Two of the VIP partner labs led the UCC 2016 iGEM team to success in this year’s competition.
UCC’s “Limited Lactis” team scored gold at the prestigious iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) Jamboree held recently in Boston. More than 100 teams from the top universities in the world, including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford took part in the competition which is held up as the gold standard for “research-led education”.
The Cork team, the only Irish entrants in the competition, used the bacterium Lactococcus lactis, a generally recognised as safe (GRAS) bacterium, commonly used in food production, to develop a new vaccine against Leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease which is increasing in geographical distribution, and also cancer.
Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning approach to designing and making novel products from biology, which is revolutionising what is possible in tackling world needs in health, energy, food and beyond. Leishmaniasis affects some of the poorest people on earth, and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of financial resources. An estimated 900 000–1.3 million new cases and 20 000 to 30 000 deaths occur annually. Leishmaniasis is linked to environmental changes such as deforestation, building of dams, irrigation schemes, and urbanization.
The UCC team worked voluntarily, both in the laboratory and beyond, engaging with people in disease-affected regions such as Honduras, where diseases like Leishmaniasis is a serious problem. Team instructor, Yensi Flores, from Honduras and a PhD candidate at the Cork Cancer Research Centre and APC Microbiome Institute, travelled to Honduras to gain insight on the realities of developing a suitable treatment for Leishmaniasis. She connected the team with various stakeholders on the ground. The team also engaged in significant outreach work, teaching Cork school pupils about synthetic biology and charity fundraising activities.
The UCC team comprised of students from UCC Pharmacy, Medicine, Genetics, and BioMedical Science, was hosted by the APC Microbiome Institute, Cork Cancer Research Centre and the School of Biochemistry and received financial support from the APC Microbiome Institute, Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCC College of Medicine & Health, Fyffes, the EU, Janssen and Eli Lilly.