College of Life Sciences
Master of Science
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- Program Director, Forensic Toxicology Program
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Research & Internship Opportunities
Jefferson and The Center for Forensic Science Research & Education (The Center) have developed a program that offers science and management courses that give our students the knowledge to be leaders in the field of Forensic Toxicology. But what differentiates us from other programs is the hands-on and experiential learning we provide for our students.
Provided at their state-of-the-art facility in Willow Grove, PA, The Center’s internship program is designed to provide students with an opportunity to receive hands-on learning by reinforcing the laboratory skills and case-assessment approach introduced in the required coursework, as applied to mock casework and validation studies.
This experience includes:
- Working under chain of custody
- Data analysis and critical assessment of results
- Forensically defensible report writing and testimony
This internship helps develop the laboratory, management and communication skills needed to prepare students for advancement in forensic toxicology.
In addition to the required internship and coursework, a thesis research project will help mold students into independent scientists capable of applying the scientific method to practical problem solving, developing skills in experimental design, critical assessment of results and innovative thinking. These are crucial skills for success in a leadership role in forensic toxicology. Both laboratory-based and non-laboratory-based research opportunities are available either through Thomas Jefferson University or The Center for Forensic Science Research & Education and its partners.
Research in Forensic Toxicology focuses on the effects of drugs and alcohol on drivers, postmortem drug redistribution, investigation of drug concentrations in drug using populations, and the toxicology and chemistry of novel psychoactive substances (NPS). Current work is focused heavily on the analytical and interpretative toxicology of emerging recreational drugs. Additional projects include the development of robust analytical methods for the detection and interpretation of highly complex and unique analytes. Our students have worked on samples from a variety of exposed populations from street drug users, to overdose victims, concert goers, and even African wildlife. Once developed the methods are applied to authentic postmortem and other forensic specimens to demonstrate their applicability to forensic casework.
Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
- Agilent® 1290 LC coupled to 6495 Triple Quadrupole
- Agilent® 1200 LC coupled to 6430 Triple Quadrupole
- Waters® Xevo® Q-S micro Triple Quadrupole
- Waters® Xevo® Q-D Triple Quadrupole
Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
- Agilent 6890 GC coupled to 5973/5975 C series MSD
High Resolution Mass Spectrometry
- Waters® Acquity™ UPLC Xevo® G2-S Quadrupole Time-of-Flight
- Sciex TripleTOF® 5600+ Time-of-Flight
- Thermo Scientific™ Q Exactive™ Plus Hybrid Quadrupole-Orbitrap™
Drug Impaired Driving
Many different types of laboratories perform drug testing for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) casework in support of law enforcement; however, there has historically been no standard or guideline for performing this testing. Through collaborative efforts with the National Safety Council (NSC), a survey of practices in forensic toxicology was designed to promote standardization of analytical testing to improve quality of statistics reported for DUID and motor vehicle fatalities. A guidance document for the profession was developed and has been published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. Monitoring of the scope of testing and laboratories compliance with these recommendations will continue. In addition, roadside oral fluid testing devices for drugs of abuse are currently being evaluated at the CFSRE for accuracy of drug identification. Various testing devices targeting cocaine, amphetamines, cannabinoids, benzodiazepines, methadone, and opiates have proven to show promise as a useful field screening technique, and we are involved in research projects evaluating various different technologies for their effectiveness and reliability.
Furthermore, additional research efforts for the identification and testing capabilities for emerging drugs of abuse in impaired drivers are at the forefront of forensic toxicology research and development. These “Tier 2” compounds are drugs less frequently encountered in cases of DUID but still associated with potential impairment. Compounds in this class include synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, emerging opioids and their analogs, inhalants, LSD, ketamine, and additional CNS depressant drugs. Implementation of a two-tier testing approach for Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) programs will provide additional information on emerging drug trends.
Novel Psychoactive Substances
Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which contain a variety of unregulated psychoactive ingredients, have become main stream on the illicit drug market and are commonly abused for their euphoric and stimulating effects. This drug market, encompassing fentanyl and its analogs, cathinones and synthetic cannabinoids, has exploded due to constant variation in product composition. Research in this area includes the discovery of emerging NPS compounds and the retrospective data mining of previous samples to identify trends in compound usage. The CFSRE is equipped with state of the art high resolution mass spectrometry platforms, and access to NMR spectrophotometry to enable it to make rapid identifications of these compounds as they first appear in the US drug supply. Additionally, identification and analysis of breakdown products aids in understanding the effects NPS compounds have on human behavior. In collaboration with NMS Labs, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 30 new NPS compounds have been discovered at the CFSRE both from seized materials and in biological samples, in the last 18 months.
Our preeminent toxicology faculty and staff specialize in a number of non-routine esoteric toxicological applications. Past and current research interests have focused on our ability to identify highly complex targets in order to develop niche analytical methods for compounds of forensic interest. Examples include the detection of pesticides in wildlife poisoning cases, and insulin in postmortem toxicology cases.
The use of pesticides as poisons for the illegal killing of African wildlife has become more extensive due to the unregulated ease of access to pesticides and their acute toxicity. In an effort to provide forensic evidence to wildlife advocates and other local authorities, an LC-MS/MS analytical method has been developed to detect these substances in samples provided by our partners in various African countries. Samples shipped to date have been shown to contain the pesticides carbofuran, aldicarb, and monocrotophos.
Although large-molecule targets are not routine in forensic toxicology testing, their identification is sometimes vital for determining cause of death in unique situations. For example, in the ‘Angel of Death’ cases, care-providers were overdosing patients using insulin analogs. Due to the inherent size and complexity of these compounds, these overdoses have, until recently, gone undetected. In collaborative efforts with medical examiners, we have developed analytical methods capable of identifying and differentiating these high complexity targets in post mortem samples.