Emerging Technologies in Cancer Research, Diagnosis and Treatment

Overview and syllabus

Course number: SCI2299

Faculty: Joanne Pratt
Office: AC407
Lab AC406
Office hours:  By appointment
joanne.pratt@olin.edu

Class Meeting Times: AC417
Tu  10:50-12:30
Fri  9:50-12:30

Catalog Description:
More than thirty years have passed since the declaration of a “War on Cancer”, yet nearly 600,000 Americans are predicted to die from cancer this year.  This course will examine the environmental and biological causes of cancer.  We will explore why traditional treatments (chemotherapy, surgery and radiation) and the early promise of biotechnology have not led to a significant improvement of life expectancy for most forms of cancer.  Through analyses of journal articles and clinical trials, we will assess the diverse emerging technologies for cancer research, diagnosis and therapy.  Some of the technologies to be explored are angiogenesis inhibitors, microarrays, stem cell therapy, gene therapy, radiology/imaging and biological and immunological modifiers.  Class discussion and student presentation of primary literature will be integral parts of this course.

Major topics to be covered
Environmental and Metabolic Causes of Cancer
Cancer Genetics
The Tumor Microenvironment
Traditional approaches to cancer and their limitations
The Immune System and Cancer
Recent Developments in Cancer Research, Diagnosis and Treatment
Translating Research: drug discovery and the clinical trials process

Grading = Final grade will be based on the following:

  • PIPI (see description below) and Homework        30%
  • Oral presentations                                                       20%
  • Papers                                                                            30%
  • Lab Report and notebook                                          20%

Specific Learning Objectives

Students will acquire the knowledge and demonstrate understanding of the principle concepts relevant to cancer, using verbal and written communication.  Students will also develop skills in reading and discussing scientific journal articles, conducting and presenting literature and laboratory-based research and conducting laboratory experiments relevant to cancer research.

Measurable Outcomes: Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate and communicate knowledge and understanding of major principles relevant to cancer
  • Demonstrate an ability to read and analyze primary literature papers, review articles and media articles relevant to cancer
  • Conduct and communicate, through written and oral means, in-depth independent research on a topic relevant to cancer research technologies

Elements of the Course

Required books-

Textbook:  The Biology of Cancer, Robert Weinberg second edition
Optional, Fun, Recommended Reading-
How Cancer Works, Lauren Sompayrac
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee

PIPI (participation, initiative, professionalism and improvement)

This is a discussion-based class, therefore student attendance and participation are key to an effective learning environment.  All four components of PIPI will factor into the final PIPI score.  For example, a student who participates in class discussions, yet demonstrates unprofessional behavior or produces unprofessional assignments (late, sloppy, full of typos, didn’t follow instructions) will receive a poor PIPI grade.

Homework Assignments:

Class discussions will provide a means to demonstrate understanding of concepts and to identify areas that require more explanation.  Students will have homework assignments that represent milestones of their independent research projects and critical analyses of peers’ work.  In addition, students will prepare answers to questions regarding the week’s reading for each chapter covered or prepare presentations/lead discussions of relevant topics.

Students will be responsible for leading discussions of primary literature articles. A sophisticated understanding of the article is expected; students may need to conduct background research to bring additional issues relevant to the topic to the classroom.  All class members are expected to read the article(s) and to come to class prepared to discuss them.

Independent literature-based research projects

Each student will conduct independent research throughout the semester.  Topics will be student-selected (with instructor guidance) and represent an issue that is at the forefront of cancer research and treatment.  Journal articles, media sources, textbooks, internet sources (clinical trials databases) and scientists/physicians will be resources for this research project.  Students will give a 20 minute oral presentation and write a paper on their project.  Additional information on this project will be provided.

Laboratory research projects

Each student will conduct a research project with 1 teammate during the semester.  Students will identify a project that addresses a question in cancer research, and design and implement relevant techniques to answer the question.  Students will keep a lab notebook and write a brief lab report of their findings.

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