08 January 2020

Cancer Research Becomes Part of the Schedule for High School Students


Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Herlev Gentofte Hospital have teamed up with teachers from Roskilde High School to develop new teaching material on data analysis, cancer and precision medicine. The exercises should make it appealing for the young people to deal with biotechnology and statistics.

Picture of the online tool cBioPortal

In the cBioPortal database, students can search genetic data sets from major cancer studies around the world (Photo: BRIC)

Finding relevant patterns in huge data sets of genetic information may sound more like the task for a professor than an exercise in a high school class. But that is now changing.

This week, the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Copenhagen launches new teaching material for high school students. The material is based on large, real data sets regarding cancer and can be used in the subjects of mathematics and biotechnology, both at level A. It has been developed in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Pathology at Herlev Gentofte Hospital and high school teachers from Roskilde High School.

‘We want to inspire the students in biotechnology and mathematics and give them an impression of how exciting and complex the field of data analysis and cancer is and how many disciplines are at play. Therefore, it is important that professionals from both university, hospital and high school have been involved in the development. The material has already been tested at two schools, and the students have given it a good reception’, says Anne Rahbek-Damm, Project Manager for the teaching material at BRIC.

Dedicated Students
The new material consists of an e-book which the teachers can use in an interdisciplinary teaching course, combining mathematics and biotechnology. The e-book contains background material on cancer biology, precision medicine and statistics plus a series of exercises where the students will work with the online tool cBioPortal. There are also suggestions for supplementary reading material, practical exercises and study programme projects within the subject.

The material is based on the free online tool cBioPortal, developed by cancer researchers in the United States. Here, you can search anonymous patient data from large cancer studies around the world. Based on the background material, the students must try to find trends and links between, for example, genetic mutations and forms of treatment. And the teachers who have helped to develop the material believe that the students will benefit greatly.

‘We can see that our students are more motivated because the patient data are authentic and not something that is designed for teaching’, says Bjarke Hansen, teacher at Roskilde High School.

‘The students are much more dedicated when they are able to directly see how the academic knowledge can be put into play by experts at the university and hospital’, adds Ida Thingstrup, teacher at Roskilde High School.

Free Courses
On 7 January 2020, the educational material on data analysis and cancer will be published. The material is free of charge and over the next three years, the project team will offer workshops where teachers can be introduced to the material and the topic of data analysis and cancer. At BRIC, a keen interest is expected from the high schools:

‘The material stems from a course for high school teachers, which we offered in 2018. Here, we experienced a very large influx and had to expand several times. Therefore, we applied for funds to extend the course to include a larger, more comprehensive teaching material. And, fortunately, the Novo Nordisk Foundation chose to support the project with DKK 1.2 million’, says Anne Rahbek-Damm.

It is the goal that the material shall be used at 40-50 high schools across the country over the next three years.

See the entire material on the website ‘Dataanalyse og Kræft.


Anne Rahbek-Damm
+45 21288541