Teaching at EPFL

Introduction to oncology (BIO-392; Bachelor VI; 4 credits)

The course will provide a comprehensive overview of the biology of cancer, illustrating the mechanisms that corrupted cancer cells use to grow and disseminate at the expense of normal tissues. It will also discuss the development and application of anti-cancer therapies.

Teachers: Michele De Palma, Daniel Constam.


  • The hallmarks of cancer
  • Normal organs and tumors: notions of histopathology.
  • The biology of the cancer cells: sustained proliferative signals, evasion of growth suppression, resistance to apoptosis, and replicative immortality.
  • The causes and consequences of cancer: mutations and multi-step tumor progression.
  • DNA repair and genetic instability.
  • The tumor microenvironment: heterotypic interactions among cancer cells and the tumor-associated stroma.
  • Tumor angiogenesis: biology and therapeutic targeting.
  • Inflammation and cancer.
  • The role of the immune system in cancer evolution.
  • The biology of metastasis and metastasis-associated organ microenvironments.
  • Cancer biomarkers and classificators.
  • Druggable and non-druggable mutations, darwinian selection, and mechanisms of resistance.
  • Cancer therapies: an overview.
  • Targeted therapies: mechanisms and applications.
  • Immunotherapies.

Scientific project design in translational oncology (BIO-488; Master I/III; 5 credits)

The theme of the course is the role of inflammation in cancer. It focuses on the regulation and multifaceted functions of tumor-associated inflammatory cells, and how they promote or oppose cancer. The course will start with a short introduction by the teachers, who illustrate the focus of the course and the learning objectives. In the next classes the students will analyze, present and discuss research papers that have been agreed with the teachers. The final classes will be dedicated to the design of a project in translational oncology.

Teachers: Michele De Palma, Douglas Hanahan, Freddy Radtke.


Part I – Journal clubs

The students will work in small teams to develop an encyclopedia of the various inflammatory cell types and subtypes that have hallmark-promoting or antagonizing capabilities. Macrophages (i), neutrophils (ii), myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), T cells (iv) – or subsets thereof – will be defined and discussed with respect to their tumor-promoting or antagonizing functions. Each team will describe and discuss known strategies – genetic or pharmacological – to either kill the cell of interest or reprogram its functions in tumors, by presenting a relevant research paper. Each team is expected to present 2 or 3 times during the course.

Part II – Project design: Translation to cancer therapy

The teams design pre-clinical studies that can guide or incentivize clinical studies aimed at ablating or reprogramming a cell of interest in a suitable cancer type.