Human Practice Summary
What we discovered through our findings in policy and practice helped shaped the trajectory of our project. We gathered data from researchers, medical doctors, veterinarians, cataract patients, and public opinions to find out the best way to develop our project so that it can benefit as many people as possible.
Our Policy and Practice is separated into three categories, Research, Outreach and Impact. In the Research category, we collected and analyzed data from researchers, doctors, vets, investors, patients and the general public. This information shaped the direction of every part of our project, including the construct design, nanoparticle prototype synthesis and delivery, biological modeling and the development of a marketing plan for selling our final product. In the Outreach category, we educated the public and spread awareness of our cataracts project, synthetic biology and science in general. We also collaborated and communicated with two iGEM teams to help solve problems together. Through educating and raising awareness, we hope not only to get more people involved in finding a solution to cataracts, but also to get more people involved and interested in synthetic biology research. The final category, Impact, includes working with organizations and infrastructure that is already in place to actually help people who suffer from Cataracts. We have raised funds, through bake sales and other events, to donate to the Himalayan Cataracts Project, a non-profit organization based in Nepal. With the help of our business and economics teacher, we have also created a marketing plan and started discussions with several biotech investors about the possibility of getting our project to market.
In order to improve our research and prototype, we needed to get in contact with experts in the fields of eye surgery and cataract research. Our first step was to contact eye doctors to discuss any problems associated with current cataract treatments. Finally, while developing our project we realized that cataracts are a major issue in pets and other animals as well. As a result, we contacted local veterinarians to discuss what pet owners do when their pets develop cataracts. As our project developed, we needed more specific information regarding our genes of interest, cataract development, and our delivery mechanism. We contacted scientists doing research similar to our own to get their opinions on our projects as well.
Contact with Eye Doctors
We contacted local Taiwanese eye doctors to ask them about cataracts surgery. Here is a list of the doctors we contacted along with the information they provided:
Dr. Wei-Chi Wu is a retina specialist and an associate professor at Chang Gung memorial hospital in Taiwan.
Dr. Tsu Chieh Cheng is a opthamologist at Chang Cheng eye hospital in Taiwan.
According to Dr. Wu current cataract surgery methods are efficient and effective, but are not without their issues. Beside the high cost of surgery, there can also be several different post-surgery complications such as infection, hemorrhaging, or secondary glaucoma. In regards to our project, he said one of the biggest issues we would face is non-invasive delivery. Currently, injections and incisions are the only methods for delivery because all current potential methods of noninvasive delivery either lack efficiency or induce side effects.
Dr. Cheng points out that aside from possibly causing complications such as astigmatism, myopia, and hyperopia, cataract surgeries have risks, such as wound infections, dislodgement of lens, and massive bleeding during surgeries are not uncommon. He remarked that our project sounded very promising, but the effect that the drug has on other parts of the eye must be checked. Furthermore, he suggested that we use rabbits or dogs as animal models, because they can be observed more easily.
Contact with Veterinarians
Cataracts affect millions of people’s lives as a result of aging and diseases; however, many pet owners come across the problem of their pets suffering from cataracts as well. To alleviate this problem, we investigated if the potential benefits of our solution can be applied to domestic animals as well.
As we continued to develop our project, we also hoped to treat cataracts in animals. We consulted with veterinarians at clinics around Taipei. We visited two veterinarian clinics, (Nicholas Animal Hospital and Tai Pu Veterinarian Hospital) and asked various others about the viability of our project. From these interviews we learned that there are already commercial eye drops available, which are prescribed for pets, but that these are not very effective. One of the drugs developed is called Ocluvet(R), which we purchased and used in our experiments to compare to our own treatment design.
Contact with Science Researchers
Researchers’ firsthand knowledge, regardless of how many papers one reads on PubMed, provides a better understanding on specific topics of research. Thus, in order to gain a better understanding of specific areas of our project, we contacted researchers to learn more about 25-hydroxycholesterol (25HC) and Chitosan nanoparticles.
Dr. Jason Cyster is a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at University of California, San Francisco; School of Medicine.
Dr. Jason E. Gestwicki is an associate professor in the Department of Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases at University of California, San Francisco; School of Medicine.
