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    Molecular Medicine

    School of Medicine and Population Health, Faculty of Health

    Examine the mechanisms behind disease in detail. Learn how new technologies are building on the Human Genome Project to revolutionise scientific discovery, diagnosis and treatment.
    MSc Molecular Medicine

    Course description

    Lead academic: Dr Martin Nicklin

    This course brings together the biggest recent advances in biology so you can understand human disease in detail, at the most fundamental level. It covers the cellular, molecular and genetic factors behind a wide range of illnesses, and how new technologies are revolutionising scientific discovery, diagnosis and treatment.

    You will study diseases that are caused by a single gene defect, and the more complex molecular mechanisms that lead to cancer, as well as chronic diseases with overlapping causes that primarily affect ageing populations. You will also learn about the role of the immune system and, in the laboratory, you will examine models of the immune system in healthy and diseased states.

    There is training on RNA and DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry techniques, and how these are used to process huge volumes of bioinformatic data to better understand disease. In computational laboratories, you will learn how to map genetic sequences, design PCR reactions that allow you to study your data in more detail, and identify genetic variations in a patient, for example. There is also an optional introduction to the programming language R, which can be used to analyse and present complex data sets.

    The course also explains how studying disease at a molecular level can lead to new treatment options for patients. You can learn about a variety of biologic therapies developed in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, and how potential new drugs are identified, designed and tested.

    You will also complete a research skills training programme and, after all other teaching has been completed, you will spend 20 weeks working full-time on your own research project. Working as part of a team of professional scientists, you will have the opportunity to test a hypothesis, design experiments, analyse your results and present your findings.

    Example research projects

    Research projects are usually lab-based and a range of topics are available each year. Projects completed by previous students include:

    • Stability control – how mRNA stability regulates inflammation resolution
    • Targeting P2X7R to overcome hypoxia-mediated progression of breast cancer
    • Identifying new targets for pancreatic cancer treatment
    • Beta-1-integrin control of mammary tissue morphogenesis and cancer
    • Precision therapy in NBAS-related disorder
    • Exploiting the DNA Damage Response (DDR) in osteosarcoma
    • Modulating neutrophil cell death mechanisms to treat chronic inflammatory disorders
    • Improving efficacy of immunotherapy in cancer-induced bone metastasis through targeting TGFB
    • Targeting breast cancers with the novel checkpoint inhibitor Tim3 and an oncolytic virus
    • Utilising qPCR for the simultaneous detection of common skin infections present among children in the Gambia


    We accept medical students who wish to intercalate their studies. Find out more on the School of Medicine and Population Health website.

    Do you have a question? Talk to us

    Book a 15-minute online meeting with our course tutor to find out more information and ask further questions.

    Book an appointment with Martin Nicklin


    A selection of modules are available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder

    Immunology in Human Diseases

    This module will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the human immune system and its role in disease. Students will learn about the different components of the immune system and the mechanisms involved in protecting the body against pathogens, and how disruption of these can lead to chronic inflammatory and infectious diseases. Additionally, students will be taught using examples of primary research to illustrate how the immune system is involved in the development and progression of diseases such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases.

    The use of appropriate model systems to study the immune system, including in silico, in vitro and in vivo models, will also be covered in this module. Students will learn about the advantages and limitations of different models and how they can be used to study the immune system in both healthy and diseased states. They will have the opportunity to visit our laboratory facilities and observe demonstrations of these models, and will learn how to apply their knowledge of the immune system to critically evaluate the methods and results of laboratory based and clinical research studies.

    Teaching will be through a combination of lectures, tutorials, and discussions, as well as visits to laboratories, clinical research facilities, and clinical departments.

    15 credits
    Mining Bioinformatic Data

    Modern experimental programmes often deliver massive datasets because we are now able to deliver high throughput data economically. This falls principally into high throughput sequencing of RNA and DNA and mass spectrometry of proteins. This information is seldom interpreted from scratch but can be mapped onto the massive data held on public archives. The first of these is the human reference genome. Students will learn how the most significant current nucleic acid  sequencing methods operate and how mass spectrometry is used to analyse the entire protein content of a cell and how the same methods can be adapted to read the phenotype of single cells within a tissue.

    Students will learn in computer classes how to map sequence onto genomes and other reference genomes, design PCR reactions, identify previously known and unknown genetic variations from database information. In the field of infectious diseases students will use sequence data to classify pathogens.

