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UCL iGEM 2016 | BioSynthAge

BioSynthAge: Do not go gentle into that good night

Healthy ageing is about “optimising opportunities for good health, so that older people
can take an active part in society and enjoy an independent and high quality life”.

The problem: Healthy ageing

How do you envision yourself as an elderly member of society? Frail, with a stooped posture and with greater risk of some cancers? Or healthy, active and living a high-quality life? This year the UCL iGEM team are working to build new systems that increase the healthy human lifespan and solve some of the issues of the ageing population. We are achieving this by focusing on the root cause, as opposed to traditional medicine which focuses on treating the symptoms of disease.

Ageing is a process that is caused by the cellular degeneration that leads to reduced maximum functional capacity of many organs, reduced capacity of cells to divide and increased risk of age-related diseases such as cancer. Simply put, as cells age they become increasingly poor at functioning and repairing damage. Even though we are living longer than ever before, this does not equate to a higher quality of life in our older years. About 2/3 of the global population (100,000 per day) die as a result of age-related causes. In industrialised nations, the proportion is much greater, reaching 90%. We believe that by targeting the causes of ageing, we are able in turn to cure the symptoms of ageing, such as age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and lung disease (COPD).

We are living longer, and maintaining a high quality of life depends on healthy ageing. We all aspire to a long and healthy live in old age, but we know that older people are at increased risk of disease and disability that can seriously affect their and their family's quality of life.

Ageing is not necessarily a burden, and it doesn’t decrease a person’s ability to contribute to society. By showcasing some practical synthetic biology solutions to healthy ageing, interacting with the society, talking to politicians, religious leaders and policy makers we hope to show that UCL iGEM can make healthy ageing a reality.

An ageing-themed project has never been explored before in iGEM and we are really excited to build new systems that solve the issues of the ageing population. We are contributing the iGEM Registry and are among the first to propose synthetic biology solutions to healthy ageing!

Biosynthage: What can we do about healthy ageing?

So what is biosynthage going to do about this? Currently, treatments for the elderly focus on treating each age-related disease. Biosynthage are working on therapies that prevent the onset of all these diseases. We have created a suite of solutions that are specific to organs that we feel are vital to human health and believe that targeting healthy ageing via many routes is the best way to maximise our ability to increase the healthy human lifespan. The health challenges currently posed by ageing are many and complex so we propose a suite of synthetic biology solutions, to tackle the challenges shown below. Click on the links to find out more:

Lungs: As you get older, the ability of your major organs to work at their maximal capacity is lost. One of these important organs is the lungs. These changes contribute to an older person's reduced ability to do vigorous exercise, especially intense aerobic exercise. We propose a gene therapy that over-expresses antioxidant Superoxide Dismutase 3, as a way to reduce oxidative damage that causes cells to age.

Gut: Increasing evidence suggests that oxidative damage to cells in the gut is one of the main causes of the ageing of gut cells. We are developing a bacterial oxidative stress sensitive probiotic that releases lycopene antioxidant in the presence of oxidative stress in the gut.

Teeth: Healthy teeth, healthy ageing. The health of your teeth can directly impact the health of your body. Studies suggest that accumulation of dental plaque leads to periodontal disease as well as hypertension. We are building plaque removing devices that minimise this risk. It is also known that plaque causing bacteria produce an acidic environment. We have created our bacteriocin producing device that responds to low pH conditions using our SPY promotor.

Heart: Bacteria in your mouth can directly influence the health of your heart. We are building engineered oral bacteria that lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attacks.

Lubricant: Lubricant is a substance used to reduce the friction. It can be used as a personal lubricant for sexual activities as well as for the insertion of catheters in hospitals. This is very important for the elderly as they are the main population of hospitalised patients receiving catheters and STIs have been on the rise in elderly populations over the past years.

Pest control: Decreasing the healthy lifespan of pests can be another alternative way to kill pests, such as Whitefly. We have used RNAi to remove the Vitellogenin receptor that would cause Whitefly to die as a result of accumulated oxidative stress.