The Biology of Cancer Course Background and Goals

Cancer is thus rightly called a genetic disease. We will focus our attention on the genetics and cell biology of cancer since …

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The Biology of Cancer Course Background and Goals
The Biology of Cancer
Instructor Alan Kelly Office: 488 Onyx Bridge Phone: 346-6118 Graduate Teaching Fellows Kate Karfilis Claire Romelfanger

Course Background and Goals
Cancer has been a recognized disorder for many centuries, but was not a considered a serious threat to human health until the 1900s, when advances in medical science began to mitigate the more common forms of morbidity and mortality. Cancer is a collection of over one hundred diseases that show various clinical differences, but have similar underlying causes and effects: the normal genetic controls of cell division malfunction, allowing a cell to undergo unrestrained multiplication, usually leading to an anomalous mass of cells (a tumor), some of which may spread to distant locations in the body to establish further tumors. Cancer is thus rightly called a genetic disease. We will focus our attention on the genetics and cell biology of cancer since tremendous advances in our understanding of the initiation and progression of cancers, and in the promise of effective treatment, have been realized in the past two decades through basic research in genetics and cell biology. This is an introductory course, meaning nothing more than that there are no prerequisites for enrollment. Though a background in biology is useful, it is neither essential nor necessary. This course will be taught under the assumption that students have no more than a high-school level familiarity with basic life sciences (specifically regarding cells and genes). Those who have no experience with or recollection of biology may find the pace of this course quite rapid; those well-versed in biology may find the pace rather slow at times. Most of the material, however, will be new to all students. There is a considerable amount of unique terminology in all branches of the life sciences, and this is perhaps most evident in medicine. While we will endeavor to minimize the use of such terminology as can be reasonably done without creating confusion, we will still develop an extensive vocabulary to describe processes or components specific to cell biology, genetics, anatomy, physiology, and cancer. You should approach this course as if you are taking an introductory course in a foreign language, and routinely review the vocabulary in common use. By the end of the term we hope that you will have developed a thorough understanding of the biological basis of cancer–its causes, conditions, treatments, and prognoses. This can benefit you in several ways: you should be much better able to evaluate scientific articles on cancer in the popular press; you may become an effective advocate, interpreter, or liaison for a family member or friend facing cancer; you can make more educated choices if you should become a cancer patient yourself; and you may be motivated to adopt a lifestyle that significantly minimizes your lifetime risk of developing cancer.

There will be three 50-minute lectures each week. Attendance is not mandatory, but much of the information that you will be expected to assimilate (and demonstrate on exams) will not be found in the reading. Slides used in the lectures will be made available on the website as pdf files a day or two before each lecture. Detailed notes for most of the week\’s lectures will be posted on the website at the end of each week. See below for website details.

In these sessions we will expand upon material presented in lecture, explore topics not addressed in lecture, and provide opportunities to clarify lecture material. Attendance for some of the sessions counts toward your course grade (marked with asterisks in the schedule below); since the course is full you cannot make up an absence by attending a different section. The schedule below gives you the topic and, where relevant, reading for each week; however, it is imperative that you go the \”Discussion\” link on the course website each week for more information about what will be done that week.

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