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Philip J. Stephens
Professor
phil.stephens@villanova.edu
Department of Biology
Villanova University
A Pain in the Gut: A Case Study in Gastric Physiology

This interrupted case study in gastric physiology follows the story of Frank, a businessman under a lot of stress who has a car accident while driving home from work one night. Frank has low blood insulin levels and high blood sugar levels that his doctor believes may have contributed to the blurred vision he experienced immediately before the car crash. Frank subsequently develops stomach problems and is found to have high levels of bile in his blood. Students identify and interpret physical signs, symptoms, and medical data as they try to solve the connection between these complaints to formulate a diagnosis. The case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course as well as a general biology course.


Anyone Who Had a Heart: A Case Study in Physiology

After undergoing a fertility procedure, a 37-year-old woman and her husband are expecting twins. The delivery goes smoothly, but it soon becomes apparent that, while the baby boy appears normal, the baby girl has a heart problem and is cyanotic. In this interrupted case study, students diagnose the problem based on the babies’ signs and symptoms as well as on their knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the heart and the changes that occur in the heart after birth. The case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in a freshman general biology course or in an anatomy and physiology course.


Driving Can Be Dangerous to Your Health: An Interrupted Case Study in Physiology

In this interrupted case study, students read about an older woman named Barbara who becomes ill after driving with her husband 19 hours from Florida to visit their son’s family. Barbara experiences an asthma attack and then more serious breathing problems, which result in her admission to the hospital. Students are presented with a variety of signs, symptoms, and medical data relating to Barbara’s health, which they must interpret to solve this case in circulatory and respiratory physiology. Developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors, it could also be used in a human anatomy and physiology course as well as a course in general biology.


Facing the Pain: An Interrupted Case Study in Physiology

This interrupted case study in cardiovascular and nerve physiology focuses on Lynn, a married woman with a young child whose husband is often away from home traveling on business. Lynn is anxious and short-tempered. She is also overweight and appears frustrated with her life. Recently, she has been experiencing intense pain on the right side of her face. One day she becomes disoriented while driving and crashes into a tree. Students research and analyze a variety of signs, symptoms, and medical data to solve the case. Developed for an animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors, the case could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course or general biology course.


Fluid in the Ear: An Interrupted Case in Auditory Physiology

This interrupted case study follows the progress of Julius, a singer in a rock band who suffers from severe headaches and pressure in his ears. While visiting his doctor he loses his balance and hits his head as he collapses to the floor. Julius recovers enough to realize that he has lost his hearing and is then taken to the hospital. The story is further developed in order to guide students in exploring the anatomy of the inner ear, the roles of perilymph and endolymph, and the effect of Meniere's disease on the ability to hear. The case has been used in one-semester courses in animal physiology and neurobiology, but could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course. The case is best delivered when covering the topics of hearing and balance, and could easily be expanded to review membrane potentials, action potentials, concentration gradients, types of channels, influence of blood pressure on filtration/reabsorption dynamics at capillaries, etc.


How Do Scallops Swim? 

Scallops are bivalve mollusks that live on the seabed. This way of life makes them susceptible to predation and so they have evolved the ability to escape by swimming. This interrupted case study is based on a few observations and simple experiments which provide an opportunity in turn for students to develop their own hypotheses and experiments. Students will draw parallels between the vertebrate patella tendon reflex and the system that controls the rhythmic muscle contractions seen during scallop swimming. The case was designed for a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors; it could also be used in a general biology course.


It's Like Pulling Teeth: A Case Study in Physiology

In this interrupted case study, a middle-aged man is having his wisdom teeth surgically removed. He decides to have a general anesthetic, but is unaware of the reaction he will have to halothane. His skeletal muscles go rigid and his body temperature rapidly increases. Students use their knowledge of nerve, synaptic, and muscle function to complete flow diagrams, and consider how each step in the flow diagram could produce maintained muscle contraction. The case is used in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in a freshman general biology course or in an anatomy and physiology course.


I've Fallen Over and I Can't Get Up 

Greg Myron is playing the last football game of his career as the high school’s star running back. As the clock counts down the final seconds, Greg rushes 70 yards down field until he is tackled out of bounds. When the kicking team comes out to try for the winning field goal, Greg remains motionless on the ground. Students must differentiate between head trauma and fainting as they work their way through this interrupted case study, which is complicated by Greg’s medical history. Students use their knowledge of the control of blood pressure by the autonomic nervous system to determine what is wrong with Greg. This case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors; it could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course.


Keeping up with the Joneses: A Case Study in Human Physiology

This interrupted case study in cardiovascular physiology focuses on Suzie, a determined young woman who is training hard for the upcoming figure skating season. But family dynamics combined with high aspirations of competing in the Olympic Games have negative consequences for her health. Students are presented with a variety of signs, symptoms, and medical data as well as a series of guided questions to research. The case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course or general biology course.


