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Model organisms in cancer drug discovery and development


Admission requirements

A bachelor’s degree in Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences or other Life Sciences. Adequate knowledge of molecular biology and genetics at the level of a master’s student is expected.


Many genes involved in cancer initiation and progression in humans have functional counterparts in well-studied genetically tractable model organisms such as mice, flies and worms and even in simple organisms such as yeast and bacteria. Model organisms provide powerful tools to accelerate the discovery of cancer genes and pathways. In this course, expert speakers will discuss how information relevant for cancer research can be revealed in model organisms and advanced human model systems through functional genomic screens, via in-depth dissection of complex pathways in well-defined genetic systems, or by the generation of animal models for human cancer. We will discuss the relevance of model organisms for (i) discovery of cancer genes and drug targets, (ii) drug discovery and development, and (iii) the development of new technologies.

This course aims to give:

  • an overview of the different types of model organisms and their specific characteristics;

  • insight in technological advances in the use of model systems;

  • insight in how hallmarks of cancer can be studied in model systems;

  • insight in how novel drug targets in oncology can be discovered and validated;

  • an in-depth view of the value of model organisms for the development of novel anticancer drugs;

  • insight in how anticancer drug resistance can be studied in model systems;

  • insight in the clinical demand for studies in model systems.

Of note, the exact content of the expert lectures may change every year.

Course objectives

At the end of the course, the student is able to:

  • describe and explain the advantages and limitations of specific model organisms;

  • describe and explain the advantages and limitations of advanced cell culture systems;

  • describe and explain the generation and use of mouse models of cancer;

  • describe and explain functional genetic approaches for drug target discovery and validation;

  • describe and explain cancer therapy relevant hallmarks of cancer discussed in the lectures;

  • design experimental setups for the analysis of anticancer drug efficacy and resistance;

  • critically read scientific literature and reflect on experimental approaches, concepts and findings;

  • present a scientific research paper to peers.


This course is scheduled for semester 2, period 4.

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudymap will automatically be displayed in MyTimetable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go to the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

The detailed course schedule will be published on Brightspace course module.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, tutorials and self-tuition.

Assessment method

Assessment will be based on group assignments (30% in total) and an essay exam (70%). The group assignments consist of a written review (assignment 1, 10%), a presentation (assignment 2, 10%) and the preparation of questions (assignment 3, 10%) for different selected research papers and/or lectures.

For each individual exam, the grade is expressed either with pass or fail, or by using a decimal integer between 1.0 and 10.0 that should be ≥ 5.5. The final grade is expressed using an integer between 1 and 10 and can be rounded off/up to a half integer, with the exception of the grade 5.5. Final grades between 5.50 and 5.99 will be rounded up to 6.0. The final grade should be 6.0 to successfully complete this course.

The time and manner of the inspection and of the feedback session on the examination are specified in the Brightspace module of the course.

Reading list

Will be announced during the course.


Every student has to register for courses with the enrolment tool MyStudymap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to register for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. If you want to retake the exam of the course without following the lectures, you have to contact the coordinator of the course to see if this is possible (you would have passed the other assignments of the course in the earlier year).
Registration for your (resit) exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinator: Dr. R.J.P. Bouwman (e-mail:, tel.: 071 527 6105)


There is a limit of max. 40 students for this course. Placement is based on the registration date in MyStudymap.

This information is without prejudice. Alterations can be made for next year.