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Joseph DeMasi
Associate Professor of Biology
School of Arts and Sciences
MCPHS University
CAR T Immunotherapy: Engineering the Immune System to Fight Cancer

This directed case study was written to help students learn about an innovative cancer therapy that harnesses a patient's immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The critical insight underlying this therapy is to use a cancer patient's own immune cells to target and destroy cancer cells. The process involves the removal of T lymphocytes from a cancer patient's blood stream, which are then genetically engineered to express a novel cell surface protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). The approach is known as "CAR T cell therapy." Written as a conversation between a cancer patient and an oncologist, the case details the immunological protein components used to construct the CAR that permit the targeting of cancer cells and the activation of T cells. The case covers the cell biology, biochemistry, and immunology underlying CAR T cell therapies, and is appropriate for an upper-level undergraduate immunology course or a clinical course covering oncology, immunology, or therapeutics.

The Sound of DNA: Musical Gene Expression

The steps involved in transcription and translation can be difficult for students to comprehend. Relating popular culture references (such as song titles) to protein sequences can help students understand the conversion of DNA and RNA information to proteins. In this case study, music is used as an avenue for students to approach the processes of converting genetic sequence into protein sequence. Music is also used to highlight mutations in a sequence, as is the case with an example using Huntington disease. This directed case study is designed for a first-year introductory biology course or high school course that covers gene expression. Students should be familiar with some basic biochemistry (what amino acids and nucleotides are, what enzymes do, etc.) and the structure of open reading frames, codons, and basic knowledge of transcription and translation in preparation for this activity.