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Michèle I. Shuster
Associate Professor
mshuster@nmsu.edu
Department of Biology
New Mexico State University
Breast Cancer Risk: Using Real Medical Histories to Rank Genetic and Environmental Influences

This case study takes a combined directed and discussion approach to explore risk factors for breast cancer. After a preparatory reading assignment, students assess various medical histories derived from actual women with breast cancer and rank their overall risk for breast cancer and make recommendations for risk reduction. The task is complicated by the different and often combined sources of risk (e.g., reproductive history, hormone replacement therapy and family history). Originally written for an introductory biology course, the case study could easily be adapted for upper division curses in genetics, physiology, or biochemistry to explore the biological and biochemical basis underlying various risk factors.


Eating Himself to Death: Leptin Signaling Gone Wrong

This case study was developed for an introductory biology course with the goal of integrating content (specifically, structure/function, signaling pathways, and homeostasis) while reinforcing general critical thinking skills and the scientific method (generating hypotheses, evaluating evidence, and making predictions). The case is suitable for a flipped classroom and there are several videos associated with it. The case revolves around an obese two-and-a-half-year-old boy who won't stop eating. Students become familiar with some basic concepts related to obesity and leptin signaling through the videos that they watch before class. They then use class time to work through the case (delivered as an interactive slide show, including several clicker questions) to determine the genetic basis for this child's obesity and possible therapies to manage his weight. The case could also be adapted and expanded to be used in a physiology course to explore the interaction of various hormones that regulate appetite and metabolic rate or in a cell biology class to explore JAK-STAT signaling.


MRSA in the NICU: Outbreak or Coincidence?

DNA sequencing and analysis (bioinformatics) is an increasingly important tool for understanding biological data, including medical data. In this case study, students will be exposed to DNA sequencing to quickly identify how an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus spreads through a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This PowerPoint-driven case is based on an actual outbreak described in the New England Journal of Medicine and students will use the actual DNA sequences from the outbreak that were used by scientists. A handout (Supplemental Materials) provides background and instructions that guide students in how to create and read a phylogenetic tree and use to it identify which organisms are part of the outbreak and which are independent MRSA infections. They will then use this data to assess the containment strategies used at the hospital during the outbreak. Students will learn how DNA sequencing can inform epidemiology to identify outbreak cases, track trajectories of the spreading disease, and quickly put containment measures into place. This case study is especially suited for high school and introductory undergraduate biology classes.


Murder by HIV? Grades 5-8 Edition 

This case study gives students an opportunity to draw a conclusion about an actual crime that was prosecuted in Louisiana. A physician was accused of intentionally infecting his ex-girlfriend with HIV-tainted blood drawn from a patient in his practice.  The scientific investigation uses bioinformatics tools and relies on the ability to interpret phylogenetic trees.  Students develop hypotheses about the crime, then use sequences and online tools to generate a phylogenetic tree to test the hypotheses and render a verdict.  The authors have designed and implemented three parallel cases - one for Grades 5-8, one for Grades 9-12, and one for upper-division undergraduates, specifically for a course in molecular evolution.  This is the Grades 5-8 version.


Murder by HIV? Grades 9-12 Edition 

This case study gives students an opportunity to draw a conclusion about an actual crime that was prosecuted in Louisiana. A physician was accused of intentionally infecting his ex-girlfriend with HIV-tainted blood drawn from a patient in his practice.  The scientific investigation uses bioinformatics tools and relies on the ability to interpret phylogenetic trees.  Students develop hypotheses about the crime, then use sequences and online tools to generate a phylogenetic tree to test the hypotheses and render a verdict.  The authors have designed and implemented three parallel cases - one for Grades 5-8, one for Grades 9-12, and one for upper-division undergraduates, specifically for a course in molecular evolution.  This is the Grades 9-12 version.


Murder by HIV? Undergraduate Edition 

This case study gives students an opportunity to draw a conclusion about an actual crime that was prosecuted in Louisiana. A physician was accused of intentionally infecting his ex-girlfriend with HIV-tainted blood drawn from a patient in his practice.  The scientific investigation uses bioinformatics tools and relies on the ability to interpret phylogenetic trees.  Students develop hypotheses about the crime, then use sequences and online tools to generate a phylogenetic tree to test the hypotheses and render a verdict.  The authors have designed and implemented three parallel cases - one for Grades 5-8, one for Grades 9-12, and one for upper-division undergraduates, specifically for a course in molecular evolution.  This is the undergraduate version.


Protein Targeting Gone Awry: The Importance of Proper Localization

This case study synthesizes students' knowledge of the central dogma and cell structure by examining a rare health disorder in order to understand protein targeting and its medical consequences. Students first identify the molecular alteration in affected members of a family with renal Fanconi syndrome as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (2014). Students then use an online bioinformatics tool to analyze the wildtype and mutant proteins and examine their subcellular localization. Finally, students use this information to explain the symptoms of affected family members. The case is delivered with a PowerPoint presentation that includes a selection of brainstorming prompts and "clicker questions." Students complete a worksheet (included in the teaching notes) before class, making the activity suitable for a flipped classroom. A second worksheet (also included in the teaching notes) is completed during class. The case is written for an introductory biology course for majors, but could also be used as a unit capstone in a non-majors human biology course; the case is also scalable to upper division courses in physiology that specifically explore kidney function.