CD4 HunterTM, a new educational mobile game developed by Drexel University College of Medicine researchers that turns players into microbes, is now available to download from iTunes and the Google Play app store.
In the mini-game, players enter the bloodstream as a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) particle. The goal is to hunt for and infect CD4+ T cells — white blood cells of the adaptive immune system. The game mimics the first step of the complex and dynamic HIV replication cycle, known as binding and entry.
Researchers from Drexel’s Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease (IMMID) created the game as a supplementary teaching tool for graduate students and undergraduates in advanced-level courses.
CD4 HunterTM is a first step toward developing and implementing new digital teaching strategies — particularly for those completing their degrees online, said Sandra Urdaneta-Hartmann, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine and director of the Center for Business and Program Development at the IMMID.
“This game is part of the evolution of venturing into other forms of digital teaching. By using digital game-based learning, we are creating a more immersive learning environment,” she said.
Despite changes in pedagogical trends in higher education, such as flipped classrooms, graduate programs in the biomedical sciences are still primarily taught thorough lectures and textbooks, Urdaneta-Hartmann said. The College of Medicine has added eight fully online master’s degree programs within the past four years, including an MS in Infectious Disease and an MS in Molecular Medicine, making Drexel one of only a handful of universities to offer these types of biomedical degrees outside of the traditional classroom. This gives College of Medicine faculty the unique opportunity to redesign and test new e-learning strategies.
CD4 HunterTM is the first in a series of educational mini-games that will focus on various pathogens and how they affect the body.
“We anticipate that these games will become an integral part of our educational strategy. They will also provide another tool to increase public awareness of the challenges faced by the biomedical research community, and they will stress the importance of research to prevent and treat the many diseases caused by these devastating human pathogens,” said Brian Wigdahl, PhD, professor and chair in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at Drexel.
Later this summer, CD4 HunterTM will also be used at Camp Dreamcatcher to communicate the complex science associated with HIV/AIDS. Founded by Patty Hillkirk in 1996, the summer camp provides free therapeutic and educational services to HIV/AIDS impacted children and teenagers.
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with the Drexel College of Medicine. CD4 Hunter provides tools that can have many positive effects,” Hillkirk said. “For HIV/AIDS impacted youth, it educates and further takes their disease out of the shadows and treats a serious subject with respect, and in a way that kids can better relate to. For the broader audience, hopefully it engenders from the game a desire to learn more about HIV/AIDS and separate fact from fiction.”
CD4 HunterTM is the result of an interdisciplinary team effort funded by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Office of the Provost and the Steinbright Career Development Center. Carla Brown, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and IMMID designed the mobile game. Vincent Mills and Andrew Bishop, both undergraduates in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, were key members of the game development team. Beta testing of prototypes of the game also engaged graduate students in the College of Medicine’s Graduate School for Biomedical Science and Professional Studies, as well as undergraduate students that are members of Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio.
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