As a high school chemistry teacher at a New Haven magnet school I am always looking for ways to engage my students in the theme of our magnet as it relates to chemistry concepts. I teach at Hyde School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine and each year work to write units taught through a health science lens and I have found that the Yale New Haven Teacher's Institute is an excellent way to collaborate with colleagues and experts in the field to write engaging and relevant units for my students. This year, as a participant in the "Engineering in Biology, Health and Medicine" seminar, I am focusing on developing a unit for my eleventh grade chemistry students that uses biochemistry concepts to teach how pharmaceutical drugs are developed in industry.
Drug design and development begins with a basic understanding of biochemical principles and enzyme-substrate complexes. With the understanding of characteristics of amino acids and protein folding, engineers are able to design drugs that will interact with the human body. In this unit students will apply the fundamentals of biochemistry to the pharmaceutical industry and learn how drugs are designed, screened and tested. Students will also develop an understanding of how drugs interact with the body.
This unit will begin with biochemistry basics and the concept of enzyme-substrate complexes. Students will understand that enzymes and substrates "fit" together like a lock-and-key in order to create a product. Students will investigate the complexities of protein folding by learning about the 21 different amino acids and their various R-groups. They will learn about the general structure of amino acids and how changing the side group makes an amino acid hydrophilic or hydrophobic, positive or negative. These differences impact how an amino acid behaves and how a protein folds. In turn, protein folding impacts the shape and function of how a protein will behave. Students will discuss the relationship between structure and function and its importance in pharmaceutical development.
After learning about the fundamentals of biochemistry, students will dive into drug development and screening. They will learn about the various ways for drug screening such as top-down and bottom-up methods. Additionally, students will investigate questions such as, what are good drugs? How are drugs developed? And what are scientists looking for when they develop a drug? Students will learn about the different instruments used in drug development and the various types of engineers that can be involved. Students will be exposed to molecular and chemical engineering, scale up engineering, genetic engineering and biophysics in this truly multi-disciplinary unit.
Finally, students will learn about what happens after a drug is found that will function properly. They will learn about drug scaling and the challenges of creating large batches of product and the process of pharmaceutical testing. Overall, the unit will take students through the entire process of drug design from bench to bedside.
All of the NHPS Inquiry standards will be addressed in this unit through the use of engineering design principles. Students will learn about the experimental process of designing a drug for consumer use and will read complex texts such as journal articles related to drug development. Students will also carry out experiments related to drug development. Additionally, students will investigate enzyme function by designing their own experiment to test which enzyme works best to catalyze a chemical reaction.