Team:ETH Zurich/Practices

"What I cannot create I do not understand."
- Richard Feynmann

Human Practices

It is an unfortunate truth that scientists are not doing enough to inform the general public about their work (our own data even confirms this). For this reason we payed special attention to the human practices component of our project this year. Throughout this process, we experienced the gratification of sharing our project and views with people from other areas, and we are pleased to say that this influenced the course of our project and our view on the practice of science in general.

We divided our human practices into two parts: a project-centered part with the main focuses "medicine", "ethics" and "patent" and and outreach part, consisting of "education", "business" and "awareness".

To discuss our project, we scheduled appointments with professionals from various areas. In one interview, we wanted to hear the opinions of a professional in medical device production to see if our project could potentially be scaled up. As part of the health and medicine track, it was really important for us to ensure that this cancer detection device could be useful for medical doctors and patients. We also consulted experts in patent law and ethics. This broadened our perspective on the procedure, goals, and applicability of our project. We also realized that these different approaches complemented one another.

In addition, we reached out to children with the realization that educating new generations is essential if we want to progress as a technologically-advanced society. For this reason, we went to two different schools where we educated school children about cells, DNA, and we had fun performing a real experiment with them!

Finally, we contacted two newspapers and arranged for articles to be written about us to inform a wider audience about synthetic biology and iGEM.

If you want to read more about any of the presented topics, please click on the image above!

Influence on our project

The various and and diverse contacts we established to experts in medicine, ethics, and many other areas, as well as the contact to people on the street helped us a lot in the design and outline of our project. We found how important it is for synthetic biologists to communicate the advantages and solutions presented by their projects to the public. We also received a lot of insight into the difficulties of cancer diagnosis. Psycological aspects of such a diagnosis have to be considered when designing a novel diagnosis method. The interviewed doctors valued devices with high specificity and selectivity, although they also pointed out how an improvement in the detection system should be linked with an improvement in the treatment. It would not be sufficient to simply detect cancer cells if this would not bring us closer to curing the patients.

Considering these comments, we decided to make a general system for detection of CTC integrating two different signals which will provide selectivity. High sensitivity is achieved by tuning our system towards low levels of leakyness for our AND gate, choosing the best possible promoter from our designed collection of promoters according to the modeling data and experimental characterization.

Another aspect where our human practice acitvities helped us was the positioning of our methid within the existing environment of metastasis diagnosis. Our talk with Dr. Ralph Schiess showed us how important it is to find the proper position for such a novel product and made us think more closely on how to make our device the best possible alternative to existing systems.

We would like to thank our sponsors