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Sheri L. Boyce
Department of Biological Sciences
Messiah College
A Grumpy Old Man: Hypercalcemia and the Parathyroid Glands

This directed case study tells the story of an 84-year-old man who has been brought to the ER for treatment of a badly broken wrist. Routine bloodwork reveals his calcium levels are abnormal, which prompts more tests. The results, together with his behavior and medical history, indicate that his fracture might be due to an endocrine disorder and not simply the result of a fall. Students will investigate which component of the endocrine system is involved, and how his calcium levels are the result of gland dysfunction. They are also asked to draw on their understanding of negative feedback control to predict if hormone secretion is abnormally elevated or decreased. Finally, students consider how a disruption in calcium homeostasis results in the patient's signs and symptoms. The case was written for a two-semester anatomy and physiology course taken by nursing, nutrition, athletic training, and other allied health majors in their first or second year. Alternatively, it could be adapted for use in a high school anatomy and physiology course, or an upper-level physiology or pathophysiology course.

Escape from Planet Soma: Mastering the Physiological Principles of Neuronal Signaling

In this case, students assume the role of a fictitious space explorer captured by aliens. To win their release, they must correctly explain the neurophysiology underlying some of the punishments used by the aliens to deter attempts at escape. The purpose of the case is two-fold. First, it strengthens students' understanding of ion channel function to the point where they are able to make predictions about the ability of the cell to generate an action potential if the activity of a particular ion channel is altered. Second, students are encouraged to place neuronal signaling in a larger context by hypothesizing how altered activity in a specified region or division of the nervous system will be manifested in physical symptoms. While written for a two-semester anatomy and physiology course, this case would also be useful in an undergraduate physiology or neuroscience course or in any course in which students must gain an understanding of foundational neurophysiology.

It's Just Stress, Right?: A Case Study on the Endocrine System

Ellie is a struggling college student on the brink of failing her physiology course; not surprisingly, she exhibits many classic signs of stress. However, a visit to the health clinic reveals that she may be suffering from more than just stress. In this interrupted case, students first read about Ellie’s signs and symptoms and use a series of guided questions to make predictions about her test results and diagnosis. After Ellie receives her diagnosis, students must then explain the test results based on their knowledge of the function and regulation of the thyroid gland, and investigate various options for treatment. Designed for a two-semester undergraduate anatomy and physiology course, the case could be adapted for use in an undergraduate physiology or endocrinology course.

What Killed Leah Miller: Abuse or Natural Causes?

An Amish infant suddenly dies and law enforcement officials suspect the parents of child abuse. But experts who advocate for the parents argue that an underlying genetic disorder common among the Amish may have resulted in the baby’s death. Students assume the role of a police detective and answer questions regarding blood clotting and shaken baby syndrome. They then piece together their information and decide if the evidence is in favor of the parents or the police. The case was written for a two-semester anatomy and physiology course, but is also appropriate for undergraduate physiology and human biology courses.