Bryan D. White
Various topics designed to respond to faculty and student interests and needs.
Stem cells are heralded as holding the key to curing many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and the pathology following spinal cord injury. Despite the hope of potential health benefits, human embryonic stem cell research is controversial. Some people view stem cell research as crucial to saving lives in the future, whereas other people view the destruction of human embryos in stem cell research as equal to the killing of human beings. This interdisciplinary course will combine studies of the biology of stem cells with a discussion of the bioethics underlying the debate on stem cell research. We will experience science first-hand and observe the properties of stem cells through experiments with planaria and zebrafish. We will look at how stem cells are portrayed in the media and critically examine claims made by biotech companies. We will create and administer a survey on the ethics of stem cells. We will interview different stakeholders in the stem cell discussion to better understand different viewpoints. Finally we will hold an in-class debate on the promise and pitfalls of stem cell research. You will leave this class with a broad understanding of the biology of stem cells, a realistic view of their therapeutic potential, and an articulated stance on the ethical debate.
This course will meet approximately 30% of the time in a biology lab so we can conduct and check up on our planaria experiments.
Student learning goals
1. Make observations, generate hypotheses, and design experiments using the flat worm planarium.
2. Understand key features of stem cell biology.
3. Articulate the benefits and challenges that must be overcome when considering stem cells as a medical therapy for various diseases.
4. Critically analyze claims made by biotech companies promoting stem cell therapies. 5. Understand the viewpoints of various stakeholders in the stem cell debate and articulate your own view on this issue.
6. Understand how to approach ethical dilemmas in biology and medicine
General method of instruction
Class discussion, analysis of primary literature through structured worksheets, small group discussions, and lecture.
Curiosity and willingness to embrace scientific practices.
Class assignments and grading
Reading, designing experiments, interpreting data.
Experimental design, interpretation of planaria data, interpretation of ethics survey, structured worksheets, midterm.