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Scientific Foundations

Course Description


Scientific Foundations presents the core concepts and introduces the modes of thinking from several disciplines that are pillars of biomedical science and medicine: Biochemistry, Cell Biology/Histology, Pathology, Physiology, and Pharmacology. Each discipline continues throughout the pre-clerkship curriculum where its content is woven into every integrated course. Scientific Foundations is thus fundamental for students’ subsequent education and development as physician-scientists.

Because the clinical use of biomedical knowledge often draws upon information from multiple disciplines, the content in the course has been integrated and organized into themes that reflect key biomedical processes:

  • Building a Body
  • Fluids and Gradients
  • Gene Expression
  • Cell Energy
  • Cell Communication
  • Life and Death of a Cell

Each theme connects basic science with clinical medicine through discussions of relevant disease processes and seminal discoveries of treatments.


Scientific Foundations uses lecture several different active learning pedagogies, including workshops, labs, and team-based learning, where students apply their knowledge to solve real-world, medical problems.



  • Optional weekly quizzes
  • One mandatory, mid-course self-assessment


  • End-of-course, pass/fail qualifier

Learning Objectives

  • Students should be able to define the volumes and composition of the fluid compartments in the body and the mechanisms by which cells generate and use membrane potential. With this knowledge, students should be able to determine
  • Students should be able to diagram the pathways through which ligands and drugs alter cell behavior and calculate the availability, distribution, clearance and efficacy of drugs in patients.
  • Students should be able to describe the molecular connections and functional organization of macromolecules, cells and tissues. • Students should be able to describe the regulation of gene expression at the levels of transcription and translation and the mechanisms of protein folding, localization, and degradation.
  • Students should be able to list the pathways and major enzymes that allow cells to generate molecules of energy currency (ATP, NADH, NADPH), generate the building blocks of macromolecules (amino acids, nucleotides, and fatty acids), and metabolize macromolecules.
  • Students should be able to describe the basic pathways and mechanisms that regulate cell division and the responses of cells to injury.
  • Students should be able to use the knowledge gained in the course to analyze clinical cases and describe how the molecular, cellular, or physiological changes in a patient result in clinical symptoms.