By Pam Reponen

Course: Molecular Biology/HIV Pandemic

Professor: Ann M. Sheehy

Description: One of the Biological Principles offerings of the biology department, providing non-science majors a rigorous introduction to the methods of scientific inquiry and content of the discipline, this course approaches the study of molecular biology through the use of HIV as the model. The areas of study are basic cellular processes; the nature of the immune system and viruses, specifically, HIV; and the larger context of the disease, with concepts such as vaccine clinical trials, therapeutics and prevention considered from a scientific vantage point.

Texts: Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun, by David P. Clark and Lonnie D. Russell; AIDS The Biological Basis, by Benjamin S. Weeks and I. Edward Alcamo; supplemental readings

Requirements: Four examinations, writing assignments, laboratory exercise and poster presentation

Class visit: “In the News” discussion about the Nov. 9 PlusNews online article, “Africa: EU-India deal could threaten access to essential HIV drugs”; lecture, PowerPoint presentation on the cellular process of transcription—how information from DNA is converted into its RNA equivalent

Professor quote: “My hope is that the students taking this class not only develop a strong appreciation for the awesome beauty and power of science, but also its limitations—which are starkly evident in the HIV pandemic,” says Assistant Professor Ann Sheehy. “I would like them to understand that, while science is a critical piece, representatives from many sectors, including sociologists, economists, political science analysts, must work together to overcome this devastating health crisis.” In giving students the tools and vocabulary to understand this challenging subject, she continues, “I would also like them to feel empowered to take control of their own health and place in the scientific world; I hope they discover untapped intellectual curiosity and talent.”

Professor bio: A member of the College faculty since 2005, Sheehy received her Ph.D. in immunology from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Working in HIV research for seven years prior to coming to Holy Cross, she currently focuses her research “on the interplay between a human protein, APOBEC3G and the HIV viral protein Vif,” with laboratory projects concerned with “understanding the regulation of APOBEC3G and whether ultimately manipulating this regulation can significantly enhance and strengthen APOBEC3G anti-viral activity.” Co-author of a paper on NFAT and IRF proteins regulating transcription of APOBEC3G, published Jan 28 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Sheehy notes that she, with two of her research students, was recently invited to present a poster on NFAT and IRF controlling the expression of APOBEC3G at the 18th annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston.

Quotes from students who took this course in the fall semester: “Professor Sheehy’s course not only enhanced my understanding of the molecular principles that constitute the HIV virus, but it also bolstered my knowledge regarding the implications of the disease from a global perspective,” say Jacob Love ’14. “As a result of this course, I now understand, in great detail, the inner workings of the human genome as well as the immune system, and that knowledge has reinforced my knowledge of the HIV pandemic even further.”

“Professor Sheehy’s course was one of the most interesting and eye-opening classes I have taken at Holy Cross,” says Elizabeth Juliand ’12. “I chose the class in order to honor two of my uncles who died of AIDS by learning more about the disease … Professor Sheehy taught the biology in a way that was not intimidating to non-science majors and also provided forums, such as weekly journal articles and a poster presentation, to allow us to delve into the social implications of the HIV pandemic.”