Focus area ONCOLOGY

Oncology is a focus area in Medical Life Sciences for several reasons.

Cancer is still one of the biggest health threats globally. It has many faces, many causes, affects many people and progresses in many different ways.  At the same time, the most common therapeutical approaches such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy mostly fail to cure cancer at advanced stages.

New diagnostic tools and levels of precision at all treatment steps have increased therapy success significantly, but aggressive cancer types, drug resistance and increasing incidence worldwide are challenging oncologists every day anew. Bringing case numbers down will be difficult:

  • The world population and life expectancy have increased significantly during the last 50 years. The risk to develop cancer grows with age.
  • In most parts of the world, traditional life styles make way for a “westernised” life style with decreasing physical activity, increasing obesity and an unhealthy diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and trans-fatty acids, among other things. A westernised life style comprises several risk factors for cancer.
  • In most parts of the world, industrial production and industrial agriculture increase as does fossil-fuel powered traffic, leading to an increased pollutant load of the environment. Many different varieties of environmental pollutants are implicated as risk factors for carcinogenesis.
  • Westernised life style and environmental health risks may even cause epigenetic changes in individuals exposed to those factors, rendering not only those individuals but their offspring vulnerable to certain types of cancer.

The WHO statistics for global cancer prevalence accordingly document a rise in case numbers worldwide.

cancer_cellsBut oncologists have accepted the challenge and tackle cancer from various angles delving into the molecular biology of cancer cells, into genetic factors that may increase susceptibility to certain cancer types, into the host microenvironment and immune system to overcome the defense and survival strategies that make cancer cells so efficient. They work together with evolutionary biologists to shed more light on the co-evolution of humans and cancer to find new strategies for preventing cancer or keeping it at bay.

Advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment are being made: The development of a vaccine against cervical cancer caused by a virus is one important milestone. Immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors and application of “customized” T-cells is the most current advance in oncology. Those therapy options have recently been developed and are still being refined to be effective in more patients and for more cancer types. They enable the body’s immune system to function again, to detect cancer cells and destroy them. Side effects are much fewer than those encountered under radio- and chemotherapy.

Studying ONCOLOGY within Medical Life Sciences is a good idea:

  • Oncological researchers come from many disciplines, work together with highly specialized medical departments of the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein and cooperate with many partners in national and international research consortia.
  • As a student, your lecturers introduce you to many different aspects of oncology which you discuss in seminars with oncologists; you are integrated into real-life research projects in your lab practicals and do an experimental Master’s thesis in a lab of your choice.
  • You can witness cooperation in research first-hand: The Kiel Oncology Network unites dedicated oncological researchers across clinical departments and research institutes, with workshops, projects and regular seminars.
  • The Comprehensive Cancer Center North is the clinical institution that takes care of patients and stands central in putting research findings into practice for the benefit of cancer patients.
  • Different oncological biobanks organized in the biobanking network P2N comprise a multitude of blood and tissue samples along with clinical data allowing high-end translational research.
  • Kiel oncologists are part of the Cluster of Excellence Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation and the Kiel Life Sciences network, which looks at the connections between health and environment across faculty borders at Kiel University. That means you can pick and choose from a wide range of specific topics and labs for your practicals and thesis work in Oncology.
  • The Oncological Lab carries out a range of tumour research in cell biology and genetics to help advance diagnostics and therapy. The website provides more information in German (and you will receive a lot of guidance in English during your studies, needless to say).