This curriculum unit is designed to span approximately three weeks when enacted in Advanced/Honors Biology or Biotechnology courses. This unit focuses on the topic of cancer, leukemia, and immunotherapies as a way to explore concepts such as the cell cycle, cell growth, the immune system, and genetic mutations. Over the seven lessons, students are introduced to a case study featuring Kristin K., a woman diagnosed with a treatment-resistant form of leukemia and for whom a stem cell donor match could not be found. [This case study is based on a real person]. The case study explains how Kristin and her doctors at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (the clinical arm of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) harnessed the power of her own immune system to treat her cancer. As the unit unfolds, students develop and revise a conceptual model on the immune system, cancer, and cancer treatments. Students discover that after chemotherapy fails, Kristin decides to enroll in a clinical trial using CAR T-cell therapy and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. The unit builds toward a wet lab in which students conduct gel electrophoresis focused on in vitro CRISPR Cas-9 on MHC genes in order to identify “self” from “foreign” to reduce the possibility of transplant rejection.
Through lab activities, classroom discussions, and research case studies, students experience “productive uncertainty” in science. The prohibitive cost of the therapy and potential uses of CRISPR introduce students to important bioethical, health inequities, and social justice issues. Additional NGSS-aligned nature of science concepts are explored as students learn about the clinical trial process for approval of novel drugs and therapies.
This unit integrates with SEP teaching kits, particularly DNA Lab 2 and CRISPR (in development), both of which enable the exploration of genetic engineering techniques.