Team:UCLouvain/Human Practices

 Human practices

Overview: our journey outside the lab!

Brainstorming approach

The idea of our project was conceived after the biggest cholera outbreak in Congo this year. Indeed this scourge is transmitted annually through wastewater during monsoons season and there is no way to end it, but to establish a sewage system throughout Africa. Cholera causes severe dehydration by vomiting and diarrhea and can be fatal if prompt management is not performed. Therefore, we directly contacted the Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross Association who were on site to set an angle of attack. We wanted current epidemics data and we aimed at targeting a real problem! Following this, we imagined a way to neutralize the bacteria. We hope to find a solution that would make the water drinkable and once this water has been used, it would treat the already contaminated water, thanks to the remaining plasmids.
Our colleague Sara, medical student and iGEMer, went to Benin, West Africa, for collecting data on epidemics and helping local populations! More info in our “INTEGRATED HUMAN PRACTICES PART”

For our neutralizing approach we first thought about a phage-based system. We were followed and supported by Jean-Paul Pirnay, from the Royal Military Hospital Queen Astrid in Brussels. Belgium is the leading country for the phage therapy in Europe and actively participated in the PhagoBurn project. Phages are among the most amazing tools to fight multi-resistant bacteria! This prompted us to put the antibiotic resistance at the center of our project!
We established a good partnership with the Military Hospital and they will later test our system on their V.Cholerae strains.


After a fruitful brainstorming at the military hospital, posing with a cool vintage military ambulance From right to left: Antoine, Dr. Jean-Paul Pirnay, Mathieu, Célestin, Sara and Luca

We later decided to keep the same goal, but to change vector. We switched from a phage to a plasmid as we were all more comfortable working with it. For the choice of the plasmid we were helped by Rob Van Houdt, from the Belgian Nuclear Research Center. Thanks to their huge plasmid bank, we finally had our starting point to develop the project the best way possible!


Hanging out in the woods close to the Nuclear Research Center. Who would have thought that Nuclear Facility could be so cool? And it was completely Radiation-Free!
At the center of the pic: Rob Van Houdt, from the Belgian Nuclear Research Center in Mol (Belgium), from left to right some of our team members: Mathieu, Marine, Luca, Antoine and Fiona

BIOTECH4CHANGE European meetup by iGEM UCLouvain

These scientific partnerships were amazing and enriching, but we wanted to go further and touch the general public! We wanted a link beteween the lab and the real world! This is what we conceived as INTEGRATED HUMAN PRACTICE: we organized an incredible iGEM Meet-Up, called Biotech4Change, in a special venue: the European Parliament in Brussels! More info below (Integrated Human Practices: Gold Medal


Our team leader Célestin introducing the European Event to our public!

BIOTECH4CHANGE at the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT 28th of September 2018


Our team UCLouvain 2018 decided, for the first time in our 3 consecutive years iGEM participation, to host an official iGEM Meet-Up! We wanted it to be an inspiring and challenging event, this why called it Biotech4Change!

Our goal? To show to the general public how biotechnologies can have a positive impact in our daily life, especially in the health field! Only 100 places were available and they were sold-out in just 5 days!

If we have to describe our conference in 3 words? INSPIRATION, IMPACT and NETWORKING

The event was divided into 3 parts:
  • A Round-Table event with politicians, entrepreneurs and researchers about Anti-Microbial Resistance (our key-concept) and European Legal Frame
  • An iGEM pitch part: our team and 3 foreign teams presented in 3 mins their respective projects to the audience. It was an exciting opportunity of networking and exchange! Please check our collaboration page for more information
  • INSPIRING CONFERENCE: our team leader Célestin interviewed our special guests who told their inspiring and impressive career achievements to our audience. Our aim: how can you be young and successful in the Biotech field?


