iGEM 2017 - Creating a diagnostic device to prevent tropical diseases

98% Reached

€29.635 Raised
€30.000 Our goal

This year 10 motivated students from Wageningen University & Research are participating in the iGEM competition. In this competition hundreds of student teams strive to solve real-world problems using synthetic biology. The competition builds up to the Giant Jamboree at MIT in Boston, where all the teams come together to present their projects, build international contacts and have a good time! This years’ Wageningen University & Research iGEM team will design a diagnostic tool for detecting neglected tropical diseases.

Currently, millions of people are still at risk of tropical diseases, most prominently in undeveloped countries. Examples of these diseases are African Sleeping Sickness, caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma brucei and Zika Fever, caused by the Zika virus. For most tropical diseases treatments are available, but proper diagnosis often is late or is completely lacking. As a consequence these diseases might pose an unnecessary burden to the patient's health, or even result in death that could have easily been prevented. At the moment, there are diagnostics available, but these either require expensive equipment and well-trained personnel, both of which are lacking, or the specificity of the diagnostic is insufficient. On top of this, the available diagnostics often do not reach the people that need them. Mobile field teams often need to drive hours away from populated areas, where they perform field test. Thus, a rapid and reliable on-site diagnostic is needed to screen patients and give them proper treatment when necessary.

The Wageningen University & Research iGEM team aims to create a diagnostic tool to screen for tropical diseases according to these needs. A living bacterial system will be used to detect disease markers in a blood sample, and create a visual signal when these markers are present. This signal can be seen by using UV-light. Aside of creating this bacterial system, we will design and 3D-print a handheld device in which samples can be tested. This way, we create a rapid and sensitive diagnostic tool which can easily be taken into the field as it doesn’t require expensive equipment.

In order to succeed during our project, the Wageningen University has supplied laboratory space for us. However, we need funds to buy materials for our experiments, outreach and human practices. In total, we need a budget of €30000 to cover all the costs of the project. Therefore we are looking for sponsors to support us financially which would greatly help us forward in our project and the iGEM competition.

*You will receive rewards from the level to which your donation belongs, as well as the rewards from the levels below.

**Rewards will be shipped to contributors in the Netherlands, we will contact foreign contributors about shipping costs.

***Rewards will be shipped after the end of the projects, so do not worry if your rewards take a long time to arrive!

Wageningen iGEM 2017 team



Dear reader,

by this moment you know all about what our project entails. However, you still don’t know who these ten mysterious people on the group picture are! Hereby introducing: the Wageningen University & Research iGEM 2017 Team!

This years’ team consists of seven men and three women. Eight of us will be found mainly in the lab, whereas Sabine and Mark will work on their computers to model our project. Our team mainly consists of Dutchies, but we added a little Spanish salsa with José and Natalia. All of us are master students, studying either Biotechnology or Molecular Life Sciences.

Last year October we first met up to discuss what iGEM entails and what we would be getting ourselves into. After some months of brainstorming and researching several projects, we decided on working towards the design of a diagnostic device to help the people that need help most.

Over the last months we’ve all been working hard towards achieving our goal: Creating a modular diagnostic device for tropical diseases. Many many pages of literature have been read, genetic constructs were designed and built, stakeholders and other experts have been visited and overloaded with questions, among many more things. We’ve already presented our progress on many congresses, and the first 3D-printed prototypes of our device have already been made!

In November, the Giant Jamboree will take in Boston, where all teams will get together to present their ideas. This means that there will be over 300 teams that we all aim to beat! Last years’ team did very well and got the second prize overall, we hope to match or even exceed this result!

Thank you for your interest!

Kind regards,

Tom, Natalia, Mark, Sabine, Linda, Stijn, José, Niek, Bart & Jurre

In this day and age infectious diseases still pose a real threat to people all over the world. Over the last decades the number of infectious disease outbreaks has been increasing. A subgroup of these infectious diseases are the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which consists of thirteen major disabling conditions. These NTDs account for over half a million deaths annually, but they pose a risk to billions of people. For diseases like AIDS or malaria, there have been worldwide initiatives to combat them; NTDs have not seen this kind of support for a long time. Unfortunately, the poor and marginalized population affected by NTDs has a low priority for European and American pharmaceutical industries, causing diagnosis and treatment to fall behind. Thus, while NTDs pose no threat in developed countries, they unnecessarily continue to cause illness and death in undeveloped countries.

