Smoothing the way with a Course in a Box

Learn about Bio-Link's Course in a Box program and how it can help you develop new courses more quickly.

by Hallie Golden

New on the job at a biotech company that’s developing novel therapies for treatment of pancreatic diseases, you’re given a vial of human embryonic stem cells. Your boss asks you to use them to generate primitive endoderm (a special type of tissue) from them and devise a method to determine  how well your method worked (the efficiency of your directed differentiation).

Piece of cake, right? Well, not exactly.

On day seven you return to the lab, take a look at the cells and realize in horror that they do not mirror those primitive endoderm cells that were shown to you during training. You are now completely baffled about the efficiency of your experiment and your boss wants to know the answers to these questions:

1)   How do the numbers of primitive endoderm cells in the dish compare to the numbers of other cell types? 
2)    What are the possible reasons for your low yield?

This scenario and the follow-up questions come from the Embryonic Stem Cell Courses in a Box developed by Stanford University and San Francisco State University with support from the National Science Foundation. This scenario is only one element of the information provided for this course and others as part of the Course in a Box resource on the Bio-Link website. Each course’s aim is to act as an in-depth jumping-off-point for those wanting to employ any and all of the courses at their institution. 

There are altogether six courses accessible through the Course in a Box, each more advantageous then the last. Full of educational materials rife with real-life, workforce usability, they offer everything from detailed course syllabi to laboratory exercises to student outcomes. In other words, they are a veritable paradise for those wishing to develop any one of these courses. 

Survey of Quality, Regulations, and Standards for Biotechnology is another one of the classes available through this resource. As its name suggests, it is all about quality, which is a critical and highly sensitive concern of the biotech industry and others such as food packaging. Its description explains, “‘quality’ becomes complexly interwoven with regulatory affairs, that is, the means by which governments strive to protect consumers from defective products.” And due to the importance of this topic and how far reaching it is, there are two example courses related to quality.

Another course that emphasizes a “quality-mindset” is called Basic Laboratory Methods in a Regulated Environment. This is meant for beginning biotech students, so that right from the get-go they are given the tools for adept lab science with a focus on product quality. It is one of two courses described by the Madison Area Technical College. The other is called Laboratory Calculations for Biotechnology, and offers a math ‘refresher’ as well as an exploration into implementing that math in a laboratory atmosphere.

The final two courses that are outlined through the Course in a Box are Basics of Cell Culture, which focuses on how to maintain mammalian cells in culture, and Cases in Industry Practice in Biotechnology, which allows students to wade through dilemmas faced by those in entry-level biotech careers.

Each Course in a Box was shared by an instructor from a Bio-Link program and offers you the bulk of the resources needed to establish the course at your own institution. But the six courses listed are only a taste of the many courses offered in the educational world of biotechnology. So if you teach a class that is missing from this list and want to share it with the biotech community, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

And while the assortment of courses cover a wide range of topics, they all serve the same purpose—to prepare students for the real world of biotechnology. So that the next time a student gets a job and finds that their human ES cells don’t match the primitive endoderm cells shown to them during training, they’ll know what to do and how to measure their results without hesitation.


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