Lee Family Problems: The Yin and Yang of Membrane Physiology 

This interrupted case study follows "Elaina Lee" and her family through a series of medical mishaps. Elaina suffers a reaction to an overdose of an herbal remedy prescribed to her while studying abroad in Africa. Upon returning home, she feels unwell and has a mild seizure. Her brother, who stays with her overnight in the hospital, awakens to find that he cannot move his legs. The common thread between these two patients is an abnormal level of potassium in the extracellular fluid (hypokalemia and hyperkalemia). Students are given signs, symptoms, and medical data. The goal is to construct links between extracellular potassium concentration, resting membrane potential, and action potential activity while also considering the effect of various hormones on Na/K-ATPase pump activity. Originally developed for a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors, this case study could also be used in general biology if the Nernst equation, used to calculate the equilibrium potential for potassium, is covered in this course.


Running Off Track: A Case Study in Renal Physiology

This interrupted case study follows the course of Cara, a high school athlete training for the state championships in cross country. She suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome and her prescribed medication (spironolactone) greatly diminishes the action of aldosterone on the distal tubule and the collecting duct of kidney nephrons.  During practice her symptoms of dehydration are complicated by her medication with the result that her extracellular levels of sodium and potassium become imbalanced. As Cara's story develops, students will need to learn and explain the mechanism of aldosterone action on the kidney and her symptoms in terms of ion imbalance and membrane depolarization. This case study was written for use in a one-semester animal physiology course, which is taken by junior and senior science majors; it could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course that covers membrane potentials and the role of aldosterone in ion balance and kidney function.


Taking It on the Chin: A Case Study on the Nervous System

In this interrupted case study, students follow the story of Mr. Gower, who must have a root canal. All goes well at the dentist's, but that night Mr. Gower feels tired and light headed. In the morning, his jaw is stiff and he has no appetite. Over the next several days, his health continues to deteriorate. The case presents information describing Mr. Gower’s problems and symptoms, which the students analyze to determine what is wrong. The case was developed for use in an animal physiology course that is taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course.


The Ice Hockey Injury: A Case Study in Physiology

The high school ice hockey team is playing the last of three games in one day. The game gets rough and Rick, the star player, is slammed against the boards. Injured, he has to be  escorted from the ice. This interrupted case study follows Ricks health as it deteriorates over the next few hours. Students are presented with Rick’s symptoms and use their knowledge of anatomy and physiology to diagnose the problem. The case was developed for a one-semester animal physiology course taken mostly by sophomore and junior biology or general science majors. It could also be used in a freshman general biology course, anatomy and physiology course, or human physiology course for non-science majors.


The Soccer Mom: A Case Study on the Nervous System

Phyllis Jackson has fainted on the soccer field. She thinks she is just dehydrated, but her husband is worried. He has noticed that she has been having difficulty concentrating at work and is forgetful at times at home. At his suggestion, Phyllis goes to the doctor, where a series of tests reveal that she is suffering from a neurological disorder. In this interrupted case study, students are presented with Phyllis’s signs and symptoms, which they must interpret in order to diagnosis her problem. The case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course or in a freshman general biology course.


The Soccer Mom: Hebrew Translation 

In this case study, translated from the original English into Hebrew, students read and interpret the signs and symptoms of a woman suffering from a neurological disorder and make a diagnosis. The case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It also could be used in an anatomy and physiology course or in a freshman general biology course.


The Tired Swimmer: A Case Study on the Nervous System

Annie is on a college swimming scholarship. Recently she has been feeling tired and her times have been getting slower. She has also noticed that her vision is often blurred. Concerned, she goes to see her doctor over the mid-term break and is referred to a neurologist, who finds that Annie is suffering from something more than just fatigue. This interrupted case study takes students through a series of stages that describe Annie's problems and symptoms. Students use their knowledge of nerve and muscle physiology to fit the pieces together and determine what is wrong with Annie. The case was developed for use in a one-semester animal physiology course that is taken by sophomore and junior science majors. It could also be used in an anatomy and physiology course.


When Jenn Lost Her Nerve: A Closer Look at Chemical Synapses

In many physiology classes the frog neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is presented as the classic example of a chemical synapse, but many synapses show properties that are different. For example, in many chemical synapses there is a protein transporter in the presynaptic membrane that is responsible for the uptake of liberated neurotransmitter from the synaptic cleft. Certain drugs can interfere with the function of these transporters and therefore can change the level of neurotransmitter in the cleft. This interrupted case study tells the story of one student who takes a prescription drug to control depression and a second student who takes amphetamines to act as a stimulant and maintain his ability to concentrate. The two drugs affect the pre-synaptic reuptake transporter for different neurotransmitters. This case was written for a one-semester animal physiology course taken by sophomore and junior science majors; it could also be used in a general biology course that covers the function of chemical synapses.