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Course Breakdown


Mid-Semester Test: 15%
Laboratory Component: 25%
Exam: 60%

Course Information


Prescribed textbook: The lecture material will guide your learning process. The following textbooks are also recommended:

The Basic Science of Oncology (5th ed.) - Tannock I, Hill R, Bristow R, Harrington L. (2013) McGraw-Hill
The Biology of Cancer (2nd ed.) - Weinberg, RA. (2014) Garland Science

Official UoA Website: Link

Basic Information

As the prerequisite for two 700-level postgraduate cancer biology courses (MEDSCI 713 - Principles of Cancer Therapy AND MEDSCI 714 - Advanced Cancer Biology), this course should be heavily considered for anyone considering a future career or having an interest in cancer biology. Not surprisingly, it is a course very heavy in content but provides a thoroughly comprehensive insight into this vast and intriguing research field. Lectures took place three times a week and were all video recorded, but technical issues did arise so be wary of relying solely on recordings for your studies. 

​​In 2015 MEDSCI 302 consisted of 35 lectures including an introductory and review lecture and five laboratory sessions. The mid-semester test took place the day before the mid-semester break and examined all lectures taught prior to that so make sure you stay on top of the content as the semester progresses along. It consisted entirely of MCQs, while the final exam consisted of MCQs mainly covering lectures from the second half of the semester and short essay questions which tested content from both halves of the semester.


Laboratory Component

Each laboratory session was assessed with the electronic submission of an assignment to Turnitin, due a fortnight after the practical session was held. These are not physiology-style lab reports but rather consisted of answering questions on the given template. The lecturers who lead the lab sessions will often give you the answers to the assignment questions during their talks so please pay close attention at all times.

The first lab was led by Professor William (Bill) Wilson on the topic of radiation-induced cell killing. During this session we were familiarised with clonogenic assays for quantifying cell killing (sterilisation) via radiation and other cytotoxic agents in tissue culture.

Associate Professor Nuala Helsby took the second lab on colorectal cancer, where  we learned about the pathogenesis of the disease, screening and testing for colorectal cancer and treatments.

In the third laboratory session on the cytokinetics and bioinformatics of the cell cycle Dr. Annette Lasham and Dr. Sunali Mehta taught us about methods measuring the cell cycle of cancer cells and the exploitative effects that cytotoxic drugs have on tumours which are used in clinical therapy.

Drug-induced apoptosis was the theme of the fourth laboratory led by Dr. Graeme Finlay. This session was designed to demonstrate the induction of apoptosis by an anti-cancer drug and provided an experience in DNA purification and electrophoresis; introduced a standard apoptosis assay and reflected on the action of anti-neoplastic agents on cancer cells.

​Finally, the course director Dr. Maggie Kalev took the fifth and final laboratory on leukaemia which integrated the concepts of morphology, immunophenotyping and genetics in cancer diagnosis and research.


Lecture Content

1: Professor William (Bill) Wilson​

After the initial introductory and cancer hallmarks overview lecture by our course director Dr. Maggie Kalev, Professor Wilson kicked off the first series of lectures on DNA damage, genomic instability and carcinogenesis followed by DNA repair and finally Radiation Biology. If your brain was still on holiday mode from the inter-semester break at this point, then his lectures will surely jolt you back to reality rather quickly. He not only delivered a lot of content in the form of different methods of DNA damage and repair, but some material proved to be a bit conceptually challenging to understand too. Thankfully, in my personal opinion his lectures were the most difficult in all of MEDSCI 302 so please don’t freak out and start contemplating about dropping the course – it does get (slightly) easier from here. The content taught in his radiation biology lecture is also reinforced in the first lab which he also leads which makes learning and studying for it a smoother process too.


2: Professor Andrew Shelling​

Professor Shelling was up next with two lectures on (i) Human Papilloma Virus and Cervical Cancer followed by (ii) Inherited Breast and Ovarian Cancer. Thankfully, the amount of content he delivers is considerably lighter and conceptually easier than Professor Wilson’s and those of you who took BIOSCI 356 in the preceding semester will also find a lot of the material in his first HPV and Cervical Cancer lecture familiar from Professor Rod Dunbar.


3: Dr. Marjan Askarian-Amiri

Dr. Askarian-Amiri delivered two lectures on Epigenetic Changes in Cancer. Her lecture content was relatively straightforward and simple to understand, and typically like all the other lecturers in this course explained her material very clearly to the students.


