Cancer Biology

How a cell becomes tumorigenic is complex and remains enigmatic. To understand the development and oncogenic nature of cancerous cells requires knowledge and techniques from many disciplines. The MCB program encompasses basic research to discover the fundamentals of how cancer cells develop and grow, and translational research to develop new therapeutics.

Area Directors

Area Directors help advise students about classes and rotations in their interest area. They also provide a listing of suggested courses for those interested in Cancer Biology.

Faculty Area Directors

Student Area Directors

Suggested Curriculum

The suggested curriculum outlined below is meant to guide you in choosing classes, they are not requirements. We highly encourage you to take the Foundational courses, while the Electives are more specialized and often cross between Areas of Interest. Remember to review the UW Time Schedule for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding whether a course is currently being offered.

2023-2024 Suggested Curriculum (document download)

MCB 539 – Biological Basis of Neoplasia

Introduces the major themes in research in the biology of neoplastic change. Covers principle molecular mechanisms responsible for tumor initiation and progression, with a specific emphasis on intracellular signaling, DNA repair, cell cycle checkpoints, and loss of normal tissue homeostasis. The latest state of the art research in Cancer Biology will be presented by invited scientists, experts in their relevant field. The discussion meetings will concentrate on selected major papers in cancer biology and be presented and discussed by the students with help and guidance of the instructors.
Offered SPR, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Will be offered in SPR 2024

Subtrack 1 – Cellular Mechanisms of Transformation

Elective Course 1A: CONJ 532 – Single Transduction from the Cell Membrane to the Nucleus

Intracellular signaling pathways leading from cell membrane receptors to nucleus. Pathways activated by seven transmembrane receptors and G-proteins, insulin/PI3 kinase, nitric oxide and WNTs and mechanisms of signal termination. Cytokine/Jak/Stat signaling and role of subcellular localization in signal transduction. Offered jointly with PHCOL 502.
Offered AUT, 2.0 credits, Weeks 6-10

Elective Course 1B: CONJ 544 – Protein Structure, Modification and Regulation

Overview of general principles of protein structure, including forces that contribute to folding and stabilization, followed by an extended coverage of the means by which protein structure and function are modified and regulated. Examples from recent developments in protein folding, processing, and allosteric regulation. Prerequisite: introductory biochemistry and cell biology.
Offered WIN, 1.5 credits, Weeks 1-5, Offered odd-numbered years, Will be offered in WIN 2023

Elective Course 1C: MCB 522 – The Developmental Basis of Human Disease

Rapid advances in human genetics have identified a host of new genes associated with rare human genetic disorders. In many cases, the functions of these genes have already been elucidated by developmental and cell biologists working in non-human model systems. This ten-week course will explore the intimate relationship between developmental biology and human disease, including both inherited genetic disorders and cancer. Each week we will choose a different human disorder whose underlying genetic cause has been discovered. We will then discuss how the causal gene or genetic pathway controls normal animal development. The second meeting of each week will be an opportunity for students to present papers from the literature to uncover specific mechanistic links between normal developmental gene functions and disease.
Offered WIN, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Offered even-numbered years, Will be offered in WIN 2024

Elective Course 1D: GENOME 565 – Advanced Human Genetics

The goal of the course is to provide students with knowledge and tools most useful for successful research in human genomics. Components of the course are: gene discovery and molecular function; genomic architecture; cancer genetics; and human diversity and evolution. The course meets winter quarter, with three lectures per week by the instructors and weekly section meetings. Multiple problem sets are based on real data.
Prerequisite(s): College-level genetics course (GENOME 361 or 371); for genetics courses taken elsewhere, please ask the instructors. The class typically includes about 60 students, including both undergraduate and graduate students.
Size Limit: 20 (the graduate version of the course does not usually fill up although the undergrad version, 465, often does).
Offered WIN, 4.0 credits, Weeks 1-10

Subtrack 2 – Computational Biology Techniques

Elective Course 2A: GENOME 552 – Technologies for Genome Analysis

Discussion of current and newly-emerging technologies in genome analysis with regard to applications in biology and medicine and to potential advantages and limitations.
Prerequisite(s): Contact course instructor and state your interest.
Size Limit: 17 (required for the 12 GS first-year students—already filled up for Autumn 2023).
Offered AUT, 1.5 credits, Weeks 6-10

Elective Course 2B: GENOME 555 – Protein Technology

Focuses on current and emerging technologies and approaches in protein analysis, and considers applications of these technologies in biology, biotechnology, and medicine.
Offered AUT, 1.5 credits, Weeks 1-5, Check with the department for more information about frequency of offering for this course.

