The Future of Molecular Medicine

1 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to explain that in the future, physicians will change how they prescribe drugs due to our increasing understanding of how genetic differences among people affect responses to drug treatment.

Big Idea

As our understanding of human genetic variation improves, we will most likely see many changes in how physicians diagnose and treat human diseases.


5 minutes

The goal of this lesson is to focus students’ attention on the practical, medical applications of understanding human genetic variation at a molecular level. Students will explore two major aspects of this research: the variable responses each unique patient has to an established drug therapy and the development of treatment strategies targeted at a disease’s biochemical mechanism as a way to highlight some of the ways scientists can use molecular information to improve disease treatment. 


10 minutes

Engage (Activate Student Thinking)

Introduce the lesson by displaying the statement below along with the following infographic and asking students what they think they mean and whether they can think of any examples that illustrate or provide evidence for this statement.

DISPLAY: "One of the benefits of understanding human genetic variation at a molecular level is its practical value for helping us understand and combat disease."

Students should be able to explain that understanding human genetic variation at a molecular level means identifying the specific differences in the base sequence that distinguish one human from another. Although students will likely not mention pharmacogenomics and targeted drug therapy as examples of healthcare strategies that depend on understanding molecular variation, they may mention gene therapy as a strategy. Conducting a Diagram Dialogue using this infographic may generate great discussion as well as provide valuable background for students.

Students may have difficulty expressing these ideas in their own words. You may wish to help them by asking probing questions such as, “What does it mean to understand human genetic variation at a molecular level?” and “Can you think of any way that finding and sequencing the gene related to a disease could help scientists develop ways to treat it?”


30 minutes

Explore (Guided/Student-Centered Activity)

Instruct students that the challenge in this lesson is to investigate two examples that illustrate and provide evidence for the statement discussed in the engage portion of our lesson. Explain further that students will investigate these examples by acting as groups of employees in two pharmaceutical companies facing problems that threaten the companies’ futures.


1. Divide the class in half and explain that one-half will act as employees in Firm A and the other half, as employees in Firm B. Tell students that the problems the two firms face are different, but both problems can be solved in ways that relate back to that initial statement.

2. Create groups of four students and provide half the groups with one copy of either Saving Firm A documents and the other half of the groups in the class with Saving Firm B documents.

3. For an introduction to the different roles for Firm A, students can view videos on the Human Genetic Variation Web site. 

4. Instruct the groups to decide who will assume each of the four roles associated with their problem and to distribute the masters accordingly. The Saving Firm A role of a biostatistician involves somewhat more challenging analysis than the other roles. You may want to consider assigning students who have stronger mathematical analysis skills to the biostatistician role.

5. Give the groups 30 minutes to complete their reports and to be ready to defend their analysis of their company’s problem as well as their suggested solution to the class. They should use the report form to organize their thoughts. When students reach Step 6 on the report form they will ask you, as vice president of the company, for additional data. At that time distribute documents titled New Genetic Data about Firm A or New Information about Firm B to the respective groups.

6. Students can also go to the Human Genetic Variation Web site and view the video “New Data” when they reach Step 6 on the report form. Access to the video is password protected. Give students the password: gene.


20 minutes

Explain (Formulate Ideas)

Explain that you will assume the role of the vice president for research for Firm A first and then the role of the vice president for research for Firm B, and that you are calling everyone together to hear the results of the groups’ work.

1. Display a copy of Report Form for Firm A, and use it to guide the discussion by asking groups from Firm A to present their answers to the questions (a different group should answer each question). After one group has offered an answer, invite questions and additional comments from the class.

2. To keep all students involved in both discussions, invite students from the other firm to contribute to the discussion by asking questions and even offering suggestions, as appropriate.

3. Repeat the same process with the groups from Firm B, using a copy of the Report Form for Firm B.

An interesting way to assess students’ understanding of this information is to ask one group to offer an answer to a question and a different group to evaluate the answer’s accuracy and completeness and propose corrections or additions as necessary. This technique helps students learn to offer feedback in a positive way and extends accountability for acceptable answers to more students than simply the group members who provide the initial answer.


10 minutes

Elaborate (Apply and Extend Understanding)

Transition to this portion of the lesson by displaying the opening statement again:

"One of the benefits of understanding human genetic variation at a molecular level is its practical value for helping us understand and combat disease."

Ask students to explain what it means, and provide examples that illustrate or serve as evidence for this viewpoint. Refocusing students’ attention on the opening statement draws them back to the lesson’s major concept.


15 minutes

Evaluate (Monitor Understanding)

Return to the lesson's opening statement.

DISPLAY: "One of the benefits of understanding human genetic variation at a molecular level is its practical value for helping us understand and combat disease."

Close the lesson by asking students to complete a Quikwrite about what they personally believe the opening statements means now that they have been afforded the opportunity to explore this interesting topic.