Photo credit: Rick Gaber


Background and History: Cancer biology is a major area of study for students in the DGP and IBiS graduate programs, as well as students in the MSTP program. Historically, the Cancer Biology curriculum has been one that extends beyond departmental boundaries and across campuses, having been initiated as an interdepartmental training program in the 1980’s.  Students throughout Northwestern have been active participants in journal clubs, research-in-progress meetings, mini-symposia and seminars sponsored by the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. The following curriculum and educational enrichment programs are key features of the Cancer Biology Cluster:

Curriculum: The Cancer Biology Training Program requires core knowledge of cell biology, molecular biology and genetics, and biochemistry. In addition to core courses in these areas, a foundation course in Tumor Cell Biology (TCB) should be taken in the first year. TCB formally introduces students to the principles of tumor pathology, oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, DNA repair, chromosomal instability, tumor invasion and metastasis, and angiogenesis. Current literature assignments are built into each of these topics.

Cancer Biology students are also required to complete an advanced readings course, “Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis.” This course provides training in critical evaluation of the literature, development of a grant proposal, and the fundamentals of the peer review system. Each student will work closely with a faculty mentor to write and defend a research proposal.   Students in Cancer Biology frequently complete additional elective advanced courses in areas such as Receptors and Effectors, Eukaryotic Cell Biology, Cytoskeleton, Immunology.   

Training Grants: Many students in the cancer biology cluster are supported by an NCI-funded T32 training grant. There are currently two training grants that support our students:  “Carcinogenesis” (ongoing for 23 years) and “Oncogenesis and Developmental Biology.”  Students are nominated by their advisor in the summer of their second year. 

Malkin Scholars Program: The Malkin Family Foundation generously supports grant awards of $9,000 to outstanding third-year cancer biology graduate students. These awards are intended to enhance both research and training of students.

Annual Symposium and Poster Session: Each June, selected graduate students and post-docs are invited to speak in the annual Cancer Center Symposium. The annual poster session, aimed at allowing students to present their work to other students, post-docs and faculty associated with the Cancer Center, immediately follows the symposium. The best poster presentations will be selected for poster awards.

Katten Muchin Travel Awards: Cancer biology students are eligible to apply for travel awards to support attendance at national or international meetings with a cancer focus.

Journal Clubs and Seminars: All students are encouraged to attend the biweekly Oncogenesis Journal Club. Attendance is required for all trainees of the Carcinogenesis or Oncogenesis and Developmental Biology training grants. In addition students are strongly encouraged to attend the weekly Cancer Center Basic Research Seminar Series, which showcases innovative cancer research from students, Northwestern faculty and invited speakers. Students are required to present a seminar in this lecture series once before graduation.  Finally, students are also required to attend cancer center mini-symposia and working group meetings that are relevant to the student’s research.

Cancer Biology Cluster Directors

Cancer Biology Cluster Student Directors

  • Sonia Brockway, DGP student class 2011
  • Johanna Melo-Cardenas, DGP student  class 2012

Cancer Biology Cluster Faculty

*Denotes Training Faculty in DGP or IBiS

Tumor Invasion, Metastasis and Angiogenesis

Hormone Action and Signal Transduction

Cancer Genes & Molecular Targeting

Cancer Cell Biology