Team:NYMU-Taipei/Human Practices


The Birth of Our Project

Finding a proper project is always a long and frustrating experience. We all felt that we had learned too little, and hard to transfer our thoughts into feasible ideas. Hoping to get some help, we decided to visit a cohort of experts.

Hsinchu Food Industry Research and Development Institute(FIRDI) --The skill of experiment and project design

Initially, we have two project ideas. The first topic is about the detection of brown root rot in trees. Since brown root rot is usually very serious once it is discovered, we hope to design an Escherichia coli. This E. coli will release the signal when it detects brown root bacteria, allowing us to detect Phellinus noxius early. The second topic is about the preservation of food. Food spoilage is usually caused by microorganisms, so we want to use the characteristics of bacterial quorum sensing to inhibit the reproduction of bacteria.

We went to FIRDI in January twenty-first. Visiting three experts, research scientist Guey-Yuh Liou, senior research scientist Hing-Yuen Chan, and associated research scientist Li-Wen Yu, and discussing with ideas and topics we generated. Since it is not convenient to use trees as experimental objects, it takes a long time to perform experiments related to shelf life, so the feasibility of these two topics is not high. They taught us some potential projects. Though we still did not know which project to choose, this special journey let us have confidence in project design.

Red Imported Fire Ants(RIFAs) with Professor Chin-Cheng Yang --Safety of the experiment

With so many candidate topics, RIFAs became one of the most possible projects. RIFAs have already threatened many people in different area, so we wanted to eliminate this problem through synthetic biology.

We visited professor Yang, whose profession is relevant to the topic, in Kyoto through skype on April 13th. He generously shared with us knowledge related to RIFAs and potential direction. However, he also told us about the importance of safety, since the distinguish of RIFAs also hurt our environment and make an unpredictable result. Besides, we learned that although RIFAs are invertebrates, keeping them in the lab still requires a higher biosafety level for that they are hard to wipe out. Due to its high biosafety level, our wet lab may not be able to use RIFAs as a project, but we still thank professor Yang a lot for teaching us so much.

After this visit, we recognized that a mature project is not only creative but also available and safe.

Visit Dr. Wen-Chuan Kuo --The use of OCT and the animal experiment

After a series of brain storming, we decided to deal with androgenetic alopecia. At first, we wanted to make a simple device that can observe the hair follicle. Therefore, we visited Dr. Wen-Chuan Kuo on April 28th. Dr. Kuo have abundance experience in using OCT, which is a kind of hair follicle observing device. Dr. Kuo taught us how to use OCT, but she also mentioned that we should use mice as an experiment object of OCT. However, our competition has time limit, and none of our members are able to get the qualification in animal experiments. We needed to find a new project.

1st Time With Dr. Chih-Chiang Chen --Project decision

The process of project design was frustrating. To avoid animal experiments, we decided to change our project and try to heal Androgenetic Alopecia(AGA). To know more about the social demand in this area, we visited Dr. Chih-Chiang Chen of Taipei Veterans General Hospital in the morning of May 4th. Dr. Chen introduced the mechanic of hair growth, and taught us the difference in hair follicle between mice and human. That is the reason why we cannot find a good object in AGA test, and hard to prove the efficacy of candidate medicine. To solve this problem, we decided to use synthetic biology to design a medicine screening system for curing AGA.

While carrying on and improving our experiments, we did not forget that our project is not only for the iGEM competition but to serve the people suffering from hair loss. To fully understand their needs, we visited experts, interviewed them and discussed with peers.

Project Improvement

2nd Time With Dr. Chih-Chiang Chen --Project framework design

After coming up with a prototype for the screening system, we arranged for a second meeting with Dr. Chen on the 23rd of May, to make sure it is practicable. Dr. Chen suggested that we should divide our project into two subparts, which we carried out simultaneously because of our short on time. Also, to let us practice our cell culture technique, Dr. Chen provided a lot of dermal papilla cells for us, and we are very thankful for him.

Visit Dr. Chao-Ling Yao --Eukaryotic cell culture related study

To learn how to culture eukaryotic cells, we arranged a video conference with Dr. Chao-Ling Yao, an expert in stem cell research who specializes in dermal papilla. Thanks to the experiences he shared with us, we improved our experiment design and saved our project from unnecessary twist and turns.

Visit Dr. Tsair-Yuh Tzeng --Gene editing technique instruction and suggestions

Since the gene editing technique CRISPR has been popular, we considered using it to design a unique cell that can express the efficacy of the different drugs. We changed our mind after visiting Dr. Tsair-Yuh Tzeng at the NYMUVYM Genome Research Center, who told us that CRISPR is not only expensive but also not suitable for every project. Though the idea was a failure, the tour Dr. Tzeng gave us at the center was invaluable, and it opened a whole new world of research for us.

