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Rediscovering Biology: Molecular to Global Perspectives

Cell Biology and Cancer

Cancers, though studied for decades, continue to amaze researchers with their complexity. This unit reveals new information on normal cell function, proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genres, current research in drug design, as well as an overview of tumor biology and angiogenesis.

The online textbook chapters support and extend the content of each video. The Web version can be viewed as a full chapter or as individual sub-sections, and includes links to glossary terms and other related material.

Explore the archive of animations, images and figures from the videos and online textbook. All of the images can be viewed online or downloaded as jpg files.

Read profiles of the expert scientists featured in the video and find the complete transcripts of the interviews conducted for this unit.
Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D.
Brian Druker, M.D.
Leland Hartwell, Ph.D.
Mary-Claire King, Ph.D.
Robert Weinberg, Ph.D.

Chapter Contents

What Is Cancer?
Genetics of Cancer
Cell Cycle
What Causes Cancer?
Tumor Biology
Viruses and Cancer
Environmental Factors
Detecting and Diagnosing Cancer
Traditional Treatments
Newer Treatments
Preventing Cancer
Screening, Genetic Tests, and Counseling

Unit Glossary

A term used to describe cancer cells that divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells.

Blood vessel formation. Tumor angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels from surrounding tissue to a solid tumor. This is caused by the release of chemicals by the tumor.

A normal series of events in a cell that leads to its death. Also called programmed cell death.
CA 125
A substance sometimes found in an increased amount in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues and that may suggest the presence of some types of cancer.
Chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy. Chemotherapy uses different drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells; immunotherapy uses treatments to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer.
Cyclin-dependent kinases
Proteins that transfer a phosphate from ATP to a number of proteins that control steps in the cell cycle.
Proteins that form complexes with cyclin-dependent kinases to control various steps in the cell cycle.
Cells that look abnormal under a microscope but are not cancerous.
An abnormal increase in the number of cells in an organ or tissue.
An altered form of a gene that normally directs cell growth. Oncogenes can promote or allow the uncontrolled growth of cancer. Alterations in a proto-oncogenes resulting in an oncogene can be inherited or caused by an environmental exposure to carcinogens.
Chemicals found in plants. Many of these chemicals are thought to reduce a person’s risk of getting cancer.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA)
A substance produced by the prostate that may be found in an increased amount in the blood of men who have prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia, or infection or inflammation of the prostate.
A gene that normally directs cell growth; if altered it may become an oncogene.
Treatment with a radioactive substance that is linked to an antibody that will attach to the tumor when injected into the body.
Signal transduction pathway
A series of events controlled by signal molecules that bind to membrane proteins which, in turn, activate cytoplasmic proteins that ultimately activate transcription factors.
An enzyme that replaces the repeat sequences at the ends of chromosomes that are lost during chromosome replication.
The ends of chromosomes containing repeat sequences; these ends are shortened each time the chromosome replicates.
Transcription factor
A protein that influences transcription of another gene by binding to DNA.

Unit Animations

  • How a Proto-oncogene Becomes an Oncogene
    A depiction of some types of mutations that can occur to turn a proto-oncogene into an oncogene.
    View Quicktime Movie
  • p53’s Role in the Cell
    Shows various roles that p53 plays in the cell to protect the genome of the organism.
    View Quicktime Movie
  • Telomeres
    Shows the concept of how the ends of chromosomes, the telomeres, shorten each time the cell divides.
    View Quicktime Movie
  • The Cell Cycle: Cyclins and Checkpoints
    A depiction of the cell cycle and role that cyclins play in the process; this animation also shows the role of checkpoints in regulating the cell cycle.
    View Quicktime Movie
  • The Signal Transduction Pathway
    A depiction of the signal transduction pathway that is involved with the growth process of the cell.
    View Quicktime Movie

Related Resources

Schneider, K. 2001. Counseling about cancer: Strategies for genetic counseling. 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Excellent information on the causes of cancer, genetic tests for predisposition to cancer, ethics, and genetic counseling.

Bahls, C. and M. Fogarty. 2002. Reining in a killer disease. The Scientist16[11]:16.
An outline of several approaches to controlling cancer.

Gibbs, W. Wayt. 2003. Untangling the roots of cancer. Scientific American, July, 57-65.
New evidence challenges old theories of how cancer develops.

Kling, Jim. 2003. Put the blame on methylation. The Scientist 16[12]:27-28.
Gene silencing by methylation rather than by gene mutation may create some cancer cells.

McCook, A. 2002. Lifting the screen. Scientific American, June, 16-17.
Developing protein “fingerprints” to screen for cancer.

Rayl, A.J.S. and Lewis, R. 2001. In cancer research, diet and exercise roles Strengthen. The Scientist 15[20]:17.
Evidence for the importance of lifestyle in preventing cancer.

Veggeberg, S. 2002. Fighting cancer with angiogenesis inhibitors. The Scientist 16[11]:41.
Discussion of a class of drugs that helps to prevent angiogenesis.

Wilson, J. F. 2001. A dual role for CDK inhibitors. The Scientist 16[6]:20.
Discusses approaches to cancer treatment using cells cycle inhibitors.

Wilson, J. F. 2002. Elucidating the DNA damage pathway. The Scientist16[2]:30.
How researchers have deciphered the role of DNA damage repair in cancer.

Series Directory

Rediscovering Biology: Molecular to Global Perspectives


Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-733-9