    Students will learn and experience hands-on, in computer classes, how raw sequence data are analysed. Students will be introduced to the programming language R and will learn to use it to analyse and display data sets. With preconfigured software, students will identify networks of activated genes in human cells and identify resistance genes in pathogens.

    15 credits
    Molecular and Cellular Pathogenesis of Human Diseases

     Understanding the molecular and cellular pathogenesis of human diseases is critical for developing new strategies for disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

    Students will learn about the current field of Molecular Medicine, using relevant examples of specific diseases that are understood at both the molecular and cellular level, and that are the areas of expertise of our teachers. Students will gain knowledge about a spectrum of diseases, ranging from the relatively simple examples that are caused by a single gene defect, to those where a frequent variant of a gene makes a substantial contribution to causing disease, and then on to disorders that share molecular mechanisms but where there is no specific evidence for an inherited genetic susceptibility. These will often include the ultimate 'disorder of the genome', cancer, where the primary defect is the loss of the cell's normal capability to maintain the stability of its own genes. Students will investigate the consequent changes that can drive progression and spread of cancer, and discuss programmed cell death, its failure in cancer and in infectious and autoimmune diseases. The emerging understanding of the role of the microbiome of skin and gut in maintaining human health and how an imbalance in the microbiome may contribute to diseases, including autoimmunity inflammatory diseases and the progression of cancer, will also be explored.

    Teaching will be through a combination of lectures and tutorials. To support students' understanding of our teaching and the background literature, we will include discussion of cellular and molecular processes and methods for interfering with the function of specific entities within cells. We will also provide optional extra teaching to provide more background in relevant techniques and molecular processes for students who feel that they would benefit from them.

    15 credits
    Biologic Therapy

    Re-engineered protein molecules, expressed in bulk in industrial-scale cell culture systems, engineered virus-like particles that can carry corrected human genes, modified-RNA vaccines  and re-programmed immune cells from patients are among the agents categorised as 'biologic' that are currently used to a greater or lesser extent in human therapy.

    Fledgling biotech companies (in the 1980s) regarded protein therapeutics as a temporary step towards the development of highly specific small molecule therapies, yet recombinant proteins and particularly, antibodies, remain a hugely important and still growing field of pharmaceutical development. In replacing the failed products of dysfunctional genes or missing cells, protein therapeutics cannot be substituted with small molecules. As antigens for use in vaccines or vectors for expressing the genetic code of a pathogen, biologics are irreplaceable. The specificity of recombinant antibodies to target a disease-related agent can justify their enormous cost, relative to small molecules, when the small moleule therapies fail. The number of recombinant antibody therapeutics is still expanding.. Reprogramming patients' immune cells to target their own cancers is a very promising new approach to destroying incurable aggressive cancers. The module introduces students to all of these therapeutic approaches, how biologics are developed and how they produced. Biologics are generally limited in their global reach because of their physical and chemical instability, their need to be injected often in a hospital environment and their very high cost. The module will discuss how these concerns are being partially addressed.

    15 credits
    Research Skills

    This module aims to develop your skills in information literacy, oral presentation, scientific writing, critical analysis, data analysis, statistics, ethics, research integrity and basic laboratory techniques. These are all skills that support subsequent modules, the laboratory project and dissertation writing, and are also transferable skills useful in many future careers.

    The module consists of lectures, tutorials, active (interactive) teaching and group work, followed by taster sessions in various different laboratory techniques.

    15 credits
    Small Drugs for Chronic Disorders

    Orally available small molecules are the primary goal of the pharmaceutical industry and in wealthier health systems, agents that need to be continually supplied to treat a chronic condition are the most attractive. Traditionally, the efficacy of drugs in treating human disorders was discovered before the drug's biomolecular target was understood. Recent developments in protein structural analysis and modelling has allowed 'lead' molecules to be selected and optimised for specificity by computer design. Drugs, however, are subject to unpredictable absorbtion, metabolism (which will vary between patients), import into cells, export from cells and excretion. The drug's target molecule can sometimes have an additional, unrecognised function. Small molecules are also likely to interact to an unknown extent with other off-target molecules and activate the metabolism of other drugs causing drug-drug 'interactions' and side effects. A phased programme of drug testing is therefore ethically justified and legally required and as a consequence of failures during testing, the majority of tested drugs are abandoned.

    In infectious diseases and in cancer, known efficacious drugs can become non-efficaceous as a result of changes in the target, whether this is a tumour cell or a microbial pathogen. Small molecules can be redesigned at random and tested against known variants or molecules can be re-designed in a computer model to re-target a specific variant. Individual responses to drugs also depend upon the patient's genetics, comorbidities or metabolic state and specific drugs may be effective in one patient but not another.

