The War of the 21st Century: The Cell Cycle, Cancer, and Clinical Trials

Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5 | Lesson 6 | Lesson 7

BCS GraphicCancer is a word that seems to exist in everyone’s vocabulary in the 21st century.  In this curriculum we strive to provide students with an opportunity to learn more about the mechanisms of cancer and help them to realize that even through all cancers are unique, all cancers are a result of mutations in the cell cycle.  The role of checkpoints in the cell cycle is often overlooked in the typical high school biology classsroom, so this unit was developed to expand on that particular content area and to utilize student-driven, inquiry style learning methods.  We also show students how translational medicine is leading the way to new, less invasive treatments for cancer patients through clinical trials.  Download the Full Curriculum

In the introduction to The War of the 21st Century you will find tips on using the curriculum, summaries of each lesson, a lesson sequencing guide, pertinent vocabulary, a standards alignment chart (Next Generation Sunshine State Standards), and general background information for the unit.

Introduction to The War of the 21st Century

Powerpoint on The War of the 21st Century Curriculum


Lesson 1 – Cancer Warriors: A Personal Story of Translational Medicine

scopeStudents will reflect upon their own knowledge and experiences with cancer by completing the Cancer: Truth or Myth survey and responding to three short journal prompts. Students will then screen the PBS video: Cancer Warrior, answering discussion questions at particular moments in the film to introduce clinical trials.  Finally, students will read the story of Barbara Bradfield from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer to hook student interest in cancer biology and translational medicine.

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Lesson 2 – Preparing for War: A History of Cancer

bookWorking in groups, students will read cancer fact cards and use text clues to sequence the events in the discovery and treatment of cancer. This lesson illustrates scientific discovery as a collaborative effort of many individuals building on prior knowledge and developing unique ideas to explore.

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Lesson 3 – Keeping it all in Check: The Life of a Cell in the Cell Cycle

cycleIn this teamwork activity small groups of students (3-5) will work together to label a blank cell cycle with three layers of “labeling cards.” Each layer of information will increase the complexity level from review, to use of context clues, to deductive reasoning in order to ultimately identify critical stages of the cell cycle and how they are controlled by gene cascades. Students will then explore the role of tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes in regulating the cell cycle.

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Lesson 4 – Losing Control: The Cell Cycle and Cancer

dnaStudents will use knowledge of the cell cycle, checkpoints and the types of genes controlling the checkpoints from Lesson Three to predict how mutations in both protooncogenes and tumor suppressor genes affect the cell cycle and cellular division to determine when cancer could develop. Students will complete a formative activity in which they randomly draw mutation types as a “cause” of cancer and determine the
effect on the individual.

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Lesson 5 – Going to War: Clinical Trials

mag glassStudents complete a webquest to learn about clinical trials as homework the night before the lesson. In class students will explore the relationships between patients, doctors, medical researchers, drug companies, and the IRB in a role-play as an individual with relapsed leukemia entering a clinical trial. Students will then perform a close read of a recent article on the effectiveness of clinical trials. As a final formative assessment students will practice designing their own clinical trials using a guided student worksheet.

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Lesson 6 – Fighting the Battle: Conducting a Clinical Assay

txIn this simulation assay students will perform a serial, log dilution of an anti-proliferation “drug” to determine the best dose to obtain a 50% death rate of cancer cells.  Students will prep their dilutions and plate the “cells” on the first day. After a 24 hour “incubation” a colorimetric reagent will be added to the plate and students will visually determine the best dose of drug. Students will also be given a data set of values from an actual IC50 experiment on KG1 cancer cells to analyze and finally design a follow up experiment based on the data.

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Lesson 7 – In the Situation Room: Fighting Cancer in the Future

clipboardUsing a reading guide, students work in groups to read a science article about some aspect of current cancer research and answer questions or write a summary of their article. Students then share their information during a whole class presentation. The articles are all about different types of experimental cancer treatment including drug treatments, vaccines and personalized medicine.

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