4: Associate Professor Nuala Helsby​

​Associate Professor Helsby also gave two lectures which focused on (i) the Histology and Classification of Tumours and (ii) Tumour Differentiation and Staging. Similarly to the two epigenetic lectures preceding her, her content was simple and straightforward to understand. Her slides and course guide notes also provided a comprehensive set of study notes – a common recurring theme in MEDSCI 302 which if you haven’t recognised already will soon come to appreciate.


5: Professor Michael Findlay

Professor Findlay gave one lecture on Cancer clinical trials. You’d be relieved to hear that his lecture would be the first in this course to discuss the non-molecular but instead clinical aspect of clinical cancer trials. All his slides were provided in the Course Guide and provided a wonderful introduction into the processes and what goes on in clinical cancer settings outside of the research laboratory.


6: Dr. Martin Chopra

Dr. Chopra gave two lectures on cancer immunology where he discussed firstly the basic concept of the immune system and how it affects cancer cells. In his second lecture he focused more on how cancer cells can actively evade immune system surveillance and use it for their own progression, as well as how we can break this evasion and harness the power of our own immunity as a therapeutic technique to combat growing tumours.


7: Dr. Francis Hunter​

During his single lecture on Antibody-Based Drugs in Cancer Medicine, Dr. Hunter taught us all about the structure and function of monoclonal antibodies, how they work, advantages and disadvantages compared to other drug types, how they can be used for targeted cancer therapy and the mechanisms by which cancer cells can become resistant to their effects. Finally, he also introduced the recent developments in highly-potent antibody therapies which include antibody-drug conjugates.


8: Dr. Jo Perry

Dr. Perry delivered a total of four lectures in 2015, and the first focused on the role of hormones in cancer. During this lecture she discussed which cancers were hormone-related, how hormones can promote cancers and the evidence which supports the role of hormones in cancer. Near the very end of the course she delivered another three lectures on the History of Cancer Chemotherapy, Actions of Cytotoxic Drugs and Cancer Drug Resistance.


9: Dr. Sunali Mehta​

After the mid-semester break Dr. Mehta took us through two lectures which were on (i) The Cell Division Cycle as a Therapeutic Target and (ii) Cytokinetics and Bioinformatics – Insights into Cell Cycle Biology. Her lecture content was well complemented by the third Bioinformatics Laboratory which she also leads that takes place at approximately the same time as her lectures are being given.


10: Dr. Graeme Finlay​

The next five lectures were taken by Dr. Finlay which were about:
·         Control of the Cell Cycle
·         The TGFβ System
·         Deregulation of Apoptosis in Cancer
·         The p53 Response
As you would expect by now, he radiates an irresistibly contagious cocktail of passion and energy during his lectures which also comes with a heavy dose of content to remember. What I personally found the most helpful in learning his content was to draw out his summary diagrams and attempt to annotate them in as much detail as I could which provided quick yet efficient and through summary and self-assessment tools. He had recommended to students that if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the content, take a step back and “zone out” to learn the broader picture and key concepts first before delving further to learn the finer details.


11: Dr. Cherie Blenkiron​

Following on from Dr. Finlay, Dr. Blenkiron gave two lectures on Cancer Genomics. During her first lecture she gave a summary of the cancer genomics field which is moving from single gene to multi-gene analysis. In her second lecture, the focus was on the progression into gene expression, proteomics, current problems and the future of this field. Attendance at her lecture is highly recommended as she brought in some real-life laboratory tools, chips and equipment used in the cancer biology research field for the class to hold and look at.


12: Dr. Maggie Kalev​

Now on the home stretch of the semester, Dr. Kalev gave us the following lectures based on these themes in 2015:
·         Tumour Heterogeneity
·         Tumour Angiogenesis and Principles of Metabolic Reprogramming
·         Tumour Progression, Invasion and Metastasis
·         Tumour Genetics and Cancer Progression – Clinical Examples
·         Cancer Epidemiology
·         Course Review and Exam Tips
Note that Dr. Perry’s final three lectures took place in between Dr. Kalev’s Tumour Genetics and Cancer Epidemiology Lectures. Students who have taken BIOSCI 356 in the past would be familiar with a lot of the material she teaches around tumour metastasis, while her final epidemiology lecture contains a lot of overlapping material with the content in papers POPLHLTH111 and STATS10x regarding the types of different epidemiological studies that clinicians use. A review of the course, containing exam MCQs and written answer question examples followed her cancer epidemiology lecture bringing the course and semester to a close.

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