Tag: sheena banks
One of the hallmarks of medical education is the concept of “watch, do, teach” – watch a procedure, do the procedure, teach the procedure – as a way to grow knowledge and skill in future doctors. That same approach was used this week as Charlie Troxel from Li-Cor in Nebraska visited the BIMS labs to help McMurry faculty improve their skills with their DNA sequencer. McMurry’s sequencer has been in service since 2008, but changes in personnel and projects necessitated some training upgrades. McMurry faculty used PCR to amplify their target DNA and loaded the sequencer on Wednesday afternoon. Fourteen hours later, the sequencing was done and teacher and students reconvened in the BIMS lab to observe the results. Several software packages allowed the participants to evaluate the confidence of each base sequenced and provided ways to align sequences to test their consistency. Pointers were given on how best to proceed with the plant samples Banks will analyze for Dr. Anna this summer as a part of a project to study genetic drift between specimens of a species collected in Old World and New World ecosystems. The Li-Cor 4300 will get quite a workout between now and the end of the year.
That explains the “Watch” and “Do” activities. The “Teach” component comes this fall as Banks puts the instrument to work teaching her Molecular Cell Biology Lab students how to do sequencing and analysis. Nice.
Last night I finished a book on the submarine the USS Scorpion and was struck by how busy naval ships are when they return to their home ports. Rather than the boats sitting idle while the crew gets some R&R, it is a time when systems are tested, problems are fixed, and improvements are made. With the close of the spring semester and the onset of summer, we find our BIMS program returning from a year “at sea” where the courses and techniques and facilities have been operating to conduct our “mission” – teaching BIMS majors. Now with the conclusion of the year, we are back in “home port” doing the same program tests, fixes, and upgrades submariners do before we take our program back out to sea next fall. We find ourselves taking stock of what worked, what didn’t, and what comes next…
- We were pleased with the direction taken in BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research. The focus on learning the basics of how science is conducted, how to critically analyze the world around us, and how to apply the skills of science and analysis to better understand our world was a positive development this year.
- We were pleased with the functionality of the new spaces for teaching and research that came online in November. The micro lab was used by three different lab/lecture classes without any trainwrecks. The student project spaces gave us flexible space to support student work outside of regular hours that functioned flawlessly. Student card access to the labs was appreciated by students and allowed some previously impossible activities (round-the-clock monitoring of growth) to take place. New equipment in the student research labs and teaching labs gave new approaches for studying lab problems.
- We were pleased with the new Genetics course taught by Dr. Brosius. As a more balanced mixture of Mendelian, population, and molecular genetics, it gave an exceptional foundation for students ready to delve deeper in Molecular Cell Biology classes next year.
- We were pleased with the transition to a new schedule for offering BIMS courses in the freshman sequence. Next year, our new sequence will be fully operational.
What didn’t work.
- We found the positioning of some pieces of equipment in our new spaces to be less than ideal. For instance, a large rack for placement of backpacks and student materials went unused and students continued to put those things on the floor of the lab. Incubators were crowded together making access by students from two classes meeting simultaneously very difficult. After “living in the spaces” for a full semester, we will “rearrange some of the furniture” this summer.
- We found less success in Advanced Micro and capstones than was hoped. We realized halfway through the semester that student ownership of the projects was necessary in order to move them toward self-sufficiency and greater investment in getting results, and so we made adjustments to that effect. Still, at the end we realized there were other steps we could have taken to improve the experience and the productivity.
- A hiring freeze undermined our efforts to fill the vacant molecular biologist position that has hamstrung us during the year. We are unable to deliver our complete BIMS program without that person, and so we found ourselves scrambling to substitute courses to allow students to graduate. The result was for those graduates a fine degree but in some ways lacking of all the breadth and depth BIMS should have.
- BIMS faculty are spending May taking stock of what worked and what didn’t with the intention to refine our efforts to improve our program. This annual review and planning insures we don’t continue doing the same things in the same ways out of habit or because it is easy.
- Even in the midst of a hiring freeze, we have secured the services of McM alumna Sheena Banks to teach molecular courses for us as an adjunct. Sheena received her MS in Immunology from UTMB and is working as a Research Associate at the TTUHSC School of Pharmacy. This should help us bring a major portion of the molecular dimension of the BIMS program back online.
- We will continue to experiment with courses and their delivery next year. For instance, the BIOL 1301 Unicellular Organisms course and BIMS 1101 Uni Lab will receive a major overhaul next year to help strengthen areas in student learning that our testing of junior and senior BIMS students has revealed. Also, the BIMS 4491 Advanced Micro course for the fall will focus on spore ecology and physiology, and will meet in two hour blocks three times weekly. Students will see how different compositions of growth media influence the size and resistance of Bacillus thuringiensis endospores. Our expectation is that this work will result in presentation at the spring meeting of the Texas Branch of the American Society for Microbiology and subsequent publication.
All this is to say the BIMS program is not static, is never satisfied. While for many on campus the summer represents a time of rest, for us it is a very busy time. We want our program to be the best it can be – battle-ready and tested, improved – when we set sail again next fall to accomplish our mission to give BIMS majors the very best knowledge and skills and experiences possible.
Sheena Banks, McMurry class of 2006, presented aspects of her graduate research on HIV Mediated CD4+ Cell Depletion. Ms. Banks completed a Master’s degree in Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and currently works as a Research Associate at the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in Abilene, Texas.
An understanding of the retroviral replication process is very important in the successful treatment of HIV. The HIV virus infects a variety of immune cells expressing a surface protein receptor called CD4. These cells are central to the immune system’s mounting a specific response to a variety of infections, and their destruction effectively renders the patient void of a functioning immune system. Many times, treatment appears to be successful for a time, but later AIDS develops as the body is compromised by secondary infections. HIV infected cells persist in the body through a variety of mechanisms–latent periods with a resurgence and rapid mutation rates that render specific immune responses to foreign agents incapable of reining in and defeating an HIV infection.
Sheena worked on a project using mice to find ways to encourage infected cells to “home”, or seek the lymph nodes where they might undergo apoptosis – the natural cell death process used to remove damaged cells from the body. During the course of an HIV infection, CD4 cells migrate from the blood to lymph nodes, where 90-95% are destroyed by infection. The fate of the remaining 5-10% CD4-bearing cells was not known. Her work determined that these cells are actually T-regulatory cells whose role is to slow down the immune response once an infection is over and to recruit CD4 cells to lymph nodes. She found that the presence of T-regulatory cells promoted an environment within the lymph nodes that favored HIV proliferation, rather than apoptosis – normal programmed cell death processes that remove damaged cells from the body. Such a ”sorting out” of the roles and activities of T-regulatory and CD4 cells
during the course of an HIV infection is an important step in finding new strategies for treatments vs. HIV infections, something Sheena says is the goal of HIV researchers right now.
Sheena graciously fielded a great many diverse questions on HIV infections and research, and offered McMurry students opportunities to work in the labs at TTU School of Pharmacy-Abilene – participating in research on cancer, viral infections, developmental biology, and many other ongoing projects guided by TTUSOP faculty.