A New Course that Integrates Clinical with Basic Science

University of Vermont, Department of Neuroscience

We have introduced a new course into the curriculum called the "Basic Science of Neurological Disease". It is our attempt to provide a course that integrates knowledge from basic and clinical neuroscience in order to teach students how their research relates to human disease. Another goal of this course is to promote interactions between basic scientists and physicians.

What is the issue we are trying to address?

Many applicants to graduate programs in neuroscience trace their interest in the field to a family member or friend who suffered from a neurologically related disease or injury; however, grad curricula are often heavily weighted towards fundamental basic science, and the perspective on human disease and disorders is rapidly lost. We are trying to integrate understanding of human health into our graduate program so that students have an opportunity to observe and explore research questions related to neurological disease and injury.

How do we know that this is an issue?

Since the NIH budget doubled, biomedical research has come under increasing scrutiny by congress and officials of the administration. There is a great deal of discussion about how funding should be focused on research that decreases the time from "bench to bedside". If we are going to be an effective graduate program, we must train our students to appreciate the intersection of human health with neuroscience research.

NIH Roadmap
This is a link to the NIH URL for the Roadmap.

What is the change or innovation that is intended to address this issue?

In 2003 we implemented a new course called "Basic Science of Neurological Disease". This course runs once a week for one hour at noon. It is taught during Fall Term and covers a different disease or disorder every year. The course is directed by Dr. Felix Eckenstein, a basic scientist, who chooses a different clinical co-director every year, depending upon the topic of the course. In addition to grad students in Neuroscience, the course is attended by students from other grad programs, faculty, postodoctoral fellows, staff, and residents and fellows from Neurology and Psychiatry. Lectures are given by clincians who treat patients with the disease or disorder and by physician-scientists and basic scientists who do research into the underlying basis of the disease/ disorder. Students enrolled in the course are required to present a recently published paper investigating the underlying basis for the disease/disorder. In 2003 the course covered Parkinsons Disease; in 2004 it covered Multiple Sclerosis; in 2005 it was on Schizophrenia, and in 2006 it will be on Motor Neuron Disease.

Lecture Schedule: Parkinsons '03
By selecting these links you will download MS Word documents detailing the lecture schedules for the indicated years that this course was taught.

Lecture Schedule: Multiple Sclerosis '04

Lecture Schedule: Schizophrenia '05

Why did we select that approach?

We have been funded for the past 5 years by a COBRE (Center of Biomedical Research Excellence) grant in Neuroscience. As part of the COBRE, we had a Translational Core to facilitate interaction between clincians and basic scientists. We initially considered a broad-based course offered to residents and graduate students that would cover all relevant neurological diseases and disorders, as well as recovery of the nervous system from injury. The first external review committee of the COBRE (Drs. W. Mobley, S. Heinemann, G. Shepard, and C. Goodman) strongly advised us against this strategy, saying that it would be difficult for clinicians to commit to teaching and attending such a course annually given their very busy schedules. Instead, the panel encouraged us to focus the course on a specific topic every year.

What is the intended effect of the innovation?

We want students to:

  • Appreciate the impact of the disease or disorder on the patients who have it
  • Understand the underlying symptoms and how they are caused by nervous system pathology
  • Appreciate the difficulties of research in the area of human disease
  • Understand the underlying molecular, genetic, and cellular defects that cause the disease
  • Know what the current thinking is regarding how the disease is caused and how it might be treate4d
  • Critically evaluate data that test various hypotheses regarding how the disease is caused

  • What data or evidence will demonstrate the effect of our innovation?

    We will have students complete evaluations at the end of each course and we will assess the impact of this course by administering exit surveys when students complete the PhD. Over the long term, we will assess the long term impact of this course on our graduates' careers.

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