Curriculum Development

An objective of the Alaska INBRE Research Training Core is to expand curricula in biomedical and health areas across the University of Alaska system.  In April 2015 Alaska INBRE solicited a request for proposals on biomedical and health sciences curriculum development.  This development targets appropriate learning/teaching methods and materials, as well as appropriate assessment methods and materials, for modules within existing courses or for new courses.  The following five curriculum development projects were selected for funding and implementation.

Title: The Human Microbiome

Principal Investigators: Devin Drown and Mary Beth Leigh

The overall goal of this proposal is to develop the curriculum for a new stacked undergraduate and graduate trial course in the Department of Biology and Wildlife (e.g. BIOL F494 and BIOL F694 The Human Microbiome).  It is now widely recognized that humans are host to a diverse assemblage of microbes (Blaser 2014b). This associated microbiota impacts the behavior, physiology and fitness of their host. The goal is to develop a new course that will broadly explore the biology of host-associated microbiomes. In the process, we will address humans as hosts and include model and non-model systems as tools for research in this complex field. This course will cover research questions on the ecology and evolution of host-associated microbiomes. Additionally, we will explore research methods and tools used to collect and analyze microbiome data.  The main course will include hands on lab modules and lecture units that can also be used in existing courses at UAF and UAA.

Title: Diet and exercise as social determinants of disease in Alaska (CHEM 494/694)

Principal Investigator: Kriya Dunlap

The goal of this development will be to expand the Nutritional Biochemistry (CHEM 493) course to include both the existing 400-level designator and a graduate level designator, and change the title to “Diet and exercise as social determinants of disease in Alaska”, as well as expand the curriculum to engage pre-profession graduate students and support UAF’s One Health strategic area. To improve the course I will develop three main modules: 1) Subsistence Lifestyle (diet and exercise), 2) Health and Disease in Alaska, and 3) Research Strategies. The Subsistence Lifestyle module will explore the biochemical make up and mechanism of action of components found in Alaska’s traditional food that lend to improved health outcomes, including but not limited to phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. This section will also discuss the benefits of exercise at the cellular level and with the types of activity associated with a subsistence lifestyle. The second module, Health and Disease in Alaska, will cover diet and lifestyle related health issues such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. The third module, Research Strategies, will cover Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR), qualitative research methods as well as placed based biomedical research models such as sled dogs, arctic ground squirrels, and traditional methods including various cell cultures, and C. Elegans .

Title: Integrating biomedical research modules into the undergraduate health sciences curriculum

Principal Investigator: Bree Kessler

Kessler is proposing to integrate materials on Biomedical Research into both her HS 200 Core concepts in Health Sciences and HS 230 Global Health Course at UAA.  For the HS 220 course, the topic of “genetics and biomedical research” already was integrated in a learning module; however, the module could use significant improvement from its current condition. By creating a more robust interactive module students will increase their competency on current developments in the field of genetics and biomedical research. Additionally, since the video modules will be able to be used in interprofessional simulations (reaching additional students), the health sciences undergraduate students will be able to get a better sense of how other disciplines (like nursing or justice) would address similar issues.

For the HS 230 course, the topic of biomedical research fits well with the current course textbook as well as with positive student feedback from a presentation on global biomedical research in last year’s course. Kessler believes that the students who enroll in this course, many who have never left the state, have a difficult time conceiving of how global health is “practiced.” By connecting students to individuals engaged in this work it will allow them to see (through Blackboard Collaborate) the kind of work individuals are working on globally as well as introduce students to practitioners in the field and potential careers (or internships) in global biomedical research. The HS 230 course currently is only taught in the Fall with the hopes that it will soon also be offered in the Spring.

Introductory Biology, Genetics, and Evolution Course Improvements to Increase Student Success at UAS

David Tallmon

The overall goal of the proposed curriculum development is to increase student success by improving core courses required by the BA and BS Biology degrees at UAS. These two degree programs are the primary ones for the vast majority of pre-dental and pre-medical
undergraduates at UAS. We will re-invigorate the following four core classes central to the Biology degrees by focusing on hands-on, laboratory content encompassed by the One Health Initiative.

Fundamentals of Biology is a one-year course (BIOL 105 in fall, BIOL 106 in spring) that forms the academic foundation for students pursuing a BA or BS degree in Biology at UAS. Enrollment in these courses is among the highest on campus and they play a crucial role in the retention of students through their graduation and pursuit of careers in biological and medical fields. The curriculum development proposed for this course involves two objectives: 1) updating the lab exercises to include modules that involve explorations of modern problems in human and ecosystem health, and 2) incorporating active learning exercises during lectures using examples of modern scientific techniques to give real -life context in a more interactive learning environment.

We will develop hands-on laboratory exercises to modernize and re-invigorate Genetics (BIOL 362).  The lab exercises we propose will be contained in two modules that will engage students in active learning. The first module is “molecular genetics” and will include material to complement classroom material on PCR, DNA replication, and transcription. A second “genomics” module will include bioinformatics exercises and personalized medicine applications of individual genome sequencing.

Evolution (BIOL 482) is the capstone course for all Biology and Marine Biology students at UAS. The curriculum development proposed for this course is to modify a laboratory exercise that makes use of HIV evolution to convey important principles of rapid evolution in human pathogens and the use of phylogenies to track the spread and evolution of disease. Students will be able to demonstrate how HIV phylogenies generated from nucleotide sequence mutations within and among patients can be used to understand and re-create disease transmission and evolutionary branching events.

Title: Next Generation Sequencing for Next-Gen Genetics students

Principal Investigator: Diana Wolf

The goal of this project is to develop a teaching module for students in Principles of Genetics (BIOL F260). The module will allow students to use Next Generation DNA sequencing to identify the genetic basis of a morphological trait. Next generation sequencing is critically important in biomedical research for identifying disease genes and for many other applications, and it is likely to become increasingly more important in the clinic with the rise of personalized medicine. Nearly all human diseases have a genetic component, and Next Generation Sequencing plays a fundamental role in both translational and clinical research. Understanding how to interpret Next Generation Sequence data is a critical skill for both biomedical researchers and medical practitioners. Personalized medicine is highly reliant on genetic tests, and can greatly improve patient care. Many doctors currently do not have the skills to understand these genetic data.

Wolf wants to ensure that the next generation of Alaskan medical practitioners will be prepared with these updated skills. This module will help students gain the necessary skills to translate genetics advances into the clinic.  Principles of Genetics (F260) is a required course for all Biology and Wildlife majors, and also serves as an optional course for Biochemistry majors. The course is taught every semester.