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Know Your Enemy: Biology Talk

A group of V Form’s budding Biology students attended the Let’s Talk About Health and Disease lecture, at Little France Campus – part of The University of Edinburgh’s BioQuarter. The talk was called Know your Enemy: Unlocking the Secrets of the Tumour Genome, and focussed on the causation of cancer, in addition to the ways in which oncologists treat this umbrella term. The talk was structured in two consecutive parts, with the first being presented by Colin Semple, a bioinformatician, and the second by Charlie Gourley, an oncologist.

In the first part, Semple explained how tumours develop in the body due to the uncontrolled growth of cells, and how it spreads to other areas via the blood stream. He then talked about the prevalence of cancer throughout history, showing an Ancient Egyptian Remedy for breast cancer, and a bone with an osteosarcoma belonging to a human relative who lived 1.6 to 1.8 million years ago. In more depth, Semple revisited what causes the development of tumours again, discussing the proliferation of cells, mutations, and the role of oncogenes and tumour suppressors in this process. Finally, he revealed that two tumours were almost never the same, but had similar characteristics allowing for general treatments.

Charlie Gourley then took the stage and discussed cancer from an oncological view. He used the analogy of baking a cake to explain protein production, with the nucleus being the library (containing a cookbook), DNA being the cookbook, ribosomes being a mixing bowl, amino acids being ingredients, and the protein produced being the cake. If there are too many or the wrong ingredients (amino acids) used to make a cake, then the cake itself would no longer taste nice, or the wrong proteins would be built, producing cancerous cells. He also described survival curves, clinical trial test results and how oncologists treat cancer using a combination of medication, chemotherapy, and surgery. Lastly, he focussed on ovarian cancer specifically, the genes responsible for the different types, and DNA repair pathways (as this concept can be exploited via medications to kill tumours).

Overall, the talk was extremely interesting and enlightening, as it discussed complex cell processes using simple analogies from a research and clinical perspective.