African Sleeping Sickness

A striking example of a NTD listed by the World Health Organization is Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), also named African Sleeping Sickness. This diseases is caused by two parasites, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiens, and is transmitted by the tse tse fly. In the 20th century there have been multiple outbreaks of this lethal disease, and currently it is endemic in as many as 36 African countries, with approximately 100.000 people infected. However, the population at risk is estimated at 60 million people. Together with the estimated high number of undiagnosed HAT patients, these number show the need for more efforts towards eradicating this disease.

HAT is described as a two-stage disease. In the initial haemolymphatic stage, patients show very general and mild symptoms like fever, itching and headaches. Patients reach the second (neurological) stage of HAT when the parasite breaches the blood-brain barrier and invades the central nervous system. This leads to serious symptoms like disorganized sleep cycle, tremor and muscle weakness. Finally, HAT will result in brain damage and is always fatal if left untreated. For optimal treatment of HAT, early diagnosis is essential. Available treatments and chances of survival differ for the different stages of the disease, with treatment in the neurological stage being very harsh. Early diagnosis is however difficult as the initial symptoms are very general.

As for most infectious diseases, there are laboratory-based tests available for HAT, but these do to reach remote health centres and mobile field teams. Microscopy is one of the tools used for parasitic infections, but requires expensive equipment and well-trained staff which is mostly not available. For field diagnosis, a quick blood test is available. This test however only detects one of the two parasites, and lacks specificity required for diagnosis. Because of the side effects of the harsh treatment in the second stage, accurate diagnosis is required for proper treatment. This underlines a great need for a specific field test which can be used by minimally trained staff.

Zika virus

In addition to these NTDs, recently unexpected outbreaks of other infectious diseases have occurred. One of the most prominent diseases in the media has been Zika Fever, caused by the Zika virus. This virus quickly gained world-wide attention as it is associated with microcephaly in of new-borns after infection of pregnant woman. It has been estimated that in 2015 in Brazil alone, some 500.000 to 1.500.000 cases of Zika Fever have been found.

Currently diagnosis of Zika Fever can be done in two ways; a serological and a PCR based test. This serological test is based on antibodies which lacks specificity, which means that infections with other viruses can cause false positive results. The PCR-based test requires expensive equipment which is often not available. As a result, currently no cheap and reliable diagnostic is available.

On top of the limited number of available testes, often times the available diagnostics do not reach the rural areas where they are most needed. Our project aims to develop a diagnostic tool that addresses this issue. A big problem with current diagnostics is the need for a laboratory, which makes diagnosing patients in remote areas impossible. Our diagnostics will not only be equipment-free, but will also need minimal training to use. Mobile field teams sometimes drive hours away from populated areas to provide the healthcare and performing field tests. We learned this from a Skype Call with prof. Joseph Ndungu (FIND Institute, Switzerland) which specializes in making diagnostics for infectious diseases. Our device will solve this by providing a rapid and reliable response so immediate steps in treatment can be taken.

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to education and competition, the advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of an open community and collaboration.

iGEM began in January 2003 as an independent study course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where students developed biological devices to make cells blink. This course became a summer competition with 5 teams in 2004 and continued to grow to 13 teams in 2005; it expanded to 300 teams in 2016, reaching 42 countries and over 5,000 participants.

The iGEM competition is an annual, world wide, synthetic biology event aimed at undergraduate university students, as well as high school and graduate students. Multidisciplinary teams work all summer long to build genetically engineered systems using standard biological parts called BioBricks. iGEM teams work inside and outside the lab, creating sophisticated projects that strive to create a positive contribution to their communities and the world.

The competition builds up to the Giant Jamboree at MIT in Boston, where all the teams come together to present their projects, establish international contacts and have a good time!