Team:ETH Zurich/Safety

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

General Safety Considerations

Method of Safety Evaluation

To manage the risks associated with the development of our MicroBeacon CTC detection system we used the following scheme to evaluate possible adverse scenarios and the effectiveness of countermeasures:

Preventive measures can either serve to decrease the likelihood (x-axis) or the severity (y-axis) of a potential scenario or both. The goal is to move the risks as far as possible into the green corner.

Working at the ETH Zurich Labs

Responsible conduct during everyday lab hours is parmount for the prevention of accidents. Every new person in the ETH D-BSSE lab must undergo safety training instructed by a Technical Manager. No exception was made for our iGEM team. Though much of it is common sense and our work was restricted to Biosafety Level 1, there is still a lot that can go wrong. Here are a few examples:

Possible Scenario Old Risk Countermeasures New Risk
Accidental poisoning
  • Wear lab coats and safety goggles at all times

  • Wear gloves, be concentrated and handle chemicals with extra care.

  • No smoking, eating or drinking is in the lab.

  • Chemicals have to be properly labelled.

  • Just in case save emergency numbers on your phone: Ambulance (144) and Center for Toxicology (145)

My E. coli are on fire!

    Since we use Bunsen burners to create a semi-sterile working environment it is quite likely that something catches fire.

  • Keep flamable items (paper, cloth, flamable chemicals) away from the flame.

  • Have a fire extinguisher ready and familiarize yourself with how to use it. If the fire is small, it is possible to use a fire blanket to cut off its oxygen supply. If it is difficult to isolate or if it is a chemical fire, then it is better to use a CO2 fire extinguisher.

  • Be aware of emergency exits.

  • Keep doors closed: This allows for proper ventilation, can allow for the maintenance of negative pressure in labs that require it, and might be helpful in case of fire.

  • Save emergency numbers on your phone: Fire brigade (118) and Security center of the lab and surrounding industrial area (+41 44 342 11 88).

  • When working with open fire keep hair short or use a hair tie.

I spilled and entire bottle of ethidium bromide on my lab coat!
  • Wear lab coats and safety goggles at all times

  • Be concentrated and handle chemicals with extra care.

  • In case it still happens: Get out of the lab and take an emergency shower immediately.

  • Also take off potentially contaminated clothes.

I forgot to put my goggles on and now I have sulphuric acid in my eye!
  • Wear lab coats and safety goggles at all times

  • Be concentrated and handle chemicals with extra care.

  • In case it still happens: There are eye washers in every lab. The eye(s) should be washed for about ten minutes.

  • Visit a doctor afterwards to check the state of the eye(s) and to see if it suffered any damage.

Dangerous equipment
  • Centrifuge: must be always properly equilibrated. An unequilibrated centrifuge can be lethal if it dismantles at high speed.

  • Balance: must be kept clean at all times! No one wants to find a suspicious unknown powder spread all over the place.

Handling Genetically Modified Organisms

Our MicroBeacon E. coli cells do not express any toxic substances and the fact that they prefer temperatures around 37 °C makes it unlikely that they survive for a long time when accidentally released. However, as they are genetically modified they might still harbor a potential and unforseen risk to the environment.

Possible Scenario Old Risk Countermeasures New Risk
E.coli infection
  • Autoclave waste

  • Change gloves and wash hands frequently

  • Mimimize virulence: We decided to introduce as few antibiotic resistance genes as possible into our E. coli cells.

E.coli released into environment
  • Autoclave waste.

  • Change gloves and wash hands frequently.

  • Clean benches and floor, disinfect shoes after work.

Using our MicroBeacon CTC Detection System for Medical Diagnosis

It is never too early to think ahead what might happen if our MicroBeacon project is further developed and commercially used as a cancer diagnosis kit. Since one component of the kit are live bacteria, special care has to be taken in a clinical environment.

Possible Scenario Old Risk Countermeasures New Risk
E.coli infection
  • Keep MicroBeacons away from patients: Collect blood sample and do the test experiment in a seperate room.

  • After use autoclave waste and destroy remaining blood sample or store in a safe container.

  • The test should be handled by trained medical personnel only.

  • Have suitable antibiotics ready.

False positive test result

    Consider the ethical implications of diagnosing cancer metastasis in a healthy individual.

  • Discretion is advised until the finding is confirmed with an alternative test.

  • Carefully calibrate the test equipment and use fresh control samples.

  • Repeat the test multiple times.

  • Inform the patient about possible uncertainties of the test outcome.

Production error

    On the side of the manufacturer: consider the finanial risk and possible damage to the company's reputation

  • Perform routine quality controls over the entire manufacturing process and at customer level.

  • Keep track of the sold devices with serial numbers and customer details. Recall faulty devices immediately if necessary.

  • Inform customers about unlikely but possible equipment failure. Replace faulty devices free of charge but reject legal liability with a disclaimer.

  • Offer sufficient online and hands-on support for customers.

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