Visit Dr. Yi-wen Tsai —Understanding the practicability of questionnaires

As the practicability and safety of the project have reached a certain extent, we designed a set of questionnaires to make sure that our project reflects the true needs of the community. The questions include their use of medicines for hair loss and their suggestions for future medications. We showed our questionnaire to NYMU Institute of Health and Welfare Policy’s Dr. Yi-wen Tsai, who told us that even though we have a good intention, issuing the questionnaire would be a big problem, since we do not have access to the major crowd. Also, she pointed out that questionnaires can only give us a general view instead of the whole picture. Hence, to achieve higher credibility and effectiveness, we gave up the questionnaire and interviewed patients instead.

Interviewing with patients --Understanding the experience and needs of patients

With the help of Dr. Chen, we contacted four of his patients with experiences of using anti-balding products on the market. They came to Dr. Chen because they received not only little effect after long-term use of the products, but also side effects that affected their daily lives. During the interviews, they shared with us inspirational opinions such as there should be more kinds of medications for them to choose from or even personalized ones.

Asia-Pacific iGEM Conference in Chung Hsing University --Exchange ideas and receive advice for improvement

We attended the 2018 6th Asia-Pacific iGEM Conference, held by National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, from July 30th to August 2nd. At the conference, we shared our project with other teams and received useful advice. For instance, someone pointed it out that some of our candidate drugs can affect the fluorescent protein, which would cause misdetection of our system. It’s such a shame that the conference was only held for four days, we received wonderful feedback and enjoyed our time very much.

Tokyo tech --Sharing an idea across the world

We have long been in a good relationship with our neighbouring country, Japan, who is one of our targets for sharing ideas iGEM projects. Fortunately, we have a Japanese in our team and he would like to spend his summer vacation in Japan with synthetic biology. Thus, he, as a representative of our team, travelled back to his hometown to build up a relationship with Tokyo tech iGEM team.

Tokyo tech is the largest institution for higher education in Japan dedicated to science and technology. With that, we decided to pay a visit to share interesting ideas with them. We are really elated to their warm welcome. Since the clock ticks fast in summer, Tokyo tech and us could only hold a short meeting in Tokyo tech and give a brief presentation to summarize our ideas.

Their topic this year is to devise a highly specific method to detect dengue fever from the patient without the use of or even surpassing ELISA. Japan is not seriously concerned with dengue fever according to the low number of reported cases. However, Tokyo tech has pondered for a solution to lower the cost of detecting dengue in tropical regions. With early detection of dengue fever becoming highly applicable, more and more people’s lives can be saved.

Our project also involves detection techniques used by Tokyo tech this year. While Tokyo tech and we use the techniques to build quite different things, we have the common goal of eliminating the use of ELISA in the domain of interest for that Elisa is a detection technique too expensive to be widely applied.

Both of our teams have common in finding another countermeasure rather than using Elisa. We both wish the best for our projects’ performances in iGEM competition. But most of all, we hope our idea impact globally and improve our lives in our future.

Future Plan

LaunXP Biomedical -- Understanding how our system can be put in practical drug development use

As our drug screening system will be applied most in the pharmaceutical industry, we visited the LaunXP Biomedical in Taichung. Dr Jay Hsieh, their director of the office of research and development (R&D), mentioned that the trickiest part during the long process of drug development is the screening. First, there needs to be a database to perform the screening on. Second, there needs to be hardware to analyze the mechanisms of hair loss in the human body, and to simulate the effect of the combination of pathway-related proteins and the drug. Dr Hsieh also reminded us to make sure that our system must not only be able to increase the screening efficiency but also decrease the cost. His advice was very constructive, but LaunXP specializes in cancer drugs, for more detailed suggestions, we must visit a company that aims medications for hair loss.

Brion Research Institute --Discussing future use with potential users

We wanted to make sure that our project meets the actual need of potential users and some suggestion on further application. Therefore, we decided to have a discussion with Brion Research Institute which had developed a hair regrowth product B401. (Brion Research Institute is the R&D department of Sun Ten Pharmaceutical Co., the biggest Chinese medicine and herbal product manufacturer in Taiwan.)

They do face the same challenge of lacking appropriate screening system for hair loss treatment and give affirmation to the effort we made. They questioned that whether the reporter would be blocked by pigments or other molecule, and whether it’s better than current method such as ELISA and western blot. They also suggest that we could establish a stable cell line via viral transduction or lipofection as future plan since pharmaceutical company would prefer a cell line that could be reuse much longer.