Integrated Human Practices
Olive pollen is one of the two major allergens in Spain. The other one is an entire genre, the grasses, instead of the single species that is Olea europea. This health issue is also significant in all the Mediterranean area. The signs and symptoms of airborne allergies are familiar to many:
- Sneezing, often with a runny or clogged nose.
- Coughing and postnasal drip.
- Itching eyes, nose, and throat.
- Watering eyes.
- “Allergic shiners” (dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow near the sinuses).
- “Allergic salute” (in a child, persistent upward rubbing of the nose that causes a crease mark on the nose).
These symptoms are very easily confused with a simple cold or a runny nose, not knowing you can have developed an allergy. The severity of the symptoms varies from patient to patient, triggering an asthma condition in one meanwhile another just sneeze more for a couple of months.
We think that a great preventive measure is to avoid places with higher pollen concentration. We wanted to test how useful would be for the final user our project and at the same time raise awareness of the importance to check oneself for air allergies (as the prevalence is extremely high) to take preventives measures to avoid worsening of the symptoms.
After talking with local allergologists we decided to set up a stand in our faculty hall, that provided us with a large sample of individuals of different ages (students, professors and staffs) to test if they had an allergy to olive pollen.
The method chosen was the prick test due to the following reasons: You can read the results in only 20 min, it's the less invasive and simple to perform that has conclusive results and is the the safest for the patients. The method consists of the following steps:
You put in a large skin space a small drop of a positive control (histamine, because it is an inflammation mediator), a negative control ( saline solution) and the allergy extract you want to check, in our case just the pollen.
With a small needle, you “prick” the skin and introduce in the epidermis a small amount of the allergen and wait to the immune response to appear.
While each “patient” waits for their results, we show them a mockup of our final app, when they could see in a future how the clouds of the allergen are distributed where they live and the levels of concentration. We wanted to know how useful they thought it was, if the would implement it in their daily life and what improvements they would like to see in the app.
During the activity, a total of 22 people showed their interest, 12 of them women (55%) and 10 men (45%). The results of the test showed a total of 14 positive reactions and only 8 negative, so 64% of the people sampled would have a positive impact of the application we developed.
On these positive cases, we could observe that there was a greater difference between sexes than on the total of the sample: 10 positive cases in women (71%) and 4 positive cases in men (29%).
We also analyze the origin of each participant, to check how extended the allergy issue was around inside our country and outside.
After seeing the results, both negative and positive, the volunteers of the test were very interested in future applications that could come out of our work. In addition two of these people discovered that they have allergies to this pollen (the rest of the positive cases already knew it), so, after their initial surprise, they thanked us for the opportunity to have had access to this knowledge and were very positive about the usefulness of the application and the possible effect of improving the quality of life of allergic people.
The app and the social impact
Our product has a challenge: unveiling the opacity of the information contained in our surroundings. We are aiming to provide the users with a formerly unknown information. Tracking allergens are something that society is demanding, as we have proved in our Integrated Human Practices actions.
When we showed our app to the population sample, the bandwidth of reactions was wide enough for us to learn different perspectives. We gather a relevant number of feedbacks. We needed to mind the order of our speech, as we did not want to affect their original opinions.
At the beginning, we introduced them into the state of art of pollen grains detection systems. Then, we showed them what the current system demands: approximate costs involved in the whole measuring process.
At this point, many of them pointed out, without previous conditioning that the system seemed to be apparently archaic. Afterwards, we introduced them our mobile app. Many of them were sceptical about the absence of a service like ours in the current market scenario.
Their impressions have been taken into account for giving a final design to our app. They suggested that they would love to have the functionality to track the temporal evolution of the allergen surrounding the node. We incorporated their suggestion into the final mockup.
We owe the population sample the final design of our app. And we would love to give a big recognition to the people that took part in our social experiment. They helped us designing a satisfactory app with the requested functionalities.
We hope that in the future we can implement a workflow similar to the one developed in Integrated Human Practices, and include more feedback from prospective users.
