What is the problem we are addressing?
Like many other countries in the region, Qatar has a very high demand for STEM graduates and especially in the biomedical and bioengineering fields. Moreover, most of the high school male graduates who decide to pursue their studies in STEM disciplines, tend to select a major in traditional engineering fields rather than medicine, biomedicine or biotechnology.
High school students do not have neither a clear understanding nor a correct perception of what a degree in biomedical engineering, biotechnology, genetic engineering or bioinformatics would involve due to the lack of curricular and extracurricular courses that tackle such specializations. Students have a poor idea about the type of courses taken by bioinformatics, biomedical or biomechanical engineering graduates and they also do not know what jobs these engineers can fill in the future. The poor understanding and the misconceptions about these programs result in students avoiding them in the tertiary education. Additionally, the interdisciplinary nature of such courses make it difficult for schools to plan and offer them for high school students.
This has stimulated us to initiate a biotechnology and biomedical engineering program with the seek to model how such specialties can be taught at the school level for high school student.
What is our solution?
Our solution to the previously established problem was to develop and introduce a four-year long "Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering (BBME)" course for students from grade 9 to grade 12. In this course, QSTSS's students are exposed to different learning experiences in the fields of biotechnology, microscopy (micro-techniques and digital imaging), biomechanics, biosensors, and bioinformatics. Under each of these strands, there are several themes comprising the different topics of the course (Table 1). All course strands and themes are well represented in all grades 9, 10, 11, and 12. However, there is more emphasis on project-based learning in grade 12.
The current course is purely hands-on. It provides the opportunity for students to conduct several projects and researches thus conferring them a good background in engineering and biological sciences. The interdisciplinary nature of the BBME course requires that the students need to develop a broad based set of skills and knowledge. They need programming skills, mathematical modeling, engineering quantitative analysis skills, as well as biological research methods to gain a deeper understanding of the human body systems.
An overview of our impact
In QSTSS, we have established a special program called Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering (BBME) to motivate the students to join engineering or science specialties in biomedical, biomechanics, bioinformatics, biotechnology and genetic engineering. The suggested course provides the students with a thorough background in different biomedical and biotechnology topics. It constructs bridges between schools and engineering and science faculties in universities. It also fills a gap, remove ambiguities and misconceptions concerning the above mentioned specialties. The BBME course inspires more students to pursue their studies in the biomedical and biomedical engineering fields.
The BBME course provides the students with the opportunity to explore the roles of the genetic and biomedical engineers in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases through well designed procedures and advanced technology. Our preliminary data collected from our students using questionnaires, surveys, focus group meetings and interviews clearly show that the students start developing strong positive attitudes towards learning biomedical, biomechanics, bioinformatics, biotechnology, and genetic engineering. Many of them expressed their willing to pursue their studies in universities in one of these specialties.
The course also directs the students mindset towards ethics and global contemporary issues. During this course, the students have worked with real data from case studies of cancer or AIDS as well as from people with disabilities. This has conferred our students deep understanding and more empathy towards the other.
Examples of implementation
In BBME, the students carry out data driven researches where they use secondary data published in different genome or protein databases for a specific purpose to explore and reveal the reasons behind another medical or biological problem. For instance, the students use different bioinformatics tools including geneious prime to investigate the possibility of having tmRNA as a target sequence for antibiotics. They also investigate the possibility of having phytochemicals derived from Qatari plants as drugs using molecular docking. However, in other BBME strands the students conduct hypotheses based researches where they collect data, analyze and interpret them. For instance, they use Kinovea software for sport analysis and measuring technical performance specifically for gait analysis.
What are our future goals?
Setting up the BBME curriculum from scratch was a daunting task for the school. It was important to use all the available resources at QSTSS to get a high quality work. However, we are still working on refining the course by modifying the teaching approaches, learning outcomes, and learning experiences. Our future considerations include establishing a motion capture system using VICON, STT, or XSENS (MOVELLA) to analyze movements for sports, biomechanics, rehabilitation, research and other purposes. Our long term objectives also include establishing a tissue culture and fluorescent microscopy unit. We also aim at enhancing our students skills in prosthetics to enable them to work with amputees and in the future to design and develop artificial limbs.
All our students are able to extract DNA from plant and animal tissues, amplify it using PCR, and analyze the products using electrophoresis. However, we stream in the future to enable our students to use their skills in molecular biology and bioinformatics to solve real life problems such as establishing a phylogenetic tree for related plant species in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf.
How can someone else implement it? What do they need?
Passion and dedication to work are the first two things that are required to implement the suggested BBME course properly. Besides that and depending on the specifications of the curriculum, different reagents, supplies, devices, and software are required. Examples of these are listed below:
Devices required: Horizontal and vertical electrophoresis units, thermal cyclers (PCR), centrifuge, micropipettes, microwaves, hotplates, shakers, spectrophotometer, distilled water units, microscopes, automated microtomes, biosensors and data logging system, motion capture system, and others.
Reagents required: DNA extraction and amplification kits, tissue staining and slide preparation kits, media for bacteria and yeast culturing, bacterial transformation kits…etc.
Software required: Geneious prime for bioinformatics, Kinovea for biomechanics, and sparkvue for biosensors and molecular applications.
Note that all the above mentioned requirements can be different from one school to another. We in QSTSS, are so open to share our humble experience and to cooperate with our schools to establish a joint program.