Our questions were primarily focused on how 25HC works on the molecular level. We asked questions such as: what are the current researches conducted that uses 25HC? To what extent is 25HC responsible for reversing protein aggregation? And what are effective methods for 25HC storage? Both professors gave thorough responses on these questions, which we then used in our experiments. One response that was particularly helpful from Dr. Cyster was his suggestions on effective ways to store 25HC, in which he provided us with a recommended storage temperature. Dr. Gestwicki also provided us with two published papers that helped us understand the mechanism by which 25HC reverses cataract formation and this helped elucidate our understanding of 25HC.
Contact with Nanoparticle Engineers
We met with Dr. Eric P. Lee, Senior member of Technical Staff at Maxim Integrated, and TAS alumnus, to discuss issues we were having concerning chitosan nanoparticles. Specifically we had difficulty obtaining SEM images and with nanoparticle formation. His advice on the specific order of adding TPP to chitosan helped us make consistent nanoparticles. Additionally, he explained why we kept seeing large amorphous structures in our SEM images: a charge buildup in the nanoparticles from the electron beam. We used this information to improve our prototype and obtain quality images from both SEM and AFM.
We hosted a bioethics panel, where we invited teachers from various fields to engage in a conversation about bioethics and thoughts on our project in particular. The reason for including teachers from different fields is to allow our project and the topic of bioethics to be discussed from different perspectives. The panelists suggested that our project could really be applicable for use in dogs and cats. They also seemed unafraid of our use of nanoparticles, mainly due to the fact that they are biodegradable.
During TAS’s Spring Fair and our Taipei Cataract Awareness Day, we conducted a survey, from which we derived a general public sense of the following:
- Understanding of cataracts
- Willingness to use GMO products
- Willingness to use our product in humans and pets
- Side effect tolerance
- Willingness to pay for cataract surgery
Interviews with Cataract Patients
We interviewed two former cataract patients about their experiences with surgery. Both patients suffered from inconveniences due to the synthetic lens options, which would either make one nearsighted or farsighted. Complications due to surgery varied among individual cases; one suffered from dryness and irritation of the eye, while the other had no complications at all. Both of them stated that the surgery process was efficient and effective; however, if given the choice to apply effective eye drops instead of surgery, they’d be willing to use it rather than face surgery again. Dr. Moran’s and Mrs. Clapper’s experiences reinforce the disadvantages of surgery, and further motivated us to create a non-invasive solution.
Dr. Catriona Moran is a former patient of cataract surgery
Mrs. Sharon Clapper is a former patient of cataracts surgery
From interviews with cataract patients, ophthalmologists, veterinarians, polls from residents in Taipei and our school community, we learned that cataracts are prevalent and have a huge impact on everyday life. Now we wanted to raise awareness through education. We started by informing teachers and students of various grade levels about the severity and causes of cataracts, and how our project could tackle these problems.
Then, in our community, we handed out pamphlets, taught people how cataracts form, and simulated a cataract experience by wearing goggles of varying cloudiness. Below is a list of activities and programs that we did in outreach.
This is a photo of a lower school student at our booth, playing our interactive game and learning about what it is like to have cataracts.
During Spring Fair we conducted a survey to gather public opinion and designed an interactive game to raise awareness of cataracts. In the survey we asked questions regarding people’s opinions on genetically modified organisms, cataract surgery, and our project. For the game we taped parafilm onto lab goggles and asked people who came to our booth to play the “piano tiles” app with those goggles on, and thus experiencing a real life simulation of the effects of cataracts on vision.
Taipei Cataract Awareness Day
Our team went on an excursion to five different landmarks in Taipei and passed out flyers containing information on cataracts to the general public. We explained the formation of cataracts and the basic concepts of our project to local crowds and asked them to fill out our survey to get a wider sample size.
Kindergarten Science Experiments
We designed some easy experiments so that Kindergarten students could explore some common science concepts. The kids (and our team members) loved it! Some of the experiments included how to use the microscope, why light reflects through prisms, and how static electricity works.
7th Grade Introduction to Synthetic Biology
For 7th Graders we decided to introduce the concepts of synthetic biology, since they had just be introduced to DNA in their science classes. Aside from teaching a general idea of what synthetic biology is, we also introduced them to some basic laboratory techniques essential to synthetic biology. We made up scenarios and asked them to solve these problems using different combinations of standardized parts (promoter, RBS, different ORFs, etc.). They also learned how to use micropipettes and run a gel!
