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HMX Fundamentals

Learn why human health is dependent on chemistry, and what that means for clinical care.

Understanding biochemistry is an excellent foundation for learning all of biology, but it can be difficult to make sense of the complexity of biochemical systems.

In HMX Fundamentals Biochemistry, you’ll learn about the principles governing the interactions of individual molecules, and how those same principles apply at the scale of cells and organisms. Along the way, you’ll see how biochemistry intersects with human disease and clinical care.

Course Topics


  • Course introduction
  • Meet the faculty

The Rules of Energy

  • Thermodynamics of chemical reactions
  • Equilibrium and Le Chatelier’s principle
  • The role of enzymes and enzyme regulation
  • Glycolysis

How Energy is Harnessed

  • Coupling chemical reactions
  • Energy currencies: ATP and NADH
  • The tricarboxylic acid cycle
  • The electron transport chain

How Energy is Transformed

  • Bypass reactions and catabolic pathways
  • Gluconeogenesis
  • Metabolic networks
  • Diet and energy

Cellular Specialization

  • Cellular metabolic specialization
  • The liver and muscle in carbohydrate metabolism
  • The role of adipose tissue in lipid metabolism
  • Diabetes

Compartmentalization of Biochemical Pathways

  • Membranes and organelles
  • Pumps and osmolarity
  • Sequestration of chemical reactions
  • Fatty acid synthesis and oxidation
  • The secretory pathway

Signaling Pathways

  • Response to stimuli
  • Receptors, ligands, and enzyme cascades
  • Positive and negative feedback
  • Endocrine signaling (insulin and glucagon)

The Chemistry of Life

  • The hydrophobic effect
  • Amino acid and protein structure
  • How structure dictates function
  • Allosteric and covalent enzyme regulation

Download the Biochemistry course outline


Course Instructors

Kevin Bonham, HMX Biochemistry course lead

Kevin S. Bonham, PhD

Lecturer in Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School

Why do you think it’s important for health care professionals to learn biochemistry?

All biological processes, including those that are necessary for health and those that lead to disease, are governed by the chemical interactions of molecules. Life itself is made possible by enzymes – biological catalysts that can control the rate of chemical reactions. This means that in order to truly understand biology, you have to understand biochemistry.

More practically, because our health is rooted in our biology, everything about the practice of medicine, from diagnosing disease to the drugs we use to treat it, is also based on chemistry.

What do you want students to take away from this course?

Because biochemistry touches every aspect of biology, there’s no way to cover everything in a single course. But there are a small number of key principles that show up again and again, and that’s what I want students to take away from this course.

There’s no need to memorize enzyme names like phosphofructokinase, but understanding conceptually how enzymes work, and how the regulation of enzymes alters the behavior of a cell and of the whole body, will help students make sense of the rest of biology. Students won’t need to do complex calculations or derive the equations of thermodynamics, but understanding how energy is extracted and consumed will deepen their understanding of metabolism and human disease.

Ole-Petter Hamnvik, HMX Biochemistry faculty

Ole-Petter (“OP”) Hamnvik, MB BCh BAO, MMSc

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Program Director, Endocrinology Fellowship, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Why do you think it’s important for aspiring health care professionals to learn biochemistry?

To be able to provide effective medical care to patients, health care professionals need to first understand how the human body functions in health and in disease. To truly gain this understanding, you need to master what happens at the smallest functional units of the body – the cells and the molecules within them – and how these small units aggregate into a functional human body. In a way, biochemistry is the core of medicine; health care providers rely on an understanding of biochemistry in most of their routine tasks.

What do you want students to take away from this course?

The course illustrates the important idea that biochemical principles – while describing events that happen at a microscopic scale or smaller – has real implications on patients and the practice of medicine. For example, understanding the biochemistry of carbohydrate metabolism allows the students to understand how the body can deal with fasting and with the sudden influx of nutrients after a meal, and also provides a good understanding of diseases such as diabetes mellitus. The molecular events cause discernible clinical effects.

View a full list of HMX biochemistry faculty.

What Learners Say

Kitae Park

New York Medical College

“I really enjoyed the animations and the way they illustrated difficult concepts with simpler analogies.”

Jiwan Toor, HMX student

Jiwan Toor

William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine

“You learn something in five or ten minutes, then you get quizzed on it…and then there’s a really nice explanation, even if you get the question right or wrong.”

Elizabeth Altman - HMX student

Elizabeth Altman

Union College

“[I appreciated] the relationship between the two professors that were teaching it, and how they would so clearly tie in their own specialties…They had such a good conversation and were able to ask each other questions that built off each other, so they emphasized the molecular understanding and brought it up to a patient understanding.”

Read more learner profiles