Dissemination of the project and presentations
With the purpose of raising awareness about iGEM among the forthcoming generations, we have made a series of presentations in different locations and media.The aim was to publicize some of the core values of our team and iGEM such as research, entrepreneurship and learning in STEM.
Presentation in the faculty of biology of the UCM
This presentation was given in the Faculty of Biology of the Complutense University of Madrid. Faculty where we had the space for biotech and hardware laboratories. The presentation took place in September coinciding with the second week of the course.The main objective was to present our project to the students and professors who are going to be this course in this faculty to sow the seeds of the contest and try to find the volunteers to continue with the team in the next edition.
The presentation had 2 different parts. In the first part the background and functioning of iGEM was explained. Where the main objectives were highlighted and the repercussion that it has at the international level. In the second part, the course of the project was explained from the point of view of the team. How the idea and its evolution originated as different complications and solutions appeared.
Presentation in the "Biotechnoencuentro" from Almeria
The “biotechno” meeting was organized by a group of volunteers from Almeria who are trying to set up a do it yourself biology lab and organize activities around this. As a team of iGem we have not had much budget to carry out activities and we have followed the philosophy of DIYBio to carry out our project. They contacted us to participate in a conference to explain our experience in iGem and how we had solved different challenges with the DIYBio. We also talk about the under-representation of our country in the competition and the need to start appearing new.
The conference was live via youtube, where the participants had the opportunity to ask their questions directly. You can find the link of the presentation in the following link:Conference link
Presentation in the TEMS school
We also consider it necessary to expose the project in a more interactive way to high school youth. With this objective we attended a school in Madrid: The English Montessori School. The presentations delivered to the Year 12 and Year 13 groups included an interactive session using colored ink, syringes, PDMS microfluidic chips and optical sensors to show the students how our idea will work. It all got a little dirty as the room flooded with excitement!
A big part of our visit was to convince them that, soon, they will also be able to build their own creative and ingenious devices. A large chunk of the presentations revolved around Biology DIY (Do It Yourself), encouraging the teenagers (and, surprisingly, also some teachers!) to be innovative and scientific and embrace the fun that comes with that.
After the visit, the BIology and Chemistry teacher that had organized the talk got back to us to tell us how the students had been impressed. Apparently, given it was the beginning of the semester, a couple of indecisive highschoolers had changed their mind and had finally decided to switch to the STEM track of the Spanish Baccalaureate!
We would like to thank The English Montessori School for inviting us and arranging the visit.
Interview for the magazine "Tribuna Complutense"
After the talk in the faculty of biology, the global dissemination magazine of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) "Tribuna Complutense" interviewed us. In this interview, we were asked about all the aspects we have been working on. We talked about the basis of the project, the process of finding funding, how the team was formed and the requirements for it, the results obtained and the vision of the future after the Jamboree.
You could read the entire interview (in spanish) in the next link:Interview page
Future presentation in the faculty of Chemistry of the UCM
With the same objective as the presentation in the Faculty of Biology, a talk will be held at the Faculty of Chemistry of the UCM during the month of November. In this presentation we will talk again about the bases, the operation and the purpose of iGEM, the formation of the team and his trajectory. But we will also tell about the experience in Boston during the Giant Jamboree. All this will be done in order to obtain sufficient impact to engage future members of the next team in Madrid.
María Teresa Villalba Diaz helped us a lot to organize this presentation.
Guide for new teams in Spain
Our team has been the first to become real in a major city within Spain as is the capital itself. One of the main problems that we find when creating the team is all the misinformation that exists around the iGEM competition within Spanish territory.This year, being the year that more teams have had our country, there are five that attend the Jamboree. Spain is therefore one of the least represented European countries.
In order to facilitate the creation of new teams or to allow existing ones to continue, we decided to generate a guide in which the necessary steps to form a team have been explained. This guide has been divided into the most important sections to understand the competition and solve problems such as: forming the team, seeking funding, understanding the final product sought or the importance of Human Practices and collaborations.
To write the guide we decided to carry out a collaboration with the different teams in Spain in which we gathered the experiences and solutions that each team has had for the different problems. Both the final guide and the activities we organize around it can be found in the following collaborations link:Guide Collaboration