BIO404: Cancer Biology

Course Syllabus for "BIO404: Cancer Biology"

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Cancer has existed among humans since humans themselves began and has been a subject of urgent interest from very early in our history.  What we call “cancer” consists of a number of different diseases with one fundamental similarity: they are all initiated by the unchecked proliferation and growth of cells in which the pathways and systems that normally control cell division and mortality are absent.  Cancer-cell abnormalities are often due to mutations of the genes that control the cell cycle and cell growth.  To understand cancer cells, then, one must first understand the processes that regulate normal cell cycles. This course will cover the origins of cancer and the genetic and cellular basis for cancer.  It will examine the factors that have been implicated in triggering cancers; the intercellular interactions involved in cancer proliferation; current treatments for cancer and how these are designed; and future research and treatment directions for cancer therapy.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Explain how the perception of cancer and theories of its causes have changed throughout history because of important discoveries made by scientists, researchers, and physicians.
  • Summarize the importance of understanding cell biology in the study of cancer, its causes, it progression, and its treatment.
  • Outline the transcription and translation processes used to convert DNA into proteins and what changes occur that convert proto-oncogenes into oncogenes and lead to unchecked cell growth and cancer.
  • Compare and contrast the mechanisms by which activation of oncogenes, loss of tumor suppressors, loss of cell cycle checkpoints, and development of faulty DNA repair lead to cancer.
  • Describe the various cancer prevention mechanisms including risk assessment, screening, and lifestyle and environmental modification.  
  • List the past, current, and future cancer treatments and the mechanism by which these target cancer causing cells.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Be competent in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed BIO101 and BIO102 from “The Core Program” in the Biology discipline.

Course Information

Welcome to BIO404!  Below, please find some general information about the course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Amy L. Thompson, PhD, MLS (ASCP)

Primary Resources: This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Units 1 and 2 as these lay the groundwork for understanding the more, exploratory material presented in latter units.  You will also need to complete:

  • Unit 1.2.1 Assessment
  • Unit 2.2.1 Assignment
  • Unit 2.2.6 Assignment
  • Unit 3.2.4 Assessment
  • Unit Assignment
  • Unit 4.3.1 Assessment
  • Unit 5.2.5 Assessment
  • Unit 7.1 Assignment
  • Unit 8.2.7 Assessment
  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the assessments and assignments listed above.

In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 95 hours to complete.  Each unit contains a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time that you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then set goals for yourself.  Use the time advisories to help you plot out your schedule of when you do each unit/subunit and on which days of the week.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 10.5 hours to complete. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1 (a total of 1.5 hours) on Monday night; subunit 1.2.1 and 1.2.2 (a total of 2.25 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: The material in this course builds on the earlier material.  You must have a good understanding of the cell cycle, DNA replication, transcription, and translation in order to understand how cancer develops.  If you have difficulty grasping these early concepts, the later units will be very difficult.  It is important that you take notes for all readings, lectures, and learning tasks.  When available, you may choose to print out articles and take notes directly on them.  You may want to use the course units and their subunits to create an outline for your notes.  

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.