Three pictures joined together: Two girls studying in the Library (left), close up of a virus (centre), Talbot Hall at LMH (right)

About this course

It is widely believed that, with developments in hygiene, antibiotics and pain relief, modern medicine has conquered the major diseases of the past.  While this is true to some extent, recent experience has taught us not to be complacent.  Tuberculosis and malaria are examples of infectious diseases that still kill millions, and appear to have cunning ways of evading our attempts to eliminate them. Viruses continue to be a problem – antiviral drugs are few and expensive, and our best approach has been preventative via vaccines – but again viruses continue to mutate to escape our surveillance.  Week 1 deals with the recent SARS-Co2 epidemic, and the age-old problem of TB, contrasting the physiology of viruses and bacteria and methods of their detection and treatment.

Other diseases that have come to the fore more recently are sometimes termed diseases of affluence (or lifestyle diseases) – diabetes, obesity and atherosclerosis being uppermost amongst them.  These are more difficult to pin down, as they are driven by a combination of lifestyle factors, and impact on a variety of physiological systems.  About 20% of cancer deaths in the US can be linked to obesity, for example.  Week 2 will deal with our attempts to define and monitor, and ultimately treat the pathological effects of these diseases.

Finally, a major killer today is the group of diseases characterised by uncontrolled cell growth, going under the general heading of cancer.  Cancer is a challenge to the physician for two main reasons: (i) it is a moving target, as cancer cell growth is generally accompanied by cell defects that vary over time, and even over a single tissue, and (ii) it occurs due to abnormal growth of the body’s own cells, making it difficult to select unique features that can be targeted without killing the host (cf antibiotics).  Although genetic aspects of cancer have been widely studied, the contribution of metabolism and its dysregulation have only recently been appreciated. Week 3 will investigate genetic and metabolic changes that occur in cancer, how they are related to development of the disease, and how they might be targeted in developing treatments.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you will:

  • Learn about cutting-edge research conducted at Oxford University and elsewhere.
  • Gain practical experience in discussing and interpreting research papers.
  • Understand the processes involved in developing and testing drugs and vaccines.
  • Understand the role of medical ethics, and social inequalities in health outcomes.

Who is this course suitable for?

This course would suit students with a background in Medicine, Life Sciences, or related fields. There are no specific prerequisites but some university level experience of organic chemistry is recommended.

Teaching faculty

Prof David Harris DPhil is an Emeritus Fellow in Biochemistry at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford.

Dr Carol Lole-Harris is a Lecturer in Biochemistry and Medical Sciences at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, formerly a family doctor, and has a particular interest in medical ethics.

Dates and availability

Applications closed for 2022.

Get in touch

If you have any questions, or would like to know more, please email us at