MEDSCI 714 : Advanced Cancer Biology

Medical and Health Sciences

2024 Semester One (1243) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Advanced studies of concepts related to the biology of cancer. These will include: molecular mechanisms, signal transduction pathways, genomic instability, telomeres and telomerase, anoikis, DNA damage sensing mechanisms, and hypoxia and tumour progression.

Course Overview

MEDSCI 714 takes an in-depth look at the biological processes that drive cancer initiation and progression. Recent discoveries in cancer research are providing new approaches for treatment, diagnosis and prevention of this disease. Students will develop an in-depth understanding of topics including DNA damage repair, tumour microenvironmental alterations, monitoring of circulating tumour DNA, kinase signalling, leukaemia and lymphoma biology and epigenetic/metabolic dysfunction. This course will highlight advances in these areas using lectures, case studies, in-class activities and individual student presentations and group assignments.

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: MEDSCI 302

Course Contacts

Dr Dean Singleton
Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre & Molecular Medicine and Pathology
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
The University of Auckland
85 Park Road
Auckland 1023
New Zealand


Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Compare and contrast the molecular mechanisms employed by our cells to sense and respond to different forms of DNA damage (Capability 3.1, 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2)
  2. Summarise the numerous stromal-derived components of the tumour microenvironment that act to establish inflammatory and immunosuppressive changes that enable cancer progression (Capability 3.1, 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2)
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of protein and lipid kinase activity in cancer and how targeting these pathways using kinase inhibitors is providing new insights into the biology of cell signalling (Capability 3.1, 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2)
  4. Discuss how normal haematopoiesis is dysregulated during leukaemia and lymphoma pathogenesis highlighting the genomic features that characterise these diseases (Capability 3.1, 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2)
  5. Explain how cellular metabolic and epigenetic processes are reorganised in cancer cells and why these changes occur in different disease contexts (Capability 3.1, 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2)
  6. Understand and critically evaluate how circulating tumour DNA can be used to detect and diagnose cancer and monitor disease progression and response to therapy (Capability 3.1, 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2)
  7. Explain and critically evaluate recent articles from the cancer literature, summarising the research and providing a critical assessment of the methodology, results and significance of the work (Capability 1.1, 1.2, 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 6.1, 6.2, 7.1, 7.2, 8.1 and 8.2)
  8. Identify and discuss potential therapeutic strategies, based on genetic analysis, for patients who are not responding to standard-of-care therapies as a molecular tumour board (Capability 1.2, 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 6.1, 6.2, 7.1, 7.2, 8.1 and 8.2)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Essay 20% Individual Coursework
Presentation 12.5% Individual Coursework
Presentation 12.5% Group Coursework
Test 15% Individual Test
Assignment 15% Group Coursework
Final Exam 25% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Final Exam

Workload Expectations

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

For this course, each week you can expect a 2 hour teaching session which includes a lecture and student seminars, 4 hours of reading and thinking about the content and 4 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation.

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Attendance is required at scheduled activities to complete components of the course.
Lectures will be available as recordings. Other learning activities including seminars will be available as recordings.
The course will not include live online events.
Attendance on campus is not required for the exam.
The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable.

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.

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.

We have recently improved several aspects of MEDSCI 714, including changing the mid-semester test format and introducing a new group assignment. The 2022 SET evaluation confirmed that these changes aided student learning and were better aligned with the course learning outcomes. The course was very highly rated in recent SET feedback. Some feedback for areas of improvement included requests for more in class group discussion. In response to this suggestion, we will begin introducing a small amount of pre-lecture content so that the lecture part of the in person teaching sessions can be shortened to allow more time for discussion and group exercises.

Other Information

Lecturers and lecture topics
Associate Professor Michael Hay
•    DNA Damage Sensing Mechanisms and Responses: Repair of Complex DNA Lesions
Dr Kimiora Henare
•    Tumour Microenvironment I: Building a Pro-Tumour Niche
•    Tumour Microenvironment II: Inflammation and Immune Suppression
Professor Peter Shepherd
•    Cancer Therapies Targeting Protein and Lipid Kinases
Dr Maggie Kalev
•    Biology of Acute Leukaemia
•    Lymphoma Biology
Professor Stefan Bohlander
•    Genetics of Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Dr Cherie Blenkiron
•    Monitoring Disease Progression and Response to Therapy using Circulating Tumour DNA (ctDNA)
Dr Dean Singleton
•    Epigenetic Dysregulation in Cancer: Effects of Altered Metabolism and Tumour Hypoxia on Epigenetic Organisation
•    Epigenetic Dysregulation in Cancer: Histone Modification and Chromatin Remodelling
Dr Tet-Woo Lee
•    Uncovering Cancer Dependencies using Functional Genomics
Dr Anassuya Ramachandran, Dr Polona Le Quesne Stabej, Dr Ben Lawrence
•    Molecular Tumour Boards

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.

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.

Published on 31/10/2023 09:52 a.m.