Course Catalog

Cancer Biology


Amato Giaccia, PhD

Program Administrator:
Grace Kolar

Department web site:

Faculty of Cancer Biology:

Cancer Biology:

The Cancer Biology Program at Stanford University is an interdisciplinary program leading to the Ph.D. degree. During the past three decades, understanding of cancer has increased with the discovery of oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, pathways of DNA damage and repair, chromatin remodeling, cell cycle regulation, angiogenesis and responses to hypoxia, and recent glimpses into the molecular basis of metastasis and cancer stem cell biology. In addition, methods of parallel analysis including gene expression arrays, protein arrays, and tissue arrays have begun to refine and redefine the taxonomy of cancer diagnosis. This explosion of basic and clinical science has resulted in the first successful cancer chemotherapies and immunotherapies based on the knowledge of specific molecular targets. Stanford presents a unique environment to pursue interdisciplinary cancer research because the schools of Medicine, Humanities and Sciences, and Engineering are located on a single campus

The goal of the Cancer Biology Ph.D. program is to provide students with education and training that enables them to make significant contributions to this field. Course work during the first year is designed to provide a broad understanding of the molecular, genetic, cell biological, and pathobiological aspects of cancer. Students also learn about the current state of the epidemiology, clinical diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of human cancers. Equally important during the first year is a series of three rotations in research laboratories chosen by each student. By the beginning of the second year, each student chooses a research adviser and begins work on the dissertation project. A qualifying examination must be completed by the end of the second year. An annual Cancer Biology conference at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California provides students with an opportunity to present their research to one another and to faculty. The expected time to degree is four to five years.

Students are not limited to a single department in choosing their research adviser. The Cancer Biology Ph.D. program currently has approximately 65 graduate students located in basic science and clinical departments throughout the School of Medicine and the School of Humanities and Sciences.


University requirements for the Ph.D. are described under the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin.

A small number of applicants are admitted to the program each year. Applicants should have completed an undergraduate major in the biological sciences; applicants with undergraduate majors in physics, chemistry, or mathematics may be admitted if they complete background training in biology during the first two years of study. During the first year, each student is required to complete a minimum of three, one quarter laboratory rotations. Students must choose a dissertation adviser prior to the end of Summer Quarter, first year, but not before the end of Spring Quarter, first year.

The requirements for the Ph.D. degree are as follows:

1. Training in biology equivalent to that of an undergraduate biology major at Stanford.

2. Completion of the following courses:

CBIO 241 Molecular, Cellular, and Genetic Basis of Cancer 5 units

CBIO 243 Principles of Cancer Systems Biology 3 units

BIO 214 Advanced Cell Biology 4 units

Select one of the following: CSB 210 Cell Signalling, GENE 211 Genomics, SBIO 241 Biological Macromolecules

CBIO 280 Cancer Biology Journal Club (required for first- and second-year graduate students in Autumn, Winter, and Spring quarters, totaling 6 units) 1 unit

MED 255 The Responsible Conduct of Research 1 unit

3. At least 6 units of additional cancer biology-related, graduate-level courses. Course work taken is determined in consultation with the student's adviser and/or the Program Director.

4. Presentation of research results at the annual Cancer Biology Conference on at least three occasions, at least one being an oral presentation.

5. Completion of a qualifying examination in Cancer Biology is required for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. The exam consists of an NIH-style written grant proposal not to exceed ten pages (excluding references), and an oral examination. The examining committee consists of three faculty members from the Cancer Biology Program and does not include the student's dissertation adviser. The composition of this committee is chosen by the student and dissertation adviser and must be submitted to and approved by the program director prior to the end of Autumn Quarter, second year. The qualifying examination must be taken prior to the end of Spring Quarter, second year. If necessary, one retake is permitted prior to the end of Summer Quarter, second year. After the qualifying examination has been completed, the student is required to form a dissertation reading committee that includes the student's adviser and three other members of the Academic Council with appropriate expertise. Each student is required to arrange annual meetings (more frequently, if necessary) of the dissertation reading committee, at which time oral presentations of progress during the past year and a plan of study for the coming year are presented and discussed. Completion of each annual committee meeting must be communicated in writing to the program director by the adviser by the end of Spring Quarter each year.

The major accomplishment of each successful Ph.D. student is the presentation of a written dissertation resulting from independent investigation that contributes to knowledge in the area of cancer biology. An oral examination is also required for the Ph.D. degree. In the Cancer Biology Program, a public seminar (one hour) is presented by the Ph.D. candidate, followed by a closed-door oral examination. The oral examination committee consists of at least four examiners (the members of the doctoral dissertation reading committee) and a chair. The oral examination chair may not have a full or joint appointment in the adviser's or student's home department. However, a courtesy appointment does not affect eligibility. The oral examination chair may be from the same department as any other member(s) of the examination committee. All members of the oral examination committee are normally members of the Academic Council, as the oral examination chair must be. With the prior approval of the program director or school dean, one of the examiners may be a person who is not a member of the Academic Council if that individual contributes expertise not otherwise available. Official responsibility for selecting the oral examination chair rests with the program. Cancer Biology delegates this to the student and dissertation adviser.


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