Understanding Disease: an Integrated Approach

This module may only be taken by Medical Biochemistry, Medical Genetics, Medical Physiology and Psychology with Neuroscience students.

Module code: MB3057

Module co-ordinator: Dr Martine Hamann

Module Aims

The aim of this module is to develop knowledge gained in years one, two and three to provide students with an integrated understanding of a range of individual disease processes. Students will learn to integrate information from several different sources, including clinical material (signs and symptoms, disease incidence in populations); relevant anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and pathology of the system(s) concerned; and current and future treatments for each disease.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this course students should be able to understand the mechanisms of:

  • Normal wound healing and develop an appreciation of why wounds sometimes fail to heal.
  • Haemostasis (activation of platelets and the clotting cascade) and different disease conditions arising from inadequate or excessive stimulation of haemostatic processes (bleeding/haemorrhage or thrombosis).
  • Insulin action and signalling, insulin resistance and decreased beta-cell function/survival, the pathogenesis of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic consequences of obesity.
  • The normally-functioning nerve-muscle unit, and of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
  • Pathogenesis of the nerve-muscle interface (myasthenia gravis) and of motor neuron diseases.
  • Pathogenesis and rational treatments of multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease caused by immunological dysfunction .
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease) caused by protein misfolding/mishandling.
  • Pathogenesis of epilepsy and how drug therapies work at the molecular level.
  • Mood disorders, in particular, anxiety and depression; current theories, and appreciate molecular basis for how current treatments may work.

Module Description

This module examines a number of clearly identified disease processes from the clinical presentation of the disease to our understanding of the underlying anatomy, physiology, pathology, and therapies used in man. In each disease block students will be introduced to the current thinking regarding the underlying cause of each disease and how we can use scientific tools from genetics, molecular biology and pharmacology to develop novel approaches for the treatment of each disease. Held in the second semester of final year, this module will pull together information from a range of modules in years one, two and three to give students an integrated understanding of each disease process. Students will be required to think across disciplines in their quest to understand the mechanisms of each disease.


Examination: 70% (three hours). Students must write three essays from a choice of seven.

Continuous assessment: 30%, consisting of a critical evaluation ('news and views' style) of a scientific paper (15%) and a 2500-word essay (15%).

The coursework in this module will consist of an extended essay on a single disease state in which the student will look at all aspects of the disease including, cell biology, physiology, pathology, clinical signs/symptoms and therapies. For the second piece of coursework students will critically evaluate a recent scientific paper and will be required to summarise the important findings and identify weaknesses.


Module Essay

This 2,500 word (maximum) extended essay will be on a disease process that is not covered during the course. This essay is expected to touch on a number of issues, such as the prevalence of the disease, morbidity, signs and symptoms of the disease, physiology of the relevant system, pathology of the disease, and an understanding the disease process, e.g. genetic, molecular, and cellular approaches. It should also touch on current therapies and the mechanism of action of any drugs involved, outcomes, and any developmental therapies or new treatments. Students will be allocated an essay title during the first week of the semester.

Critical Review of a Scientific Paper

Each member of staff contributing to the module will choose a recent scientific paper for this piece of work. Students will be given one paper to review and allocated a member of staff who will provide expert scientific assistance. Each member of staff will be responsible for a group of approximately 10 students.

The student will prepare a 500-word critical written review of that paper that summarises the important findings of the work, identifies weaknesses, and hopefully criticises it as well. This will be handed in for marking by the relevant tutor.

This will be written in the typical 'News and Views' style found in the journal ‘Nature’, informing readers about new scientific advances, as reported in the paper.

Recommended Books

Kandel, l.E.R., Schwartz, J.H. and Jessell, T.M. (2000). Principles of Neural Science, (4th edition). ISBN 0071120009, £50.00.
Squire, L.R., Bloom, F.E. and Spitzer, N.C. (2008). Fundamental Neuroscience, (3rd edition). ISBN 978-01237400199, £50.00.


Note: This module is only available for Medical Genetics, Medical Biochemistry, and Medical Physiology students.