Problems/Case Studies

Poor Devils. The Plight of the Tasmanian Devils.
  Annie Prud’homme Genereux, Quest University, Canada. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
Cancer is usually thought to be a disease that affects individuals. But could cancer evolve to become infectious? This case follows the research on a form of transmissible cancer that is decimating the Tasmanian devil, the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. Students analyze two landmark papers that uncovered the molecular mechanism of this cancer, which is known as Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). Through this case, students develop an understanding of cancer, immunology, microbiology, and cytogenetics in addition to becoming more comfortable using primary research literature.
The case was developed for third-year biology students in a molecular biology course, but may also be used in courses in genetics, evolution, immunology, conservation, and research methods.

"Would You Supersize My Cancer Please? A Case Study Exploring Chemicals in the News". Ashley Coffelt and Mark M. Richter Missouri State University. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
The recent discovery of acrylamide in both fried and baked foods like French fries and potato chips has caused alarm. Acrylamide is both a known carcinogen in animals when administered in high doses and a neurotoxin when humans are exposed to large amounts in the workplace. However, the link between acrylamide in food and human health is much less clear. In working through the case, students compare the accuracy of news headlines, articles, and web pages with the information presented in scientific journals.
This case was designed for non-major science courses.

"Breast Cancer Risk: Using Real Medical Histories to Rank Genetic and Environmental Influences". Michèle Shuster, New Mexico State University,  Karen Peterson, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
This case study takes a combined directed and discussion approach to explore risk factors for breast cancer. After a preparatory reading assignment, students assess various medical histories derived from actual women with breast cancer and rank their overall risk for breast cancer and make recommendations for risk reduction. The task is complicated by the different and often combined sources of risk (e.g., reproductive history, hormone replacement therapy and family history).
Originally written for an introductory course, the case study could easily be adapted for upper divisions to explore the biological and biochemical basis underlying various risk factors.

"But I'm Too Young! A Case Study of Ovarian Cancer" Nancy Rice, Western Kentucky University and Bruno Borsari, Winona State University. The National Center for 
Case Study
Teaching in Science.
In the present case, students are introduced to Abby, a college student who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. As they follow Abby's
plight, students learn about basic cellular and genetic mechanisms that are responsible for cancer formation, gaining a general understanding of
how cells become cancerous through genetic mutations, how cancers can spread throughout the body by metastasizing, and how modern medicine is currently
treating patients diagnosed with cancer through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
This case is appropriate for high school general biology classes, and undergraduate cell biology, general medicine, and genetics/heredity courses.

CNN Videos

Topic: "Drug Targets Leukemia": Biology 5th Ed. CNN Ed 2001 (2:21)
Gleevec, a new cancer drug, is proving to be a powerful weapon against chronic myelogenous leukemia.  A woman is interviewed who was diagnosed with leukemia, treated with Gleevec, and is now in remission. Physicians caution that, with only two years of use, it is premature to say the drug can cure leukemia.  However, the results are extremely promising. Unlike conventional chemotherapy, which kills cells indiscriminately, Gleevec selectively targets a protein that is produced only in cancer cells.  As a result, the side effects are minimal.  The drug also shows promise against other cancers.  The worksheet includes the URL for the National Cancer News Center Web Site. (Student worksheet provided on CD)

Topic:  "Screening for colon cancer":  Biology 5th Ed.  CNN Ed 2001. (1:54)

Baseball player, Darryl Strawberry, is shown speaking after his surgery for colon cancer.  Researchers have discovered that a certain genetic defect occurs at an elevated frequency in people who develop this cancer.  Because the defect occurs in both the cancer and in normal tissue, it may allow doctors to identify those who are at increased risk for the cancer.  The current screening procedure is shown.  It uses a flexible scope that reaches only the lower third of the colon and, because it is invasive, many people avoid it.

Online Videos

Curing Cancer
Scientists race to find the gene that causes breast cancer.


"Biology of Cancer" Phillis, Randal W. and Goodwin, Steve.  The Benjamin Cummings Special Topics in Biology Series.  Pearson Education, Inc. 2003.  This booklet discusses where cancer cells come from, how cells have genetic defects, the cell cycle, cancer cells, the evolution of tumor cells, how hereditary and sporadic cancer compare and contrast.  

"Tumor Busting Viruses" Nettlebeck, Dirk M. and Curiel, David T. Current Issues in Biology. Scientific American, Inc. October 2003. 13-21.
Virotherapy is a strategy that uses genetically engineered viruses to attack and destroy cancer cells. This article explains how and why most virotherapy utilizes the adenovirus and how the virus is engineered to find and attach to the tumor cell. There are many strategies that the virotherapist can use to accomplish this and this article explains several of them. The  article is followed by a comprehension quiz and some critical thinking questions.

“Cancer:  Clues from Yeast’s Cell-Division Cycle”.  Pines, Maya.  The Genes We Share with Yeast, Flies, Worms, and Mice:  New Clues to Human Health and Disease.  Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2001).
  Reproduction in yeast occurs via budding.  Any mutation that ceases the offspring from developing is easily found.  Depending on the size of the bud, the mutation can be traced to a specific time in the developmental stage.  The same genes involved in stopping the growth in yeast cells were also found to be major players in human cancer cell growth.  The article also offers a brief overview of cancer and genetics.

"Gene therapy rids 2 of melanoma".  Kaplan, Karen.  Post and Courier.  September 1, 2006.
Scientists have genetically modified tumor-fighting immune cells.  Patients are able to rid themselves of an aggressive form of cancer.  This helps to push the success of gene therapy forward.  The treated patients are cancer free one and one-half years later.  Researchers have isolated T-cells for other forms of cancer that may be able to be treated in a similar fashion.