After initial meetings, we decided to design a point of care (POC) diagnostic tool for STIs, given the limited access to STI diagnosis on our campus, and recent national cuts to sexual healthcare in Britain. Since our secondary PI is a luciferase expert with plentiful access to a thermostable variant, useful for access in wider settings, we decided on luciferase as the reporter protein. Asal enjoyed exploring safety, social, ethical, and economic considerations associated with POC testing as well as self testing kits as the project progressed.
The design of Cas-Find, and its intended future usage, has evolved as we delved into complex issues- this can be found on our Gold and Integrated Human Practices pages. After meeting a diagnostics researcher, we designed a system that minimises false positives by requiring two independent events to bring about a 'positive' result, and kept a photodiode in mind for cheap but effective hardware. A Biological Safety Officer advised us that cell free kits are easier to license, and stressed the importance of regulatory bodies. From this,she consulted the UK's regulatory body for medical devices, the MHRA, which helped us understand CE rating approval, and the PHS' decision making on self-testing diagnostics.
Meanwhile, we investigated the ethics of using Cas-Find in self-testing kits, spurred on by a conversation on 'burying results' and 'pre-test counselling' with a retired HIV social worker. We conducted a survey, and consulted an ethicist and employees at HIV charities, Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and National Aids Trust (NAT), all of which evolved into a report to inform our decision making.
Our public engagement activities can be found on our Silver and Engagement pages. We engaged with families, over 200 12-13 year olds, over 150 16-17 year olds, and adults, as well as other iGEM teams (European and Westminster meet ups; XMU newsletter; Warwick event; Toronto synbio panel).
For our workshop on synthetic biology's potential for life on Mars for 12-13 year olds, Rob and Dan designed 3D models that lit up when pupils added reporter gene 'plugs', to aid kinaesthetic learning. We performed enzymatic luciferase demonstrations for sixth formers and families when discussing Cas-Find. At a museum event, Asal ran a stall at the National Museum in Cardiff, explaining the role of reporter proteins in following gene expression to families. She encouraged young children to build log piles to help conservation of the luciferase producing glowworm.
During our interactive talk at the Science Cafe, we gained insight into the public opinion on synbio, our project and self-testing diagnostics while discussing the progress of our self-testing kit investigation run by Asal, and giving prizes.