iGEM EPFL 2018



iGEM NUS Singapore Science Collaboration

We had the chance to work with the NUS Singapore Science iGEM team on a comparative study about our legislative processes concerning biotechnologies, in particular genetic engineering, risk of outbreak, biological data management and application of these biotechnologies on humans. This study, based on personal research of both teams, is ongoing. A division of responsibilities and a common proofreading will ensure that we highlight differences of each of our countries. More than an article, this work allows us to understand the international dimensions of our project and cooperative strikes deriving from it. For us it was important to do this study in CAPOEIRA, because the aim of our treatment is to cross boundaries and the work with the Singapore iGEM Team as an example of cooperative administrative and legislative structure for the future implementation of our project.

What came out of this institutional and legislative comparison is that our basic concepts look similar (data protection, animal experiments per ex), however their applications can differ, between them, but within national boundaries too. We highlighted the main differences between national laws and guidelines in Singapore and Switzerland. There is a link to read our work, that can be for sure improved, but is still a first overview on the differences and resemblance of our countries on these subjects.

You can find here the comparative study made with the Singapore team.

Ethical Survey

When considering the future implementation of our project, we found it essential to include a reflection of the general opinion of the company in which we were planning CAPOEIRA. Through a survey, distributed to a very wide intended audience that aims to represent society as a whole (no work restrictions or skills, no age/religion/sex), we sought to establish a general opinion on the following major issues: animal experimentation, on patients, biological data, vaccination, biotechnology. The results of the survey, unfortunately few in number (18) due to calendar constraints, make it difficult for us to speak on behalf of the "general opinion".

Fig 1. Quelle est votre position quant à la collection d’échantillons humains pour agrandir les bases de données ?

However, they represent opinions to be taken into account.
The points to be taken into account were as follows:

  • Openly shared information with the patient about the treatment, to ensure an "informed" choice.

  • The collection of biological samples does not raise major concerns, as long as it is accompanied by the implementation of appropriate legislation.

  • The collection of genomic data does not seem to be a real issue, with most people saying they are ready to be sequenced whether they are healthy or sick.

  • Personal experience is still a strong argument in deciding whether or not to adopt a vaccine, even if trust in the medical profession is still largely predominant.

  • The choice of pharmaceutical company with which the project would be carried out is decisive because the associated controversies have a great influence on people's decisions

  • Most people say they are not sufficiently informed about ethical issues (integrity and morality of therapeutic vaccine research).

  • Vaccines do not present a danger to the general opinion, but new information could supplement and convince those who remain reluctant.

  • Side effects are the main obstacle to decision making for vaccination.

  • The main challenges seen for biotechnology are around medicine and economics.

  • What we draw as conclusions from the study:
    First of all, a larger-scale study should be carried out in order to be able to give conclusions on the "general opinion". However, we can already have an idea of the communication strategies we should adopt: in the form of leaflets or videos/explanatory slides to provide information on the treatment (the project as a whole, the studies already carried out, the other actors); the data protection measures put in place in the country concerned, promote and share structures for listening to "Patient Knowledge" to learn from people's personal stories; taking them into account and thus more easily respond to all expectations and questions; share the ethical reflections we had throughout the project [the document being written for the second survey is an example]; increase information on side effects (studies put in place, discredit false information in particular).

    We are therefore considering the design of flyers to share reflections and thus allow a more serene future implementation of our project.

    You can click hereto access the online survey

    Student survey

    Still in the ethical reflection of our project, we drew a parallel between the methods we used in the laboratory and those taught in our SV curriculum at EPFL. It then seemed interesting to us to probe the state of ethical awareness of students who begin practical work courses, and then share with them elements of reflection. Still in connection with CAPOEIRA, we will use our project as a framework to structure the feedback we give them, presenting it as a "model project" that can be led by students and where ethical questions exist and have their importance. This survey was distributed on Wednesday, October 10. The questions follow here and can be read.

    You can click here to see the results of the survey

    A document has been written and is being published on our academic portal to give students feedback and new elements for reflection and discussion. It deals with points that have been found to be misunderstood or from a single majority point of view. Thus we approach the democratization of science, the challenge of education and the Archimedes Oath present in our school. Then we talk about the pluralistic responsibility of scientists and students in biotechnology. Then we come to the subject of regulations in this area. Throughout this text we use our project as a framework, to give examples. We also share a detailed pipeline for the treatment of biohazardous waste on our campus. We end this document with a paragraph on the importance of moral and philosophical awareness in scientific projects such as CAPOEIRA and their social impact. The last part is devoted to the means of communication between science and the other fields it touches, notably through Art, and the sharing of titles and events that we have read and visited, to satisfy a personal curiosity if necessary.
    It’ll be available during the Giant Jamboree, to create discussion about these subject with the other teams. You can click hereto access the conclusion survey