Virus Evolution: Combating Disease in the Modern Age

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

Modern medicine has not solved all the mysteries of disease. There are still unknown diseases on the horizon. The ability to predict the next biological threat or disease is dependent on fast-paced, cutting-edge technologies wielded by highly-trained researchers. But even before technologies can be employed, a key component to predicting the next outbreak is understanding what viruses and diseases are newly emerging within our population, whether from the forests of Africa or desserts of the Middle East. This course takes an in-depth view of obscure pathogenic agents with a focus on viruses that have fatal outcomes or no cure, such as rabies, flaviviruses (e.g. Ebola), coronaviruses (such as SARS and MERS), Nipah and many more! Students will split their time between hands-on experiments in laboratories, in-class lessons where experienced scientists will guide students through the inner workings of viruses and breakthrough technologies, as well as field trips to museums that showcase plagues of disease throughout American history. Viruses can mutate in the blink of an eye. In today’s world, scientists acknowledge that another disease outbreak is inevitable, and even with our best minds and technologies, viruses will continue to pose a threat to our very existence. Virus evolution is why we need a new flu shot every year, and how new viruses such as Zika and Ebola appear without warning. Germs can outmaneuver and genetically mutate to defeat even our best medicines, so how can we defeat them? Answer: By using them against each other. In this course, students will explore the biology behind the most fatal infections facing society today and the steps scientists are taking to intercept massive catastrophes. Students will be led by an elite team of researchers on the microbiology, pathobiology, immunology and vaccines designed toward halting the world’s next pandemic. Newly emerging diseases such as Zika took the science community by surprise, so how can scientists plan for the next big pandemic? Will there be a completely new never-before-seen virus or will a well-known killer resurface, such as rabies, smallpox or polio? After gaining a firm understanding of the world’s most infectious agents, students will engage in hands-on experiments, including growing their own microbes and dissecting key animal tissues that are especially susceptible to certain germs. Students will dive deeper into specific research questions surrounding microbiology with a final research project, which will involve sharing their newly found knowledge with others, just like modern-day scientists. At the nation’s capital, students will visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and learn about deadly new diseases from a scientist who leads initiatives to combat biosecurity threats to America, whether naturally-occurring, accidental or intentionally-designed. Students will visit key disease exhibitions, such as the National Museum of Medicine and Health, as well as the Epidemics exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. Additionally, as the science community trends toward big data and applying next generation genetic sequencing technologies, the course will introduce students to tools that data scientists would leverage to solve important disease related questions. This will include several introductions to the Python programming language and Jupyter notebook experience working with open source Influenza data to predict the next vaccine strain and an introduction to what machine learning can do to predict Type 2 diabetes. The course will immerse students in the following areas of vaccinology and disease: 1. The fundamentals of immunology and microbiology 2. The pathogens responsible for several major fatal diseases, along with their current treatments 3. The underlying pathways for vaccines, antibiotics and drug-resistance 4. The historical relevance of infections in society and the scientific pioneers who created the field of microbiology 5. Core experimental microbiology and dissection techniques 6. Core experimental microbiology and dissection techniques 7. National and International efforts to combat emerging infectious agents

Prerequisites: Having taken an introductory biology or anatomy course will be advantageous to students. Students who do not have a strong biology background are encouraged to review basic biology text books beforehand. This course is intentionally designed to prepare advanced high school students for college-level curriculum and pace.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBI0913

Program Information

Location-Based: Washington, D.C.

Two-week non-credit program based outside Washington, D.C. in Bethesda, Maryland and partners with the National Institute for Health focused on the study of infectious diseases. For students completing grades 10-12 by June 2021; minimum age of 16 by start of program.

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