Team:UCL/Integrated Practices

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UCL iGEM 2016 | BioSynthAge


Integrating the world into our therapies


Human practices has formed an integral part of our project. Through the two-way dialogues we engaged in with the wider world we have come to the conclusion that our safe, well optimised and controlled therapies can be successfully integrated into society. Not only have we changed the way people think about ageing, but it has also changed the way we approach the problem (see silver and gold pages for more).

Our project initially started off with the optimistic view of having one therapy that would target counteracting the root cause of ageing. However, once we interacted with a variety of people, we realised that we needed to change our approach to a more effective, realistic and specialised one. Slowly we developed an interesting project that tackles ageing through the use of many therapies that all aim to increase the healthy lifespan of many aspects of the human body. Without the interactions with the experts, public and everyone else we have interacted with, we would never have created therapies that we believe to increase healthspan in humans. Below is an overview of how human practices has integrated into the way we worked and thought about ageing, our biobricks designs and overall safety.

Biosynthage: Our ever changing approach to healthy ageing

Once we decided that our project focused on increasing healthy human lifespan, the team really wanted to develop solutions that had a large impact on ageing and change the way people age.

Initially, we started to look at therapies that would be an all in one solution that would increase the healthy lifespan of all the cells of the body. This is when we came across senescent cells, which are cells that are in a state of growth arrest but are still alive. There’s increasing evidence that suggests that senescent cells are one of the causes of the ageing of cells. However, currently there is no synthetic biology solution, which effectively removes senescent cells from the human body in order to increase healthy lifespan. We were really keen to find ways in which we could create one.

In order to understand senescence, we met with Aubrey de Grey, Maximina who both agreed that senescent cells are currently a new and less understood path of research. They explained that the link between senescence and ageing of cells is not that clear and that by removing them, we may be causing more harm than doing good. Therefore, because of the limited time to research about how we can target ageing through senescent, we decided that we wanted to drop this idea. As explained on the gold page, our meetings with the experts have helped us realise that we can better increase healthy human lifespan by having a multi-therapeutic route to ageing. We believe that our multi-route solutions to ageing will have a better impact on the healthy ageing of cells than just one solution. Therefore, talking to the experts has greatly contributed to our design and we believe now that as we better understand the problem, we can create better and more targeted therapies.

Then the next step was to investigate whether these therapies we have suggested are a good idea, whether they are approved by the stakeholders of ageing and what we can do after to improve the therapies. Our main aim was also to investigate and embrace the barriers of our project and integrate them into the design, as there will always be negative implications and people who don’t agree with these therapies. We then needed to think about how we can work around that. This is part of the reason why we investigated the relationship between religion and synthetic biology, public policy and law – as these people can impact the acceptance of our therapies into society.

From the whiteboard to wet lab

We have realised through our interactions with the general public, that there is an increasing concern of the safety of our devices. Therefore, we really wanted to ensure that we characterise our devices as such that we can provide sufficient evidence about the efficacy and feasibility within the real world. Hence, Biosynthage wanted to extend our lab work with our lycopene construct such that it can be shown to release lycopene and increase the growth of our bacteria using different methods of oxidative stress. More details of our experiments can be seen here.

Biosynthage made it a priority to integrate feedback from the public and the experts into the workflow of our lab work such that we provide sufficient evidence of the safety and functionality of out devices..

The evolution of our BioBrick designs

We have made a lot of changes to our BioBrick designs due to the interactions in our silver human practices. Not only do we want to create novel synthetic biology devices that change the world we live in, but we also want to create devices that we are certain will work effectively and will make a difference to the lives of millions of people. More details on how each interaction impacted our designs can be seen on our gold practices page.