Dr. Charles Brenner, the Roy J. Carver Chair and Head of Biochemistry at the University of Iowa, has been selected to receive the 2016 ASBMB Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education, given annually to a scientist who encourages effective teaching and learning of biochemistry and molecular biology through his own teaching, leadership in education, writing, educational research, mentoring or public enlightenment.
Late in 2011, Dr. Brenner observed that the new MCAT, which was rolled out in April of 2015, would test core concepts in biochemistry for the first time and that this would have ramifications well beyond MCAT test takers. In his writings on this subject, Dr. Brenner pointed out that US colleges and universities enroll approximately 3 million new US college freshmen per year and that as many as 500,000 begin the premedical sequence by enrolling in general chemistry. However, only about 165,000 of these students go on to take organic chemistry and 45,000 of these students apply annually to medical school for approximately 19,000 seats. Thus, the courses that are designed for premedical students actually engage a huge swath of students that end up doing something else. Thoughtful revision of the premedical curriculum has the potential to improve general education, the preparation of future researchers, educators and business people, and the preparation of health professionals (Brenner & Ringe, ASBMB Today , p. 12, 2012, Brenner, Biochem Mol Biol Ed, p 1, 2013 & Brenner, J Chem Ed, p. 807, 2013).
Specifically, in premedical curricular guidelines that were initially published in ASBMB Today, Dr. Brenner and Dr. Dagmar Ringe of Brandeis University began by recommending that the typically mandated year of biology provide a strong foundation in molecular genetics and biological information flow. Second, they recommended that chemistry courses move from the classical synthetic, organohalide orientation to one which emphasizes the reactivity of functionalized carbon and biomolecules in aqueous solutions. Third, they emphasized that a laboratory course is essential but that it could be offered in any department or discipline, so long as it includes instruction in data analysis. Finally, they wrote that premedical students take at least one semester and preferably two semesters of biochemistry in order to have the grounding to work in modern medicine.
Nationally, these recommendations appear to be having some impact. Where biochemistry courses are available, enrollment has burgeoned and in small colleges, faculty in chemistry and biology departments have begun offering biochemistry. At the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, the two semester biochemistry series is the expectation for pre-health students. At many other colleges and universities, chemistry and biochemistry coursework is being developed that will create a more continuous pedagogical basis for understanding molecular science.
In her letter of nomination for Dr. Brenner, Dean Debra Schwinn wrote “Dr. Brenner is powerfully and constructively engaged locally and nationally in medical education. At his urging, the Carver College of Medicine made undergraduate biochemistry a formal premedical requirement and with his effective influence, there has been a substantial preservation of biochemistry in the first semester of our new integrated medical curriculum. Indeed, educational leaders here at Iowa all read and appreciated his involvement in the national dialog on the need to reemphasize molecular science in the education of current and future medical students (Kennelly, et al., Acad Med 88, p. 1405, 2013).”
Dr. Brenner will present a plenary symposium lecture entitled “Biochemistry and molecular biology education in a transforming academy and a molecular world” at the ASBMB Annual meeting, April 2-6, 2016 in San Diego, CA.