    This module uses seminars to introduce students to the pharmaceutical industry's approach to new drug design.

    Students will receive hand-on introduction to computer based molecular docking of small molecules with protein targets. Students will be led through a number of examples of promising,  validated and/or efficacious smal molecule treatments that have been developed in collaborations involving the University of Sheffield. Students will be introduced to programmes of drug testing and of the potential use of genetic profiling to predict drug efficacy.

    15 credits
    Mechanisms in Chronic and Age-Related Diseases

    Students will discover how chronic diseases, especially those that are common in the aging population have shared features with many overlapping causes and consequently patients are often co-morbid for several disorders. The module will explore how specific disorders have been studied, focussing particularly on the use of model systems to explore the molecular and cellular basis of disease to the point of identifying potential drug targets. Students will learn to assess critically the primary scientific literature that supports the identification of significant pathogenic processes. Areas of focus will be inflammation and inflammatory diseases, metabolic syndrome and its consequences and pathways in neurodegeneration.

    15 credits
    Molecular Basis of Cancer and Cancer Diagnosis

    The module focuses on the genetic and phenotypic changes that evolving cancer cells commonly undergo as they become more malignant and metastatic and how, if they are 'successful', they significantly influence their environment and the phenotype and behaviour of bystander cells including components of the immune system to favour disease progression. Central to this understanding is our ability to identify the mutations that drive progression in individual cells and the unusual expression of proteins that results from genetic change. If we can identify common driver pathways between individual cancers, then it allows us to improve prognosis and design and apply targeted therapies.

    15 credits
    Research Project

    The module allows students to develop as a research scientist in an area of research fitting the area of their degree and often diectly developing themes from previous teaching.

    Students experience the scientific process of hypothesis testing, developing the relevant hands-on skills (in the laboratory) and/or understanding of the experimental process (if a non-laboratory project is chosen).  With supervision, students will learn to analyse results and will eventually formulate their own experiments and have the opportunity to develop new hypotheses.

    Students will choose several from an extensive list of individual projects. The list will contain an informative title and include links to an extensive abstract and references that students may explore. Students are expected to meet their candidate supervisors before selecting their projects. Students will be assigned one of their selected projects.

    Students carry out an individual 20-week research project and complete three activities for assessment with guidance from their individual supervisor. [1] Students prepare a poster, outlining the scientific background of their project.[2] After several weeks engaged in the project, students will present the background, the hypothesis, their experimental procedures and any results that they might have at this stage. [3] By the end of the project period, students will produce a  dissertation which will include a survey of relevant background knowledge, a clear statement of the hypothesis or hypotheses that the student's work addressed, a report of the methods used, results achieved and a discussion of the implications of the results for the hypothesis and the significance of the results in relation to the field.

    [4] A further marked component will consist of an assessment of the student's practical skills and their engagement with the research team during the project.

    60 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses.

    You may also be able to pre-book a department visit as part of a campus tour.Open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time. We are unable to offer a part-time or distance learning study option for this course at present.


    You will be taught through lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical classes, independent study and your research project.


    You will be assessed through written assignments, posters, presentations and a laboratory skills assessment. The research project is also assessed through a dissertation and may be assessed through a viva voce examination.

    Your career

    This course is great preparation for a career in medical science research. Many of our graduates go on to complete a PhD and work at top universities and research institutes. Others work as researchers in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry.

    Student profiles

    Image of two postgraduate medical students using a microscope

    The medical school where my department is based is one of the best in the UK. This combined with the guest lecturers from the best academics and researchers in their respective fields made University of Sheffield my best choice for pursuing my master’s degree.

    My understanding of the molecular mechanisms of various diseases and disorders combined with the knowledge of emerging technologies in medicine would enable me to improve the understanding of various disease which would help in development of novel therapies in the field of medicine.

    Amanpreet Kaur Bains

    MSc Molecular Medicine

    Medical School graduate Jane Jiang giving a presentation - image

    The course is flexible and well planned

    Jane Zhen Jiang MSc Molecular Medicine

    While studying at the University of Sheffield, Jane was encouraged to design and experiment with her own projects. She now hopes to start up her own laboratory, putting into practice all that she has learnt.

    Entry requirements

    You'll need at least a 2:1 undergraduate honours degree including a substantial element of human or animal biology.

    We also accept medical students who wish to intercalate their studies.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent. 

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


    You can apply now using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 215 9541

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.