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Tonya Laakko Train
Assistant Professor
Biology Department
Elon University
Holes in the Matter: A Case of Prion Disease

This case centers on a fictional group of young adults who studied abroad together in Scotland as college students. A number of them develop disease symptoms and die a few years after the trip. The cause of death is determined to be a prion disease. Applying information from pre-reading assignments as well as from the case itself, students propose hypotheses as to which prion disease was the most likely cause of death and how it was acquired. In the final section of the case study, students are asked to imagine that this occurred on their campus and write an essay explaining the disease in the case study to a general audience and why they should or should not stay on campus. The case was designed for an upper-division undergraduate course in the biochemical basis of disease and is intended to introduce students to prions and the diseases caused by this infectious protein. It could also be used in undergraduate courses dealing with infectious disease, global health, physiology, or biochemistry.

Yvette's Brave Battle 

This case is based on the true story of a woman with choriocarcinoma, a rare type of rapidly dividing and metastatic cancer derived from cells of the placenta. The case begins with Yvette being admitted to a hospital due to neurological irregularities. Blood tests indicate that she is pregnant, but an ultrasound shows that she is not. Ultimately she learns that she has cancer that has metastasized to her liver, lungs, and brain. Since the cancer cells are derived from placental cells, they produce human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG), the hormone detected in traditional pregnancy tests. The case follows Yvette through chemotherapeutic and radiation treatments. Students learn about tumor formation and metastases as well as cancer treatment and the side-effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Originally designed for use in undergraduate biology, biochemistry, or pre-health courses to teach students about cancer cell biology, this case could also be used to introduce more advanced topics on cell cycle or endocrinology in upper-level courses with junior and senior science or pre-health students.