Cancer Biology


Contact: Prof. Dr. Massimo Lopes




The program involves leading experts in various aspects of Cancer Biology, ranging from basic research on genome stability and epigenetics, to cancer animal models and molecular investigations on the onset and therapy of specific cancers in a clinical setting. Laboratories hosting master students belong to three faculties (Faculty of Science, Faculty of Medicine and Vetsuisse Faculty) and are distributed in various Institutes at the Irchel Campus, at the Children’s Hospital and at the University Hospital Zurich. The program operates in close exchange with the programs in Molecular Life Sciences, Immunology and Biomedicine.

Cancer is a leading cause of human death and comprises a broad group of diseases involving unregulated cell growth in various organs. The causes of cancer are diverse and only partially understood, representing a complex biological question that requires a multidisciplinary, "holistic" approach. Similarly to cancer etiology, both early diagnosis and effective therapy of most cancers await identification of specific biomarkers and molecular targets, differentiating cancer cells from normal cells in different tissues. As a consequence, the improvement of therapeutic regimens for different cancers strictly depends on deep mechanistic understanding from the earliest molecular events underlying cancer onset to its later stages of progression and invasion. Improving our mechanistic understanding of cancer and potentiating our therapeutic portfolio will thus require training of a new generation of cancer biologists, capable of orienting clinical researchers towards new diagnostic and therapeutic tools, based on mechanistic insight and unbiased molecular investigations.

Students choosing this Master program are interested in understanding basic molecular pathways that regulate genome instability events underlying cellular transformation, crucial characteristics of cancer initiating cells, their interaction with tumor microenvironment and their molecular characteristics that offer therapeutic opportunities. Each student attends a selected subset of interactive lectures, addressing different aspects of basic cancer research, and focusing on specific cancer types to deduce general concepts in cancer onset and therapy. Choosing among a diversified set of block courses, students learn how to grow cancer cells and/or analyze tumor‐relevant samples, applying a broad range of molecular tools, spanning from in‐silico approaches to in‐vitro biochemistry, single‐molecule analysis, in‐vivo immunostainings, analysis of tissue microenvironments and therapeutic responses in animal cancer models. In doing so, they will be confronted with the analysis and interpretation of the data in the light of molecular, cell biological and medical relevance. In addition, students will use chemical and genetic perturbations to modulate onset and therapy of specific cancers. By the end of the program, each student is expected to have developed a solid foundation leading to a mechanistic understanding of cancer at the molecular level, and is capable of addressing new biological questions inherent to the onset or therapy of specific cancer types.

Students must acquire a minimum of 4 ECTS from the courses below. However, students interested in joining this Master Program are strongly encouraged to collect as many ECTS as possible from these courses and to attend some of these courses already during the BSc program.

Spring Semester
BIO 244 Signal transduction and cancer (6 ECTS)
BIO 338 Introduction to Scientific Writing (0 ECTS, one day in September or February) is mandatory for all Biology Master’s students. The module should be taken before writing the Master’s Thesis.
BIO 433 Biology of Cancer Treatment: Old and Novel Therapeutic Approaches, (2 ECTS)

Fall Semester
BIO 242 Translational Cancer Research: new technologies, mouse modela and clinical approaches (2 ECTS)
BIO 251 Cancer and the Immune System (1 ECTS)
BIO 257 DNA metabolism and cancer (2 ECTS)


ADDITIONAL 4 ECTS can be acquired from any UZH / ETHZ modules. However, choice is recommended from this additional list of modules, which cover important aspects of cancer research or transferable skills:

Fall Semester
BIO 332
Cell Cycle and Cell Proliferation (2 ECTS)
BIO 243 Beyond central dogma: epigenetics, non-coding RNA, protein post-translational modifications and human disease (2 ECTS)


During the Master’s program, a minimum of 12 ECTS have to be acquired from two of the block courses listed below. The final choice of modules will be defined in agreement with the Master coordinator to ensure each student has the opportunity to gain both the theoretical background and practical skills necessary to reach the learning outcomes of the program. Those modules in the list that have been successfully completed during the BSc program will also influence the final choice:

Spring Semester
BIO 247 Cellular Response to Genotoxic Stress (6 ECTS)
BIO 431 Cell Death, Inflammation and Immunity (6 ECTS)
BME 328 Prostate Cancer: from bench to bedside (6 ECTS)

Fall Semester
BIO 230 Cancer Stem/Propagating Cells and their Microenvironment (6 ECTS)
BIO 246 Genome Instability and Molecular Cancer Research (6 ECTS)
BIO 255 Epigenetics and Cancer (6 ECTS)
BIO 258 Cancer Immunotherapy Research (6 ETCS)
BIO 319 Targeting Cancer Cell Motility and Invasiveness (6 ECTS)
BIOE 1513 Cancer Cell Signaling: Mechanisms, Targets and Therapeutic Approaches

Master’s thesis in Cancer Biology: Module BIO 516.

General instructions - Final Exams BIO520/BIO516 (PDF, 85 KB)



Additional groups are possible upon request, providing there is direct significant contribution to teaching activities in block courses within the Master’s program.