A round table with European Commission politicians, academics, researchers and biotech entrepreneurs was organized!
Our goal? To start a discussion on Antimicrobial Resistance, Biotechnologies and European Legislation! This is the first of future events! We are committed to raise awareness on this topic and we have already give it visibility at a European level!
This experience allowed us to further develop our knowledge about the European Legal Frame and GMO therapy. It was an excellent opportunity of personal and professional development! We are now more aware of the legal aspects and limitations and this will allow us to better continue our project and have a global vision in terms of feasibility and ethic acceptance!
For further information please check our section: Public Engagement



Our sold-out room at the European Parliament in Brussels

We invited 2 incredibly young and successful entrepreneurs to share their stories and inspire our public! Motivation is everything and they were able to convey this to our audience!

Thomas De Vlaam

Thomas had the ambition of becoming a neurosurgeon. He holds a bachelor’s degree in International Medicine and Global. Unfortunately after a diagnosis of Scheuermann’s disease, Thomas underwent significant spinal fusion surgery in 2011, forcing him to give up on his medical career.
Despite the physical challenges and long recovery periods, his dream of helping patients grew stronger and became an unstoppable driver. He joined ProQR – a biotech company in the Netherlands working on novel drugs to treat rare orphan disorders. He then invented and developed a completely new approach to treat Amyloid disorders.
At the age of 24, Thomas started his new company: Amylon.

Victor Dillard

Victor is a young Belgian based in London. He’s now a mondial reference for the biotech entrepreneurship! At the age of 24 he raised 3 million USD to create Desktop Genetics, a start-up that changed the way we conceive genetic engineering! Today, Victor is the CEO of this leading company in genome modification technologies, more particularly he associates AI (artificial intelligence) with CRISPR-Cas9 technology!
Victor was nominated Forbes 30 Under 30, MIT Innovator Under 35 and Entrepreneur of the Year by the MIT Technology Review!


We extended our invitation to the general public, we were happy to see people of any age or professional background taking part in our event and enjoying it. The public was able to interact with the panel of speakers and this made the discussion more interesting and wide.
The participation was free and all the 100 places available were full!
The European Parliament has a big symbolic impact, it represents the success and the effort of the biggest supranational organization: the European Union. This venue was the perfect one to organize our event and give it the right visibility.
Among the participants more than 10 different nationalities were represented:
  • Belgium 🇧🇪
  • Netherlands 🇳🇱
  • France 🇫🇷
  • Germany 🇩🇪
  • Hungary 🇭🇺
  • Italy 🇮🇹
  • Lebanon 🇱🇧
  • Lebanon 🇱🇧
  • Poland 🇵🇱
  • Romania 🇷🇴
  • Spain 🇪🇸
  • Sweden 🇸🇪
  • Switzerland 🇨🇭
  • Syria 🇸🇾
  • Venezuela 🇻🇪
The public was able to interact with our panel of speakers, as every part was followed by a Q&R session To make the event even more global, we decided to live-stream it, the edited-video of the event is still available at the following address: …... More than people followed the event live, from every corner of the world !

Please check our Public Engagement page for further information!


The best way to solve a problematic situation is to have a field trip and to ask yourself why the situation is like that and why nobody could solve it until now. That’s why Sara went to BENIN: she wanted to collect information on epidemics so that our team can provide the best solution to the problem.
Some African countries such as Congo, Benin and Togo and many others are subject each year to the rainy season. During this period the river water ruiselle into the rains and there is no drinking water. The epidemics of salmonellosis and cholera then occur.
At the moment, in a crisis, the Ministry of Health acts on two levels. First, to warn the population about the rules of hygiene and to make prevention, but this is not easy for the most remote villages. The second level of action is the sale of aquatabs, chlorine tablets that filter the water. Unfortunately, it is not always easy for people to use it. Each tablet filters 30 liters of water and makes it drinkable for twenty-four hours. However, there are some areas where people have not been to school and have difficulty assimilating this.
The solution would be to directly treat the water at its source so that we can help illiterate people and remote populations who do not have television as a means of prevention.

This was the best link we could made between the lab and the real life!

This emotional journey prompted us once more to work the best way possible to find an affordable and effective solution to this problem! We are all very concerned and this journey gave us the final motivation to keep working! This also why our team won’t dissolve after iGEM, we are committed to the problem and we have still a long way to together!