Team:NTNU Trondheim/Practices

Interviews / Investigating Diabetes

As soon as we had decided on creating a novel microbial glucose sensing system, the idea of coupling this to the expression of insulin surfaced. Before we started on our task, we wanted to investigate different aspects of managing diabetes and to hear from diabetics what it is like to live with this disease. We also wanted to talk to medical doctors and researchers that work with patients or on developing novel management strategies. During the planning phase of our project, we conducted a series of interviews.

During the planning phase, we conducted a series of interviews.

From the interviews we had with diabetic patients, the main points were:

  • It is difficult to live with a disease, which restricts you in so many ways.
  • Not all diabetic patients are capable of managing their disease; it is especially hard for the young or old who cannot manage it on their own.
  • The disease requires a high degree of planning, always staying on top of the blood glucose level and the amount of insulin needed.
  • It is easy to forget to measure the blood glucose level or to take insulin shots/pills at the right time following meals or exercise, which can result in life-threatening acute complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis. For all patients, but especially children and old or incapacitated patients, it would be ideal with a system that both detects the blood glucose level and administers the appropriate dose of insulin.

From the interviews with medical doctors and researchers the main points were:

  • Managing the disease is crucial, and involves a high degree of compliance from the patient.
  • A synthetic system for glucose sensing and insulin excretion should be very sensitive; it should detect glucose concentrations in the low range of 4 – 20 mM.
  • If implanted, the system should be safe for the patient.
  • Because of invasive procedures, implants should have a half-life of several months.
  • It is very important for both parts of the system to be accurate. If it is not, it may kill the patient.
  • Most diabetic patients today rely on a glucose sensor, and administering the appropriate dose of insulin themselves.
  • Each patient should be the expert of his or her diabetes.

We got a lot of valuable input, and what we have extracted from these interviews and implemented into the design and execution of our project is the following:

  • We have chosen P. putida as the host organism for our glucose sensing system, which is a non-pathogenic microorganism (safe for the patient)
  • We have tested the performance of not only one, but four promoters to see if there is any difference in glucose detection sensitivity.
  • For the possible future application of an implanted system, we have encapsulated the glucose sensing P. putida in alginate. By immobilizing the bacteria in this biomaterial, it will be shielded from the body’s immune response. Alginate implants has the added benefit of not requiring the same high amount of immunosuppressant drugs as patients with implanted human cells need.

Team NTNU Trondheim would like to thank all of the interviewees for interesting discussions and valuable input!


We created a survey that to get input from the community at NTNU about issues related to synthetic biology and its potential biomedical applications. The input has been taken into account in the design of our project, and has also served to familiarize the NTNU community about synthetic biology and the iGEM competition.

We have learned the following through out the survey:

  • Synthetic biology needs a stronger presence in the university projects outside the biology and biotechnology departments.
  • The community recognizes the potential of our solution and others based on synthetic biology in solving challenging biomedical problems. The students affected with diabetes or with close family members believe in the need of diabetes therapeutic solutions that do not interfere with their lifestyle as a top priority for the future.

A summary of the survey is available here: PDF.