Oriel Engineering undergraduate Chun Au was part of a team of students from the University of Oxford who were awarded not only a gold medal, but also the prize for 'Best Diagnostics Project', at this year's iGEM synthetic biology competition.
This year's highly-competitive iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition, which brought together 310 student-led teams from 44 countries, was recently held in Boston. The multidisciplinary teams worked to build genetically engineered systems, with all of the teams aiming to address real-world issues.
The Oxford team was made up of 12 undergraduate students from the fields of Biochemistry, Biology, Medicine and Engineering (represented by Oriel's Chun Au). The team set out to develop a cheap and reliable diagnostic for Chagas disease, a parasitic infection affecting millions of poor people in South America. It can be treated if diagnosed early, but can be fatal if treatment is delayed.
Throughout their summer project, the team interacted with stakeholders both in the UK and in the affected regions. They used mathematical modelling to predict the behaviour of, and optimise, the genetic circuitry for their device before producing and testing various components in the laboratory. They also carried out iterations of designs and costings for their device and considered the potential benefits and issues around its use in the field.
This project culminated in Boston, where they presented their design and results to more than 3,000 people at the iGEM Jamboree, which took place from the 9th-13th November. The team were awarded a gold medal, and also won the award for 'Best Diagnostics Project'. They were nominated for a five further awards for 'Best Presentation', 'Best Wiki', 'Best Model', 'Best Integrated Human Practices', and 'Best Applied Design'.
Find out more about the project on the team's Wiki: http://2017.igem.org/Team:Oxford.