Antibodies are proteins involved in vertebrate immune responses. They are also used for medical and other purposes. For example, nearly 300 employers across the United States develop antibody-based drugs or diagnostic tests, sell antibodies as bioreagents, or provide antibody-related laboratory services. Not surprisingly, antibodies are an important front-line tool for diagnosing and treating COVID-19 infections. Bioengineering antibodies is an active area of applied biotechnology research. Bioengineered antibodies have the potential to reduce the costs of antibody manufacturing and storage, as well as to improve antibody-based drug delivery. This project will enlist faculty, industry-representatives, and two-year college students from across the United States to participate in developing and implementing research projects in antibody bioengineering. The research projects and laboratory protocols that derive from this work will help two-year colleges incorporate high-impact and relevant technologies into new or existing courses, thus providing a mechanism to engage students while preparing them to work in fulfilling careers. In addition, the project will provide expert information about COVID-19 vaccine development and testing, thus benefitting students, instructors, and the public.
The specific aims of the project include 1) developing laboratory modules to support course-based undergraduate research experiences related to antibody bioengineering, and 2) investigating the feasibility of using hackathons as a novel strategy for engaging participants in collaborative curriculum development. The project will develop learning modules that each address computational skills (e.g., data science, structural biology, bioinformatics), technical skills (e.g., mutagenesis, protein purification, assays, staining), and employability skills (e.g., poster presentations, communication, leadership). The modules will list related skill standards and learning outcomes, making it easy for instructors to incorporate the modules in their courses and for employers to evaluate portfolios of students participating in the research. The project team has assembled a national advisory board comprised of individuals with expertise in antibody technologies from biotechnology companies, research institutions, and core laboratories. Board members have agreed to provide guidance concerning project ideas and industry needs, as well as to evaluate modules. An annual hackathon will be held where the participants will organize in teams around one of the industry-suggested projects or other new project ideas. During the hackathon, the teams will work to refine the ideas, and to identify the modules and materials needed for each project. Project pitches at the end of the hackathon will be used to determine which projects will be selected for development and implementation. The project team and faculty collaborators will continue to develop the selected modules, implement the projects with students, and share findings. The ubiquitous presence of antibodies in industry and research labs ensures that students who learn antibody-related workforce-skills will be employable in nearly any locale. The project can, thus, contribute to mitigation of COVID-19 impacts on individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This project is funded by the Advanced Technological Education program that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation's economy.