Towards Bachelor Research Hub networks to foster transdisciplinary challenge-based education in Translational Medicine

Niels Bovenschen, Wim J.A.G. Dictus, and Berent J. Prakken

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Translational medicine is a branch of biomedicine embedded in the continuum of bench, bedside and community. It bridges the gap between biomedical research and patients, with the goal of improving global health (1).

In our recent paper in Nature Biotechnology (link to article) (2), we described that patients can serve as an educational catalyst in biomedical sciences to create strong synergy between research, healthcare, and undergraduate (bachelor) education, with the goal of fostering translational medicine and helping patients. Together with the treating physicians, we invite patients with unknown (orphan) disease or with disease for which adequate treatment or diagnostic options are lacking to a plenary lecture series in the third-year undergraduate course Pathology. In subgroups, approximately 100 students subsequently serve as a think-tank proposing research that can be done in the lab to help these patients. The best proposal is transferred as the starting point for another course later in the academic year, named Experimental Translational Medicine. Here, students in Biomedical Sciences and Medicine collaborate hands-on to execute the best research proposal that comes from the Pathology course (2). This intertwined interdisciplinary course axis fits within the didactic frameworks of research-based and challenge-based education (3). To facilitate the biomedical laboratory work, we now have founded the so-called Bachelor Research Hub. This hub not only accommodates the course Experimental Translational Medicine, but also offers many other educational possibilities to strengthen the research-teaching-healthcare nexus.

Bachelor Research Hub
The Bachelor Research Hub is a dedicated and well-equipped wet laboratory that is positioned in the center of the University Medical Center Utrecht (Faculty of Medicine, Utrecht University), with short lines to research labs, diagnostic labs, clinic, patients, medical doctors, (clinician-)scientists, teachers and researchers (see figure 1). In this laboratory hub, undergraduate students Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are welcome to do authentic and real-world actual research under supervision of experienced (clinician-)scientists in which medical doctors and patients are also involved. Students can participate in the Bachelor Research Hub both intra-curricular (e.g. via laboratory courses, research lab sessions, undergraduate capstone) and extra-curricular (e.g. in summer/winter courses and even in their spare time). The Bachelor Research Hub reinforces the research-teaching-healthcare nexus by creating mutual incentives and benefits for undergraduate students, (clinician-) scientists, medical doctors, and patients that are multipronged. For students, it fosters community building, research skills, academic skills, motivation by role-models and patients, interdisciplinary learning and inter-professional collaboration between medical and biomedical students. The hub stimulates creative and critical thinking, and contributes closing the gap between undergraduate students, master programs and the labor market. For faculty, benefits include acquiring new data output, lots of relevant and critical questions and insights from students, extra financial support for laboratory costs and guidance, extra laboratory space and equipment, and scouting opportunities of excellent students for future research (internship) positions. For patients, additional research on their disease is done and it gives them the opportunity to participate in research and curricula.


Figure 1. The Bachelor Research Hub at the Faculty of Medicine (Utrecht University) and its potential network to foster transdisciplinary challenge-based education in Translational Medicine.


Towards transdisciplinary Bachelor Research Hub networks
The needs of Translational Medicine in supporting the continuum of fundamental research to community not only requires an optimal reciprocal collaboration between patients and (clinician-)scientists in the (bio)medical field, but also with actors from other disciplines, including beta sciences, bioengineering, social sciences, economics, and humanities. Therefore, we believe that already at the early undergraduate phase students should engage with transdisciplinary challenge-based education in Translational Medicine. This student-centered pedagogy stimulates deep learning and 21st century academic skills and is characterized by solving real-world problems of societal importance, collaboration with other disciplines and external actors in society, and doing hands-on authentic research on the edge of knowledge with uncertainty in outcomes. Such a transdisciplinary approach prerequisites a research strategy that crosses many disciplinary boundaries to create the desired holistic approach. However, this synergy is currently limited i) between Translational Medicine and undergraduate students and ii) between students of distinct undergraduate educational programs both within and amongst universities.

To facilitate transdisciplinary challenge-based education in Translational Medicine we envision implementation of a network of Bachelor Research Hubs. Within Utrecht University, several undergraduate educational programs already opted to also position a Bachelor Research Hub, starting within the Life Sciences cluster. The resulted Bachelor Research Hub network will open possibilities to facilitate undergraduate students from different disciplines to work simultaneously on the same wicked and urgent societal problem within Translational Medicine from different perspectives, e.g., in a course-based research format. Moreover, undergraduate students catalyze and bridge transdisciplinary collaboration between faculty of different disciplines (see figure 1).

Future expansion towards other locations within Utrecht University and potentially other universities emerges unique and innovative networks of collaborating Bachelor Research Hubs that not only foster transdisciplinary connections between educational programs, faculties, and universities, but also transdisciplinary challenge-based education in Translational Medicine.

Written by:

  • Niels Bovenschen (Principal Fellow at Utrecht University, Associate Professor, Department of Pathology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
  • Wim J.A.G. Dictus (Director Undergraduate Educational Program Biomedical Sciences, Education Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
  • Berent J. Prakken (Vice-dean and Head of Education Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)

Link to the paper: R.H. Drost, W.J.A.G. Dictus, B.J. Prakken, N. Bovenschen. How a four-year-old boy connects healthcare, biomedical research and undergraduate education. Nat Biotechnol. 2019;37(9):1092-1095. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41587-019-0245-5

Link to Bachelor Research Hub location Faculty of Medicine, Utrecht University: https://students.uu.nl/gnk/bmw/bachelor-research-hub/english

Photo banner: Thomas Dobber (2020)

References:

  1. Battaglia M, Albani S, Prakken B, Rosenblum ND. Editorial: The Silent Cry: How to Turn Translational Medicine Towards Patients and Unmet Medical Needs. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020;7:69.
  2. Drost RH, Dictus WJAG, Prakken BJ, Bovenschen N. How a four-year-old boy connects healthcare, biomedical research and undergraduate education. Nat Biotechnol. 2019;37:1092-1095.
  3. Kohn Rådberg K, Lundqvist U, Malmqvist J, Hagvall Svensson O. From CDIO to challenge-based learning experiences – expanding student learning as well as societal impact? Eur J Eng Educ. 2020;45:22-37.

Niels Bovenschen

Associate Professor, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University

Niels Bovenschen studied Medical Biology at the Free University in Amsterdam and he obtained his PhD in 2003 at Sanquin Research (Amsterdam). In 2004, he moved to the department of Pathology at the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht), where he was appointed Associate Professor in 2012. His research group now focuses on the effector immune response in eliminating tumor cells and virus-infected cells. He is in charge of the UMC Utrecht Pathology Research Laboratory and head of the Laboratory of Translational Immunology core facility Proteins. Niels was appointed as Senior Fellow in 2017 and as Principal Fellow in 2020 at Utrecht University. His mission is to engage undergraduate students in science by creating synergy between education, scientific research, and healthcare already at the early undergraduate level. He is examiner and coordinator of several (bio)medical educational programs and courses at the faculty of Medicine, Utrecht University. In 2019, Niels Bovenschen won the Outstanding Teacher Award of Utrecht University.