Elective Course 2C: GENOME 560 – Introduction to Statistical Genomics

An introduction to fundamental concepts necessary for the analysis of genetic and genomic data including, basic elements of probability theory, parameter estimation, and hypothesis testing.
Offered SPR, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Offered every year

Elective Course 2D: MCB 536 – Tools for Computational Biology

Introduction to established best practices in computational biology. Learn to organize unstructured data into standard formats, transform data for statistical analyses, and visualize the transformed data. Learn workflows for reproducible research such as version control, project organization, and code documentation. Gain basic experience with Linux command line tools and the Python and R programming languages. Classes will involve hands-on learning through coding exercises, collaborative problem solving, and extensive use of online learning resources.
Offered AUT, 3.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Offered every year

Elective Course 2E: PATH 558 – Integrative Omics

Explores how to integrate genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic approaches with state-of-the-art genetic engineering strategies to uncover a systems-level understanding of pathway interactions that regulate disease pathogenesis and complex phenotypes. Recommended prep: Undergraduate biology or cellular and molecular biology. Offered jointly with MOLMED 558 (last offered Spring 2023).
Offered SPR, Course not currently being offered.

Subtrack 3 – Cancer Treatments and Translational Courses

Elective Course 3A: PATH 518 – Emerging Topics in Cancer

Science and translational advances in cancer and therapeutics, related to recent major technological progress in cancer research. Explores how knowledge of cancer genetics as well as new molecular discoveries are translated to clinical management and treatment options.
Offered WIN, 2.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Offered odd-numbered years, Will be offered WIN 2025

Elective Course 3B: PATH 590 – Patient-Centered Translational Research

MSTP students preparing to return to clerkships are partnered with a senior MD/PhD medical student or house office, preview the medical or surgical ward team environment, select a patient-focused translation research topic based on their clinical experience, and prepare a plan for refreshing introductory clinical skills. Grading: Credit/No-Credit.

Subtrack 4 – Cancer Immunology

Elective Course 4A: IMMUN 532 – Intersection of Innate and Adaptive Immunity in Disease

Examines the molecular and cellular basis of immune function. Topics include: hematopoiesis, innate immunity, antigen receptor structure, lymphocyte development, antigen presentation, effector T-cell functions, and immune-mediated diseases.
Note: PATH 535 is a possible alternative.
Offered WIN, 4.0 credits, Weeks 1-10, Course is not currently being offered

Elective Course 4B: IMMUN 537 – Immunological Methods

Introduces whole animal, cellular, biochemical, and molecular techniques used in immunological research. Discusses strengths and limitations of each technique and emphasizes caveats in interpreting the resulting data.
Offered AUT, 1.5 credits, Weeks 6-10, Will be offered in AUT 2023

Elective Course 4C: IMMUN 538 – Immunological Based Diseases and Treatments

Addresses the mechanisms leading to the development of immunologically based diseases. In particular, covers immunological basis and treatment of infection, autoimmunity, and cancer.
Offered SPR, Course is not currently being offered

Elective Course 4D: MOLMED 504 – Topics of Molecular Medicine (Challenges in Cancer Immunotherapy)

Focuses on an important topic in medicine and science. Lectures introduce clinical and basic science background, followed by a seminar/discussion with speakers. Offered jointly with CONJ 504 (last offered in Spring 2023).
Prerequisite(s): Permission of instructor
Offered SPR, Course is not currently being offered

Elective Course 4E: PATH 535 – Innate Immunity and Immunopathology

Explores the relationship between the innate immune system and disease processes, using a student-led seminar format. Students analyze, present, and critique primary research literature, and use the knowledge gained to develop a sophisticated insight into the mechanisms of immunopathology.
Note: IMMUN 532 is a possible alternative.
Offered SPR, Course is not currently being offered


Forefront of cancer research

View of the Fred Hutch campus in South Lake Union

Fred Hutch is home to the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Pacific Northwest that combines the strengths of Fred Hutch, UW Medicine, and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Seattle MCB faculty push the boundaries of discovery from the fundamentals of cancer cell development and tumorigenesis to translational research into cures.