COLUMBIA, Mo. -- High school teachers and students in Missouri will be among the first to benefit from innovative, high tech mapping tools and concepts developed at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced today that it will award a $750,000 grant to the MU School of Medicine to develop these concepts and tools and teach students fundamental concepts of human health, biology and medical sciences.
HHMI will support the MU program as part of a national initiative to improve connections between research institutions and their communities. Only 30 other institutions received similar grants through the initiative, and MU was one of just six to receive a maximum grant of $750,000. HHMI used a panel of lead scientists and educators to select grant recipients from 127 proposals representing 42 states.
The MU program, Maps in Medicine, will use geospatial and biological imaging technologies in partnership with K-12 students and teachers in three Missouri school districts - the Columbia Public Schools and the Normandy and Parkway School Districts in metropolitan St. Louis. MU researchers will work with educators and students to develop curricular material that uses a current approach and focuses on cell biology, while corresponding with science learning objectives the state has mandated.
Building on students' sense of direction and understanding of geospatial mapping such as GIS systems, the educators will engage students in lessons that teach them how structures are determined by DNA and conveyed within cells, causing the cells to move through three-dimensional space much as humans move across the earth and through space.
"The basic notion is very simple: young people have a sense of direction and navigation that we wish to employ in helping them to understand how cells develop and how those cells navigate in three-dimensional space as tissues and how organizations are patterned during development. We are using this sense of direction, movement and geography that is intrinsic in humans as a metaphor for the instructions that determine movement of cells during development," said William Folk, principal investigator of the project, professor of biochemistry and senior associate dean for research in the MU School of Medicine.
Maps in Medicine will utilize two interconnected modules: Mapping Health and Mapping Cell Fate. In the Mapping Health portion, students will be introduced to the role of vectors in the transmission of avian influenza virus and how movement of the avian vectors and spread of the virus are monitored at state, regional and global levels. In the Mapping Cell Fate portion, students will learn how cells get instructions to maintain or change their properties, or their "fates", and what health problems occur when these instructions are challenged by genetic mutations and pathogens such as the avian influenza virus.
Folk said he expects the five-year project will result in enriched training of teachers, strengthened interest in science among at-risk high school students and the development of innovative educational materials that can be disseminated nationally. It will build on several existing MU-led projects, including The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies, which also is led by Folk, and funded by a $4.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how traditional medicines are used in healthcare.
The largest privately funded education initiative of its kind in the United States, HHMI's grants program is enhancing science education for students at all levels, from the earliest grades through advanced training. Since 1988, HHMI has awarded approximately $1.5 billion in grants.