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PRE COURSE MATERIAL

In September before the course start in October, you will have access to a series of short, self-paced, online courses.  Completion of these is not compulsory, but they are there to help you brush up on your background knowledge and set you up for the start of the MSc course. 

Available short courses are: 

  • Underpinning Biology for Cancer Science
  • Fundamentals of Human Anatomy

MODULES  

1. Genome Regulation

Module Leads - Prof. Kristijan Ramadan & Associate Prof. Natalia Gromak

This module will provide students with intricate knowledge of the structure, function and regulation of the genome. Building on an undergraduate-level knowledge of normal cell functions, lectures will cover deeper principles of DNA damage, replication and repair, and the effects of epigenetic and transcription factors on the cell cycle. The focus will be on how the disruption of these processes can contribute to the development of cancers. Laboratory practical sessions will allow students to study the effects of DNA-damaging agents on cell colonies, and tutorials will provide an opportunity to discuss specific examples of epigenetic and transcription factors involved in cancer development in greater depth. 

2. The Cancer Cell

Module Leads - Prof. Eric O'Neill & Dr Tess Stanly

This module will focus on translation, cellular metabolism and cell signalling pathways regulating growth and differentiation. Building on undergraduate knowledge of normal cellular function, the lectures will provide detail on the signalling pathways which lead to abnormal cell growth and division, and will delve into the specific role of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades in the pathophysiology of cancer. The module will also cover the impact of translation control, metabolism and the regulation of the cytoskeleton in tumorigenesis. 

3. The Tumour Niche

Module Lead - Prof. Simon Buczacki

This module will discuss the composition of tumours and the tumour microenvironment, starting with lectures on tumour heterogeneity, cancer stem cells and the role of the stromal fibroblasts in cancer progression. It will then expand to discuss extracellular matrix (ECM) modifications, interaction between epithelial cells and the ECM and angiogenesis in solid tumours. It will cover the physiochemical properties of the tumour, including hypoxia, acidosis and pH partitioning. Lectures will also cover the effect of the local immune microenvironment with specific reference to the role of tumour-promoting inflammation in reshaping the normal microenvironment. We will additionally cover how the microenvironment influences stem cell behaviour, metastatic spread (EMT) and the ‘seed and soil’ hypothesis (MET) for colonisation of distal sites. The module will also discuss the niche occupied by haematological tumours. 

4. Cancer Immunology

Module Lead - Dr Eileen Parkes

This module will discuss the role of the innate and adaptive immune system in recognising and responding to cancers and how the global immune landscape beyond the tumour becomes altered during tumour progression. Lectures will provide details on the role of the peripheral immune cells in an anti-tumour response and the impact of haematopoietic dysregulation on this response. The module will delve into detail into the role of T cells in the immune response, T cell priming and activation, and factors which affect these processes in the tumour and contribute to an immunosuppressive environment.  Lectures will also discuss immunological malignancies and their progression. 

5. DNA and Cellular Targeted Therapies

Module Leads - Prof. Peter McHugh & Prof. Madalena Tarsounas

This module will build in the content of Modules 1 and 2 to discuss cancer therapeutics which target the DNA, the DNA damage response, and cell signalling pathways. Specific examples will be used to demonstrate the mechanisms by which therapeutic interventions were designed, developed, tested, and trialled in first-in-man studies to clinical implementation. This will include PARP, HDAC, CDK and BRAF inhibitors to illustrate how processes or pathways are inhibited, and thus cell proliferation can be suppressed or cell death induced in cancer cells (synthetic lethality). We will also include lectures from industry on processes of target validation, drug design, optimisation and pharmacological properties required to turn academic discoveries into viable therapeutics strategies.   

6. Tumour Microenvironment Targeted Therapies

Module Leads - Prof. Amato Giaccia

This module will build on the content of Module 3 to discuss how the characteristics of the tumour microenvironment influence cancer treatments. Lectures will cover a range of examples, including drugs that affect the ECM composition and hypoxia-targeting therapeutics for use in rapidly growing solid tumours. This module will also discuss a number of TME-related therapeutics which have a sound theoretical underpinning and showed promise in early development, but ultimately failed in clinical trials. The module will also consider the effect that the TME itself can have on drug delivery and the potential for use of TME-responsive drug delivery systems. 

7. Immunological Therapies

Module Leads - Dr Shisong Jiang & Prof. Tim Elliott

This module will build on the content of Module 4 and will investigate how the body’s immune system can be harnessed to identify and kill cancerous cells. Lectures will discuss the use of immunological inhibitors (such as PD-L1 inhibitors), agents that disrupt tumour suppressive signals from myeloid-derived suppressor cells and tumour-associated macrophages, CAR T-cell therapy, and monoclonal antibodies as examples of these principles. Cancer vaccines will also be discussed, including current uses (e.g. human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine) and potential future developments. Lectures will also cover the pre-clinical and clinical development of oncolytic viruses and their potential as a cancer treatment. 

8. Translational Research Methods and Applications 

Module Leads - Dr Tom Whyntie & Dr Elaine Johnstone

This module will provide students with the techniques and tools needed to meet the unique needs of conducting research in the fields of Cancer Science, Radiobiology, or Medical Physics.  There are many field-specific considerations that they will need to know to successfully and responsibly conduct research, largely relating to the fact that many studies will involve clinical trials and potentially sensitive patient data. Students taking the biology option will cover statistical techniques used in biological research not featured in the core content (e.g. survival curves), how pre-clinical models are used to bridge the gap between laboratory research and clinical trials involving patients, and how the field of health economics can help maximise and evaluate the impact of research on patient outcomes and wider society. 

This course is reviewed annually and subject to minor changes in response to feedback and evaluation.

 

TEACHING AND RESOURCES

Each module is led by two module leads plus additional lecturers for specialist input. Learning is facilitated through a mixture of lectures, small group tutorials, laboratory practicals, demonstrations, visits, and one-to-one supervisions. Teaching is in-person (both lectures and tutorials), with some exceptions due to travel and expert availability.

You will be given access to state-of-the-art technology to support your learning including the University’s virtual learning environment (VLE), Canvas. Lecture materials will be recorded and will be available for you to re-watch in your own time, alongside recommended reading and other activities. 

Teaching takes place in the Oncology Education Hub, which includes dedicated lecture and tutorial rooms at the heart of the department, alongside an open plan, unassigned seating workspace for masters and first-year DPhil students.