HomepageBiologyUrsinus Biology Curriculum Supports the Understanding of Rare Diseases

Ursinus Biology Curriculum Supports the Understanding of Rare Diseases

Rare diseases affect 300 million people worldwide, yet most remain misunderstood at the scientific or clinical level. The biology curriculum at Ursinus introduces students to these diseases in both the classroom and laboratory.

A disease is “rare” when less than one in 2,000 people are affected. However, with approximately 7,000 such diseases, the numbers of those living with a rare disease is high. Approximately 4% of the world population – 300 million people – live with a rare disease. Unfortunately, patients with rare diseases are often misdiagnosed or experience delays in proper diagnosis. Moreover, most rare diseases have no existing cures. These issues are partly due to lack of scientific knowledge of such diseases.

A survey of the biology curriculum at Ursinus shows that rare diseases are not rare in our classrooms and laboratories. Associate Professor Dale Cameron and his students carry out research on prions. Dr. Cameron explains, “Broadly speaking, we are trying to understand protein misfolding and how cells respond. This encompasses prion diseases and also Huntington’s disease (both rare diseases), but also other much more common diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.” Classroom discussions of prion diseases occurs in Dr. Cameron’s Protein Biogenesis course and Dr. Roberts’ Structural Biology course. Students enrolled in Dr. Round’s Stem Cell Biology course read about Spinal Muscular Atrophy while those in BIO-102 learn about gyrate atrophy of the choroid and retina. Dr. Favero introduces Glial Cell Biology students to ALS. In Molecular Genetics, taught by Dr. Lyczak, students carry out individual projects and often look to rare diseases such as Elhers Danlos syndrome and Kennedy syndrome for their topics.

February 28th is worldwide Rare Disease Day, a day aimed at increasing scientific understanding and healthcare, diagnosis and therapy access.

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