Chemical Interactions in the Body

Erland Stevens, Chemistry, Davidson College

This seminar will be held at Davidson College 

This seminar focuses on the chemical principles that govern biological organisms on a molecular level, and the material in the course is intended to be adaptable to all levels of instruction (K-12).  Many of the ideas in the class directly apply to relevant health education standards for different grade levels.

Much of the class material emphasizes the role of chemistry in the body within the context of pharmaceutical development.  Central ideas include the role of proteins in regulating cell processes, how drugs can act upon protein-governed pathways, measurements of drug activity, molecular properties common to most drugs, and the process through which favorable drug-like properties are improved.  These core ideas directly touch upon biology (cell structure and function), chemistry (equilibrium, acidity, intermolecular forces), math (modeling drug half-life), and, to a lesser degree, forensics (drug detection and elimination).  When possible, free online tools relating to the core ideas will be featured as potential activities to boost student discovery and engagement.

While the central ideas of the seminar emphasize the STEM fields, the pharmaceutical industry impacts society as a whole.  Underlying themes emphasize the cost and affordability of healthcare, the drug approval process, the design of clinical trials, how the patent system encourages the discovery of new medical treatments, marketing practices, and the relationship between pharmaceutical and herbal products.  Examples of recent healthcare stories that have been featured in the mainstream media include the rising costs of EpiPen injectors and the controversial approval of a new drug (eteplirsen) for the treatment of a form of muscular dystrophy.  These themes bridge the scientific foundations of the seminar to non-STEM fields such as economics, sociology, and government.

The topics mentioned in this description will be briefly introduced within the first two months of the seminar.  The remainder of the seminar will allow ample time to focus on topics of particular relevance to the areas of interest of the teachers enrolled in the class.