Today I met with Hyunshun Shin, our Organic Chemist and Molecular Biologist Heidi DiFrancesca to discuss a research proposal the two are putting together. While collaboration among scientists is not unusual, I have to say that this partnership has some unique qualities. In the end, it may mean an exciting breakthrough in cancer research, productive research for the two scientists, and some incredible experiences for their students.
The project centers on a discovery made by Dr. Shin of a chemical that has shown activity against cancer cells. Though it has been proven to be potent, its toxicity has not proven to be useful (efficacious, I believe clinical folks would say). Still, previous work suggests the potential for a derivative of the compound to exhibit the Holy Grail of selective toxicity seems high. She will use part of the second half of the regular Organic Chemistry course she teaches to have her students synthesize derivatives for testing. At the same time, Dr. D’s class will test the toxicity of the derivatives against breast cancer cells and normal tissues. So, this represents students in two normal classes taken by all BIMS majors collaborating across class lines to work together in cancer research. Every BIMS major, then, will have participated in the synthesis and testing of anticancer drugs before their senior year in college. Somehow, my Organic class’s synthesis of isoamyl acetate pales in comparison!
Such use of regular classes as the stage for involving students in research is a strong reason for McMurry’s BIMS program to be recognized as one that represents the future of science education. Is this an approach you’d see at UT or MIT or Stanford? More and more, these cross-class connections will be used to teach our students through participation in science, rather than teaching them about science. We’re committed to science as a verb, rather than science as a noun!
Stay tuned for updates on how the Organic-Molecular Biology partnership is going, and on other collaborations as they develop.