Death Becomes Us
Apoptosis and Carcinogenesis
Department of Biology
University of the Virgin Islands
This interrupted case study reviews the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and how it may be used in the treatment of cancer. The case narrative follows "Derek," a college student who travels to Philadelphia for a summer internship at a biotech company. During his internship, Derek learns about apoptosis, the types of cellular pathways involved, and the various components in those pathways. Students are asked to think critically and apply information learned in the case study to answer questions and create hypotheses. The questions are suitable for upper-level undergraduate students in cellular or molecular biology. Before attempting the case, students should have a basic understanding of cell/molecular biology and the cell division/cell cycle. A PowerPoint presentation containing the crucial figures from the case study handout is included so that instructors can project these visuals in the classroom as needed to guide student understanding and discussion.
- Define cancer.
- Describe the difference between malignant and benign tumors.
- Describe the difference between necrosis and apoptosis.
- Describe the two major classes of apoptotic caspase, initiator caspase and executioner caspase, and their functions.
- Explain the extrinsic and intrinsic pathways.
- Describe the executioner phase of apoptosis and the morphology of an apoptotic cell.
- Explain how these pathways are regulated by c-FLIP, Bcl2 family proteins and IAPs.
- Explain how defects to the apoptotic mechanisms can possibly lead to cancer.
- Hypothesize how targeting defects to the apoptotic mechanisms can possibly lead to treatments for cancer.
KeywordsApoptosis; programmed cell death; cancer; caspase; Bcl2;
Educational LevelUndergraduate upper division, Graduate
Type / MethodsInterrupted
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Cell Biology | Microbiology | Molecular Biology |
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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.
The PowerPoint presentation below contains the figures in the case study handout; instructors can project these visuals in class to guide student understanding and discussion.
apoptosis.pptx (~340 KB)
Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
- Animated Introduction to Cancer Biology
This animation/video teaches the basics of how cancer forms and spreads. Running time: 12:07. Produced by CancerQuest, 2003.
- Cancer and the Cell Cycle
These four brief videos, each less than a minute in duration, use historical reenactments to review some of the factors that can cause cancer. Produced by Cell Biology and Cancer, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, 1999.
- Cell Cycle Animations
The first animation on this page reviews the basics of how cancer forms and spreads. Running time: 1:11 min. Produced by Cell Biology and Cancer, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, 1999.