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Kirsten L. Hokeness
Associate Professor
Science and Technology Department
Bryant University
The Case of the Malfunctioning Neuron: When Cellular Processes Go Wrong

This flipped case study tells the story of Joyce, a biology student who notices the development of some unusual symptoms (foot slapping and slurred speech) in her mother. In an effort to understand the cause, Joyce views a documentary-style trigger video (created by the case author) that suggests to Joyce that her mom may in fact have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. The rest of the case walks Joyce through understanding how normal neurons compare to neurons in ALS patients and how that might affect muscle function. The case explores the link between genes, particularly SOD-1, to the formation of malformed proteins and its potential role in the development of ALS. The case concludes with a discussion of drug development and highlights the timeline and costs associated with drug discovery as Joyce becomes concerned about the lack of drugs in the pipeline for ALS, which her mother is ultimately diagnosed with. The case is appropriate for a number of classes including general biology, biotechnology, anatomy and physiology, upper level-cell biology, or any human health and disease-related course.