PSL1014H - Advanced Topics: The Gastronintestinal Epithelium

Course Coordinator: P. Brubaker

The gastrointestinal epithelium is a complex biological system that comprises the largest organ in the body. Originating from stem cells in the crypts, the epithelial cells differentiate and migrate to form the crypt-villus unit which carries out the unique digestive, absorptive, secretory, endocrine, barrier and immune functions of the gut, as well as interactions with the gut microbiota. Consistent with the large number of physiological roles of the gut, diseases of the gastrointestinal epithelium are commonly associated with morbidity.

This seminar-style, graduate-only course will consider the various functions of the gastrointestinal epithelium through student presentations and class discussion of selected recent publications from the literature, as well as through manuscript and grant reviews. There will be no didactic lectures. To encourage active discussion, the class size will be limited to 16 students (minimum 6 students) from any graduate department at the University of Toronto.

General course topics will include:
Topic 1: Intestinal growth
- Stem cells
- Signaling
- Growth factors
Topic 2: Gut microbiome in health and disease
- Who is there?
- What are they doing?
Topic 3: Gut inflammation
- Immunity and microbiota
- Enteric infection
Topic 4: Gastrointestinal cancer
- Stem cells
- Microbiota

No pre-requisite courses are required, but a good working knowledge of gastrointestinal tract function will be an asset.

a)  Oral presentations of papers from the literature (35%)
Each Friday, 2 papers that have been selected by the course faculty will posted on BlackBoard for all students to read, with one student each assigned to present one of the papers in class on the following Thursday. Each student will present two papers during the course (15% for the first presentation; 20% for the second presentation). Presentations will be made orally with slides, for 20 min, and each presentation will be assessed by all faculty members in the classroom.

b)  Manuscript review (15%)
Each student will submit a written critique of their first assigned original paper - specifics of the review process will be discussed in class; maximum 2 pages double-spaced, due at the beginning of the following class/Thursday at 1:00. The reviews will be graded by both the course director and the faculty responsible for selecting that paper.

c)  Mini-assignment (5%)
Each non-presenting student will submit an analysis of the papers to be presented that week, by email, at least 1 hour before the beginning of the class.  The analysis for each paper should take the form of a single sentence describing (1) the major strength and (2) the major weakness of each of the papers, as well as one proposed question for the presenter of each of the papers.

d) Participation (15%)
Student participation in class discussions will be assessed on the basis of his/her contribution to the in-class discussions, as evaluated by all faculty members in the classroom.

e)  Grant review (30%)
Students will review a relevant grant proposal, to be posted on BlackBoard 2 weeks in advance*.  Each student will review an assigned grant, with the written review (maximum 3-4 double-spaced pages) to be orally presented and discussed in a small group, mock grant review panel (the exact procedures utilized by grant review panels will be discussed in class).  Each student will then have one week to revise their written review, to be submitted by the following Thursday at 1:00 p.m.  The reviews will be graded by both the course director and the faculty responsible for submitting the grant (oral presentation and discussion: 10%; final written review: 20%)

*Ideally, a different grant will be assessed by each group of 2-3 students.  This will include the proposal only, provided on a voluntary-basis, by faculty in the course from their currently funded grants.  If insufficient numbers of grants are provided, then each student may evaluate the same grant, to be provided by the course director only.  Any names will be removed from the proposal prior to distribution.

Course rules and regulations:
Late submissions without approved U of T medical documentation will be subject to a 10% reduction in total possible score per 24 hr. U of T rules and regulations regarding plagiarism and student conduct will be applied throughout the course.

Course Faculty :

  • Dr. Patricia Brubaker (
  • Dr. Nicola Jones (
  • Dr. Tae-Hee Kim (
  • Dr. Catherine O'Brien (
  • Dr. Dana Philpott (

Last updated: 18-Dec-2015

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