In this simulation activity, students decide which of two companies, each using a different CRISPR genome-editing technology, to invest in. They engage with research on CRISPR genome editing to understand how unintended consequences of one technology used for this editing had real-world business implications. The storytelling element adds immediacy to the activity, making it imaginative and engaging, and students are pushed toward achieving higher levels of competence within Bloom’s taxonomy for the subject area.
In this activity, which takes place during the 8th lecture meeting of an intensive 10-lecture course on regenerative medicine and genome editing, the class reads a paper in a journal club format that discusses the off-target unintended side effects of CRISPR genome editing. They learn how it caused a rapid drop in the stock valuation of one of the two companies. The class then analyzes and debates the biological differences between the technologies of the affected and unaffected companies. They apply their understanding by proposing what studies on off-targets the FDA should require before approving a CRISPR therapy in the future. To ensure appropriate scaffolding, this activity was conducted after the class had covered the basics of genome editing and Crispr technologies in the previous lecture (lecture VII) and completed a lecture on the FDA drug/therapy approval process (Lecture VI). Additionally, by the time they undertake this activity, students will have conducted 7 journal clubs and several group discussions, and become comfortable with both extrapolating information from primary literature and debating ideas as a class.
Goals: This activity aims to:
(1) Get students to understand and appreciate the biological bases of different CRISPR genome editing technologies and their implications for potential therapies.
(2) Teach students how basic scientific research and real-world economic trends and business developments can affect one another.
(3) Teach students to synthesize their acquired knowledge and apply it to a new context (i.e. policy regulation).
Procedure- Before Class: The decision-making involved in making an investment brings immediacy and a real-life quality to STEM topics that may otherwise feel theoretical and detached. To make the simulation as compelling as possible, the instructor prepared by researching media coverage of CRISPR companies’ stocks to identify events and research papers that affected them and then reverse-engineered the activity from there. The instructor used The HBS Case Method as a resource to build the discussion and intertwine it with the journal club.
Procedure- During Class: The instructor introduced the following instructions for students on slides:
(1) Discuss the alternative investment options using think-pair-share for two minutes, consulting Google or other online resources if you’d like.
(2) Record your investment decision on the hand survey.
(3) Take 30 minutes to read the journal club paper (https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.4293).
(4) (Optional) The instructor has incorporated another feature of the activity based on further developments in the reception of the paper: In the last five minutes of class, tell students how the story concludes, and assign the retraction commentaries from other CRISPR scientists as a follow-up homework assignment (https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.4664).
After the students have done their part, a discussion of the paper’s findings ensues, lasting approximately 15 minutes. Then, the instructor presents stock trends for the two companies, including the drop suffered by one of the two companies at the time the paper was released. The class spends twenty minutes discussing the biological differences between the technologies used by the companies. The class then takes a 10-minute break before returning for the final discussion.
For the final thirty minutes, the students are asked to propose hypothetical FDA requirements for CRISPR therapy approval. All the proposals are surveyed and prioritized, and, as a class, students work toward a consensus. They then list their three top proposed requirements for the FDA.
Post-Activity: The class discusses the simulation experience. The instructor asks students to reflect on how the lessons learned will affect:
(1) their understanding of biology and the research process;
(2) how they critically consume information from both scientific literature and news media; and
(3) how they make informed investment decisions.