Life-long learning; courses in cancer research

The Department of Oncology recently offered two very successful public opportunities for part-time study in conjunction with the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education. 

In April, the Department’s Public Engagement Manager, Dr Martin Christlieb and a team of researchers and clinical trials specialists from Oxford were joined by 18 students from across Thames Valley and beyond for a series of ten weekly evening classes. The course, ‘Cancer: An Introduction to Research in Oncology’, was hosted in Ewert House, Summertown. 

The course began with a brief guide to scientific literature and doing your own research before focusing on the history of cancer and the evolution of treatments.  Throughout history humans have faced cancer and the pattern that has emerged is one where the nature of the enemy is not properly understood. With this in mind the course painted a 21st century picture of the disease and how it works. Armed with this knowledge, the students were ready to understand the importance of gathering a molecular signature of each patient’s disease and tackle the challenges of biomarkers and functional imaging. 

The knowledge we have today about cancer can be put to use in preventing and treating the disease. Martin presented some new ideas from the treatment world, concentrating on the Department’s speciality, radiotherapy. The class also explored prevention and detection and looked at screening and epidemiology. 

While all of these ideas are exciting, it is important to have evidence that they bring real benefit. The class was, therefore, introduced to how to run a clinical trial and how to get the ethics right.  Finally, the students visited the labs on the Old Road Campus to see for themselves how research is done.

One of the course participants commented, “The teacher was extremely enthusiastic about his subject. It was nice the course covered both what I specifically wanted and also a tour of the cancer research labs on the last day. The visiting lecturers were also very good. […] Course administration by the weekly programme office was excellent […]”    

In June, Martin ran a one-day condensed course, ‘What’s New in Cancer Research’, focused on cancer biology, radiotherapy and trials. A further 18 students joined him at Rewley House in Oxford for a full day of learning.

Martin said: “It’s an amazing opportunity to spend so much time with an audience. Often public conversations about science are over in a few minutes, so it was a real privilege to spend many hours with a group. We’ve enjoyed delivering our courses, and it seems our students have too. The feedback has been touching”.

If you missed either of these courses, there will be further opportunities to learn more about this fascinating subject. The next weekly course ‘Cancer: An Introduction to Research in Oncology’ will start in Reading in January 2016 and there will be a clinical trials workshop ‘Clinical Trials: I have a great idea, but does it work?’ in Oxford on 30 January 2016.  

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