Unique High School Science Course Kicks Off Another Year

02/04/05   Portland, Ore.


A unique science course that teaches high school students how to write a research proposal, and then matches them with scientists who mentor them during summer internships, will launch another year next week.

The OHSU Partnership for Scientific Inquiry class enters its seventh year this spring with 65 students representing 13 local high schools, including Sunset, Benson, Clackamas, LaSalle and Liberty high schools. Several students at Madras High School also will participate in the class via teleconferencing.

The class, which starts Monday, meets at Casey Eye Institute from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every Monday until June, when the students begin the summer internships for which they wrote their research proposals.

The class has five components: First, potential mentors discuss their research interests in 15-minute talks to the class, and each student is assigned to a single mentor. Second, students present journal club articles relevant to their upcoming research. Third, each student writes a research proposal for written and oral formats with hypotheses, aims, background, methods, significance, pitfalls and references. Fourth, students discuss the nature of science and of scientific research, and they're asked to review articles on various aspects of research, including clinical studies, epidemiology, animal models and neuropharmacology. Finally, students conduct the proposed research in the mentors' labs in the summer.

To give context to the scientific process, each year the class focuses on Parkinson's disease. And on Monday, the students will have a little help understanding the disease from a local celebrity: Edward Rosenbaum, M.D., a Portland rheumatologist whose 1988 book, "A Taste of My Own Medicine: When the Doctor Is the Patient," was the basis of the 1991 movie, "The Doctor," starring William Hurt. The story documents Rosenbaum's real-life battle with cancer and his frustrations with the care he received.

Rosenbaum, who now has Parkinson's, will undergo a clinical examination in front of the class to give the students "a sense of the scientific inquiry for that disease," said Rosenbaum's son, James Rosenbaum, M.D., professor of medicine, ophthalmology, and cell and developmental biology, OHSU School of Medicine, and one of the course's organizers.

James Rosenbaum's brother, co-organizer Richard Rosenbaum, M.D., clinical professor of neurology, OHSU School of Medicine, will then conduct a lecture on the history of understanding of Parkinson's diseases and how the disease was first identified, as well as on the latest imaging techniques, clinical trials, and the ethics of using animal models.

"It's a very sophisticated set of lectures about this disease," James Rosenbaum said. "It's a college-level inquiry, the students will have homework assignments, and we let the students ask questions to see if that's an area of inquiry that's interesting to them. Then we match them up."

Rosenbaum notes that many students who've been through the class have gone on to present papers at national science meetings, co-authored studies with their mentors and earned prestigious college scholarships.

"We've had some fantastic successes," he said. "We're trying to create an opportunity for these students, and it's an opportunity each of us feels we didn't have when we were kids. It's been gratifying."

All the mentors volunteer for the program. In addition to their time, they donate laboratory space for the students' projects, as well as all equipment and materials.

Edward Neuwelt, M.D., professor of neurology and neurological surgery, OHSU School of Medicine and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, also helps organize the class. He said the class isn't simply about chemistry, physics or biology.

"Nowhere does anyone teach - until you're really out of college - how to do science," said Neuwelt, who serves as a mentor and will present a talk on the OHSU Blood-Brain Barrier Program he directs. "This gives the students an appetizer of what it would be like to be scientists."

Tammy Martin, Ph.D., research assistant professor of ophthalmology, and molecular microbiology and immunology, OHSU School of Medicine, also helped organize the class.