Alexander K. Diaz, Baker Laboratory:

Graduate school is a time when the development of scientific inquiry is of the utmost importance. I came to IBS program at UTHSC because the faculty not only understand this but more importantly, they also take a personal stake in it. As a budding researcher, it's easy to feel intimidated when working alongside those who are considered leaders of their respective fields. However, the community here in Memphis at UTHSC and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is such that any sort of apprehension quickly dissolves—providing an environment focused on passing on the craft to which we've decided to devote our lives.

Alexander K. Diaz, incoming class of 2011
Graduate Student Research Assistant
Baker Laboratory
Department of Developmental Neurobiology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Integrated Biomedical Sciences Program

When I came to visit UTHSC the spring before I began, I wasn't sure what to expect. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I had never been to the South. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the campus was very inviting. The faculty I met with during my visit consisted of both young investigators just starting out and tenured faculty with well-established laboratories. All were very easy to talk with and I was able to establish initial relationships, so that when I returned in the fall I already knew whom to contact with inquiries. I was also impressed with the laboratory space in the Cancer Research Building. I liked that all the labs were connected and there was collaboration and camaraderie between the researchers and PIs. I have not regretted my decision to attend UTHSC, am thankful for the opportunities it has given me.

Danielle Peacock, graduated Dec. 2013
currently a postdoc with Patricia Steeg, NCI.

Danielle Peacock, Seagroves Laboratory:
How to Apply

You can apply via our online application. Most students apply before December, and those applying before December 1 will be given priority status. The final application deadline is March 1. Applications are reviewed as received, and our top domestic candidates are supported for travel to campus for interviews beginning in January.

It is important that you complete the application and send all required materials as soon as possible. You can apply online, and it is free and easy. Most of the options on the Application Checklist are self-explanatory, but under Planned Course of Study, choose the Biomedical Sciences-PhD option. Then, select up to three tracks of interest using the drop down menus associated with the concentration options. We will assume that the first concentration you select is your preferred research track.

General requirements are a bachelor's degree with a grade-point average of at least 3.0 from an accredited college or university, previous research experience, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. The GRE is optional. For students whose native language is not English, a score of at least 79 on the TOEFL or 6.5 on the IELTS is required.

US Applicants

For US applicants, official transcripts and official test scores should be sent directly from the contributing source and not by the student. Three recommendation letters are required. Names and contact information of three referees will be entered on the application and the system will contact them with instruction on how to submit their recommendation.

Non-US Applicants

For non-US applicants, official test scores should be sent directly from the contributing source and not by the student. Official transcripts and three recommendation letters are required.

Transcripts from any non-US institution must be verified and certified to generate a grade point average (GPA) based on a 4.0 scale. Verification must be completed before matriculation. Service agencies include, but are not limited to, Educational Credit Evaluation (ECE) and World Education Services (WES). A document-by-document certification is not acceptable. These agencies charge a fee for their service.

Oct 31, 2023