New search

Karen M. Aguirre
Department of Biology
Coastal Carolina University
“All Sorts of People”: The Beginning of Vaccination in America

This historical case study is based upon events surrounding the deadly 1721 smallpox epidemic in Boston. It recounts the story of Cotton Mather, his slave Onesimus, and the physician Zabdiel Boylston. Urged by Mather, Dr. Boylston inoculated Bostonians against smallpox and then compared the death rate of those exposed to this early form of vaccination to the death rate of those who did not receive the treatment. The story is especially interesting not only because Boylston's work was arguably the very first clinical trial in the Americas and foreshadows how candidate vaccines are developed and tested today, but also because it involves the little-known contribution of an African slave, Onesimus, to the American story. The case illustrates how progress in science in the United States involved contributions from the wisdom and cultural practices of diverse places and from "all sorts of people." The case is suitable for high school AP biology classes, college-level biology courses for non-majors, or as material to supplement early lectures in an undergraduate immunology, microbiology, or epidemiology course.

A Simple Plan: E.L. Trudeau, the Rabbit Island Experiment, and Tuberculosis Treatment

This case study introduces students to Dr. E.L. Trudeau, who performed a seminal early experiment validating the germ theory of infection. Part I introduces Trudeau's Rabbit Island experiment, which is simple and easy for beginning or non-major students of biology or history of science to understand. Its results provided rational bases for the tuberculosis sanatorium movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. In Part I, students learn about tuberculosis and some of the rudiments of experimental design and graphic analysis.  Part II focuses on tuberculosis in its social context. Students explain a curve on a graph that shows the rise of tuberculosis mortality from the start of the industrial revolution and the great mass movement to the cities. The curve begins to abate as public sanitation and living conditions improve with the development of a middle class, and finally drops precipitously in the 1950s with the advent of effective anti-Mycobacterium tuberculosis antibiotics. Students also learn about the recent resurgence of tuberculosis with the AIDS epidemic, the emergence of drug-resistant strains, and the peculiar contribution of mass incarceration to the global crisis.  The case study was developed for non-major biology students; it could also be used with freshman biology majors as well as with history of science students.

Apple and Linguine: All About the Digestive System

This flipped case study is suited for general education undergraduate level biology. Students prepare ahead of time for class by viewing a video created by the authors that reviews the basics of nutrition and digestion; in class, students then engage in three activities to further explore aspects of the video's content using specific and concrete examples of diverse foods. During the first part of the case study, students learn information about balanced diets, nutrition and the digestive system. Students apply their knowledge on how food passes through the digestive tract, and how absorption and breakdown of nutrients occur by explaining and presenting the process based on assigned food items. Students are then asked to further apply their knowledge when presented with two scenarios ("mini-cases"), one involving gastric bypass surgery and the other the effects of cholera.

Michael's Story: A Case Study in Autism

This interdisciplinary case study introduces us to the Greens, a family with a recently diagnosed autistic child. Autism is one of several disorders grouped within the acronym ASD, or autism spectrum disorders. Autistic children have problems with communication (both verbal and nonverbal) and social interactions with parents, siblings, other children, teachers, etc. The “spectrum” in ASD refers in part to the range in autistic individuals of disability, from mild autism, which may appear as eccentric behavior, to severely disabling autism, which renders the individual unable to learn, socialize, or work in the world. In working through this case, students engage in a variety of activities to learn about the possible causative explanation for autism, its diagnosis, and treatment. A final activity is an optional writing exercise exploring the idea that there is intrinsic value in all persons' experiences, including those who are "different." Designed to interest general biology students as well as students of psychology and health studies, this case is particularly useful for introducing students to the tasks and concerns of several biomedical professionals.

The Unfortunate Nurse: A Case Study of Dengue Fever and Social Policy

Dengue (pronounced "deng-ee") is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, usually Aedes aegypti. It is common in tropical regions, especially Southeast Asia, India, South and Central America, and Mexico. There is concern that as tourism and modern travel shrink the planet to create a "global village," dengue could emerge as a major health problem and societal burden. This case study introduces students to "emerging pathogens" and other concepts in parasitology, immunology, epidemiology, and public policy by examining an actual incident in which dengue virus was transmitted by an accidental needlestick. Several activities are involved, including analysis of primary literature, in-class reading of scripted dialogue, creation of PowerPoint presentations, and design of short educational brochures on dengue. Students also learn about two modern techniques widely used in medical and research settings (i.e., EIA and Taqman RT-PCR). The case is suitable for general education biology, cell biology, microbiology, immunology, and science and public policy courses.