CASE STUDY: Mapping Human Neuronal Diversity in the Search for New Therapeutics: Using Real Human Neuron Data Sets to Build Student Quantitative Skills

Emma C. Milligan, Kaitlyn Casimo, Laurie Buchanan, Bryant Huston, Sabrina Robertson


Case studies are a high impact educational practice that engage students in collaborative problem solving through storytelling. HITS, an NSF funded research coordination network dedicated to exposing students to high-throughput discovery science, drove creation of this case. In this case, students imagine themselves as researchers developing new therapeutic drugs for epilepsy. Specifically, students work with the Allen Cell Types Database, which is the result of collaborative, interdisciplinary open science. Neurosurgeons partnered with the Allen institute to provide living human brain tissue for electrophysiological, morphological, and transcriptomic study. Students collaborate to collect and organize data, investigate a research question they identified, and perform fundamental statistical analyses to address their question. By leveraging the unique Cell Types dataset the case enhances student knowledge of epilepsy, illuminates high-throughput scientific approaches, and builds quantitative and research related skills. The case is also versatile and was implemented in two distinct courses. The case can also be taught in different modalities, in person or remote, with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous work. Indirect and direct measures along with quantitative and qualitative approaches were used for case assessment and improvement. Students performed well on case related exam questions, reported high confidence in their achievement of the learning outcomes, and enjoyed the case’s link to neurological disease, real research data and advanced technological approaches. Our assessment findings and instructor implementation experiences are also included to facilitate the adoption or adaptation of the case for a variety of courses and/or modalities in neuroscience and STEM related curricula.