International baccalaureate 11th grade
We presented our project to 11th grade IB students. Since they were learning about genetic engineering concepts, we gave a presentation on the details of our project to gain feedback.
23 high school teams from around the world joined the BioBuilder Club, which is run by the BioBuilder Educational Foundation. This club held online meetings once a month so the teams could brainstorm synthetic biology project topics, project design, and collectively troubleshoot problems encountered by each team. The club held a final assembly in Boston at Lab Central, and we were excited to present our poster in absentia from Taipei.
Science Research Symposium
During the school year when we were brainstorming for potential project ideas, our team members were divided into several groups and gave presentations on those topics at the school’s Science Research Symposium. Over 80 students from 11 research classes presented their own research from all different areas to the school community. This allowed us to receive feedback on our project ideas from both students and teachers. This really helped us decide our final project idea.
Research Speaker Series
We invited two science researchers to come to our school and give presentations on their research. This allowed us to learn how scientists conduct actual scientific research and also expanded our knowledge in other areas of science. Below are the science researchers that came.
The iGEM Club was established 3 years ago, and the purpose of is to raise awareness of synthetic biology in the TAS community. Club activities allow underclassmen to experience iGEM-related activities and develop potential team members.
Collaborations with Other iGEM Teams
We collaborated with two iGEM teams, National Yang Ming University (NYMU) and American School in Japan (ASIJ). We mentored the ASIJ-Tokyo high school iGEM team, which is a new High school iGEM team this year. We taught them how to start and structure a new team, what lab and online resources to use for experiments, and how to set up a lab notebook. In return, they helped us test our nanoparticle calculator by running simulations from the standpoint of a patient, doctor, and manufacturer.
We also continued our long standing partnership with National Yang Ming University (NYMU_Taipei). Three students from our team have been interning on the NYMU-Taipei team (they are members to both teams) to learn about synthetic biology and some basic lab techniques. Two of these students will be presenting for the NYMU_Taipei team presentation. NYMU-Taipei also hosted a summer camp for our team members, where they taught us about different aspects of iGEM. In return, we helped them increase the efficiency of their model using equations from their literature research and ran simulations using their experimental data. Finally, they also gave tremendous advice on troubleshooting our cloning procedure during the summer months when we ran the majority of our wet lab experiments. We really value the relationship we have with NYMU and look forward to more collaborations in the future.
These collaborations not only created opportunities for us to help each other with problems, but also allowed us to exchange ideas and stimulate creativity. It is also fun to share stories about lab work, successes, and even failures.
Counteracts Marketing Plan
With the help of our business and economics teacher, we developed a comprehensive marketing plan for our cataract prevention and treatment products, in order to create a more profound impact in terms of public awareness of cataracts. Within this plan we performed a situational analysis based on market research, customer analysis, environmental/industrial considerations, and regulatory constraints (such as quality control and SWOT analysis). Furthermore, we statistically analyzed our products’ viability in the market by developing pricing and promotional strategies. Upon completion, we initiated discussions with several biotechnology investors and published our plan on business starter websites to garner interest.
We received constructive feedback from a former intern at RA Capital (a biotechnology investment firm). He suggested that we focus on cost projections, for it would put us in a better position to engage with venture capitalists. He also thought our competitor analysis and initial market sizing was impressive. Furthermore, this plan was shown to an opthamologist, Dr. Tai-Yuan Wang, and he suggested that with an FDA approval and clinical trials, he would be interested in our products. Thus, we can conclude that our products have the potential to compete in market.
Marketing Plan Synopsis
There exists a significant market opportunity for cataract treatment worldwide. Over 3 million cataract surgeries are performed in the United States every year, and cataracts have attributed to 51% of world blindness. Although cataract surgery is the dominant procedure in this market, we have developed a product which provides distinctive advantages, and created a marketing plan which serves as a guide for establishing a successful business.
Fundraising Efforts for Cataract Charity
Lastly, we wanted to make a real impact in people’s lives who were experiencing cataracts. Despite our project’s goal of delivering cataract relief non-invasively, we realize that surgery is currently the most effective way to eliminate cataracts. So, we held fundraisers (in the form of bake sales and club fairs) in order to donate to those who don’t have funds or access to surgery. We raised enough money for 14 surgeries through the Himalayan Cataract Project, which serves underprivileged cataract patients.