MEDSCI 302 : Cancer Biology

Medical and Health Sciences

2024 Semester Two (1245) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

A study of the scientific basis of cancer including: mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of cancer, carcinogenesis, DNA damage and repair, properties of cancer cells (including abnormalities of growth and cell cycle control), the growth of tumours, the classification and histopathology of cancers, and an introduction to therapeutic strategies.

Course Overview

This course provides a strong foundation in the basic and applied science of cancer biology. The content is delivered in lectures, tutorials and practical laboratories. The following main topics are covered: DNA damage and repair; mechanisms of cell proliferation, cell death, differentiation, metabolic reprogramming and cell stress response; tumour hypoxia and radiation biology; genomics, bioinformatics and epigenetics; selected mechanisms of cancer development (inherited, viral and hormonal causes); basics of cancer immunology and metastasis; principles of an integrated cancer diagnosis.

There are four 3-hour interactive laboratories that provide an opportunity to practice selected laboratory methods and reflect on their use in cancer research. Laboratories address the following research areas: 1. Mechanism of apoptosis; 2. Radiation-induced cell killing; 3.Application of bioinformatic approaches to characterise cancer mechanisms; 4. Integrated characterisation of leukaemia pathology. 

There is also an online assignment on colorectal cancer - its pathology, detection and treatment. 

The following lecturers teach in this course: Dr Maggie Kalev (course director), Dr Rachelle Singleton (course coordinator), Assoc Prof Michael Hay, Assoc Prof Nuala Helsby, Dr Dean Singleton, Assoc Prof Cherie Blenkiron, Dr Annette Lasham, Dr Ana Ramachandran, Dr Jo Perry, Dr Kimiora Henare, Dr Petr Tomek and Dr Nicky Lawrence.  

The course provides a strong foundation for progressing to postgraduate studies and research in cancer. The Department of Molecular Medicine & Pathology and Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre offer multiple options in this field. For example, MedSci 714 and MedSci 713 provide a focused look at aspects of cancer biology and treatment targets, respectively. 

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: BIOSCI 356 or MEDSCI 203

Course Contacts

Course Director:
Dr Maggie Kalev

Course Coordinator:
Dr Rachelle Singleton

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 2: Sustainability
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
Graduate Profile: Bachelor of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Explain the fundamental processes involved in carcinogenesis (including genetic and environmental triggers). (Capability 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  2. Understand the means by which essential cellular controlling mechanisms are subverted in cancer. (Capability 3 and 4)
  3. Gain a basic understanding of multi-disciplinary approaches applied in cancer diagnosis, staging, prognostication and cancer research. (Capability 3, 4 and 5)
  4. Be familiar with selected experimental approaches used to investigate mechanisms of cancer development. (Capability 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  5. Demonstrate practical experience in selected methods applied in cancer research. (Capability 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)
  6. Provide examples of cancer impact on patients and cancer disparities between people of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in New Zealand. (Capability 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Assignment 1 - Lab 1 report 8% Individual Coursework
Assignment 2 - Lab 2 report 8% Individual Coursework
Assignment 3 - Lab 3 report/Online assignment 8% Group & Individual Coursework
Assignment 4 - Lab 4 report 8% Individual Coursework
Assignment 5 - Lab 5 report 8% Group & Individual Coursework
Mid-term test 15% Individual Test
Final Exam 45% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6
Assignment 1 - Lab 1 report
Assignment 2 - Lab 2 report
Assignment 3 - Lab 3 report/Online assignment
Assignment 4 - Lab 4 report
Assignment 5 - Lab 5 report
Mid-term test
Final Exam

In order to pass the course, you must achieve 50% of marks in total (i.e. from the coursework and the final exam combined). 

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in.

For this course, you can expect 3 hours of lectures or tutorials, 1.5 hours practical laboratories (3 hours every second week), 2 hours of reading and thinking about the content and 3.5 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation per week.

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Lecture attendance is expected for this course. We encourage you to use lectures as an opportunity to engage with your peers and your lecturers. Lecture recordings will be provided as an adjunct to support revision, but these should not be relied on as the only learning method. Recordings of other learning activities, including labs and tutorials, are NOT guaranteed.

The course does not include live online events, including group discussions/tutorials.

The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable.

Attendance on campus is required for the practical laboratories, mid-semester test and the final exam. 

The final exam is currently delivered as an in-person invigilated exam on a computer using the Inspera platform (Mode D).

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

Important course administration information and detailed laboratory information are provided in a coursebook (supplied free of charge), which is to be picked up at the start of the semester and brought to all in-person laboratories. Lecture material, slides, and recordings will be available on Canvas. The lecture material will guide your learning process.  
We also recommend the following textbooks:
1. Ian Tannock, Richard Hill, Robert Bristow, Lea Harrington, The Basic Science of Oncology, McGraw-Hill.
2. Robert A. Weinberg, The Biology of Cancer, Garland Science.
Both textbooks are available in the University library.

Student Feedback

At the end of every semester students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback and respond with summaries and actions.

Your feedback helps teachers to improve the course and its delivery for future students.

Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the department and faculty staff-student consultative committees.

The overall course satisfaction was high in the last evaluations. Respondents found the course to be well organised, with interesting topics and well-integrated, useful practical laboratories. Students on the biomedical Cancer Biology and Therapeutics specialisation pathway noted the clear linkages between this course and BioSci 356.

Other Information

BioSci 356 allows an alternative entry path to MedSci 302 for students who did not take MedSci 203, but it is not a true pre-requisite. 

MedSci 302 is a part of the Cancer Biology and Therapeutics specialisation pathway. Other courses required for this specialisation are BioSci 356 (Developmental Biology and Cancer) and MedSci 319 (Molecular Pharmacology).

The two main post-graduate courses MedSci 302 leads to are MedSci 713 (Principles of Cancer Therapy) and MedSci 714 (Advanced Cancer Biology). Both are taught through the Department of Molecular Medicine & Pathology and Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre by the teaching staff which partially overlaps with MedSci 302. Students taking these courses are very positive about their learning experience.  Multiple post-graduate research options are also available to students interested in cancer research.  

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Completing assignments and texts/exams is an essential part of this course to support learning. No more than one major in-course assessment may be awarded with an aegrotat or compassionate assessment. If you apply for more than one aegrotat for major assessments, aegrotat can only be applied to one of these. Once exam marking has been completed, we will perform an analysis and apply the most favourable outcome possible to one of those assessments.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.