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Model organisms in cancer drug discovery and development


Admission requirements

Bachelor in Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences or other Life Sciences. Adequate knowledge of molecular 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. Together with advanced cell culture approaches, model organisms provide powerful tools to accelerate the discovery of cancer genes and pathways. In this course we will discuss how information relevant for cancer research can be revealed in model systems through functional genomic screens, via in-depth dissection of complex biological pathways, 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. To put the use of model systems into a clinical perspective, also advantages and limitations of patient studies will be discussed.

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.


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 the 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.

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.

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.

Reading list

Will be announced during the course.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment 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 both preregister and confirm your participation 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. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinators: Dr. R.J.P. Bouwman (e-mail:, tel.: 071 527 6105), Prof. dr. J.M.M. Jonkers (e-mail:, tel.: 020 512 2000).


There is a limit of max. 35 students for this course. Placement is based on the registration date.

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