BI3BT78-Cancer and Cell Communication

Module Provider: School of Biological Sciences
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn / Spring term module
Pre-requisites: BI1BEC1 Building Blocks of Life and BI2BC45 Cells and Immunity
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Mike Fry


Type of module:

Summary module description:

In this module we will build on content from years one and two on the importance of signal transduction pathways in the context of the causes and potential routes to treatment of cancer. These two subjects are intimately linked as much of what we know about normal cell signalling came from studying mutated oncogenes and much of the current thinking around personalised treatments for cancer centre around finding ways to target these abnormal signalling pathways in cancer whilst minimising the effects of the health tissues of the patient. We will explore these links through a combination of lectures, weekly paper discussions around key literature, problem sessions and through a student led project.


This module aims to provide a detailed study of current knowledge and understanding of the biology of cancer and how this can be used to clinical benefit in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. No person is left untouched by cancer at some stage in their lifetime in the modern world, but fear can be dispelled by knowledge, and it is hoped that in addition to offering this as an academic module that the knowledge gained may prove of personal lifetime benefit. This will be integrated with classes that aim to develop a deeper understanding of the role of receptors and signal transduction in the function of cells as much of our knowledge of these pathways have come from studying where things go wrong in diseases such as cancer. This will include understanding how hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors and other molecular messengers act and the roles of cell surface receptors, nuclear receptors and associated signalling proteins such as G proteins and kinases. To understand the structure/function relationships of receptors (nuclear and cell surface) and signalling molecules. To understand the methods used for studying these processes (both laboratory based and computer simulations/models). To understand where, and how, these processes go wrong in disease. These topics will be considered from both a pathway centric and a wider systems view of the topic. 

Assessable learning outcomes:

At the end of the module students will be able to:

Identify the contribution made to an understanding of cancer by epidemiological, genetic, molecular cell biological, animal model and clinical data and examine their relative importance;

Outline the current state of knowledge concerning carcinogenesis by radiation, chemicals and viruses;

Describe the cellular and molecular events in tumour growth, progression and metastasis;

Give an account of the action of oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes in cancer;

Discuss how an understanding of the biology of cancer can be used to improve screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancer;

Assemble and evaluate information on specific named cancers in order to integrate the knowledge obtained from a variety of approaches;

Describe the structure and discuss the function of the main classes of receptors and signalling molecules and the methods used to study these;

Critically analyse and deduce signalling pathways based on experimental data on their constitutive components;

Critically evaluate scientific literature on the topic of the course;

Gain an understanding of how computational modelling can be used to analyse signalling pathways in health and disease.


Additional outcomes:

Students will improve their problem solving and data handling skills and have a better understanding of how to extract and present relevant information from primary research papers.

Outline content:

This module covers the current state of knowledge concerning the epidemiology, genetics, cell biology and molecular mechanisms in the development of cancer, and examines how an understanding of the biology of cancer can be used to improve diagnosis and treatment, and even prevention. This will be linked to our knowledge of the signalling pathways that are involved and which are altered in cancer through activation of oncogenes and inhibition or loss of tumour suppressors.

Topics covered will include:

Stages in the development of cancer from a cell biological and clinical perspective; Genetic susceptibility and risk factors identified by epidemiology; Mechanisms by which radiation, chemicals and viruses can cause carcinogenesis; The role of oncogenes; The role of tumour suppressor genes; Mechanisms of metastasis including angiogenesis; Tumour immunology; Application of cancer biology in discovering novel therapeutic targets including signal transduction pathways, the cell cycle, angiogenesis and endocrine therapy; Discussion of strategies which could be used to reduce cancer rates or even prevent cancer.

This module will also provide an overview of current knowledge and understanding of receptors and their role in the actions of hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors and other molecular messengers much of which was learnt through the study of aberrant signalling in cancer. The course will be introduced with a general discussion of cell signalling mechanisms and the concepts underlying cell signalling. The following topics will be discussed in detail in subsequent lectures: nuclear receptors, super families of cell surface receptors (G protein-coupled, protein tyrosine kinase), detailed discussion of G protein-coupled receptors and G-proteins and associated signalling proteins (adenylyl cyclase, phospholipase C), tyrosine kinase-linked receptors, kinases and phosphatases, MAP kinase signalling and lipid signalling (PI 3-kinase). This will all be placed in the context of normal signalling and compared to what goes wrong in many diseases including cancer. Pathway modelling software will be used to illustrate how changing the activity of a single component of a pathway can have major consequences for the cell. The course will be backed up by data handling sessions, analysis of signalling pathways through problem classes and discussion classes on relevant literature, concentrating particularly on the experimental methods used in signal transduction research. The final session of the course will be a problem-based course review involving a class project modelling of a signalling pathway that will be linked to the student formative presentations. 

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Lectures, Data Handling and Problem Classes, Group Discussions on Relevant Literature and a student led pathway modelling project. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10 10
Seminars 10 10
Tutorials 10 10
Guided independent study 70 70
Total hours by term 100.00 100.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 70
Project output other than dissertation 15
Class test administered by School 15

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Two hours

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Formative assessment methods:

In class problem sessions relating to potential questions in the final examination. Formative group presentations of materials researched on signalling proteins and their roles in cancer.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    By re-examination in August/September

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 20 April 2018


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