University of Dundee

Brian Cox backs `The Lung Ranger’

21 Jun 2014

University of Dundee Rector Brian Cox is backing a team of students in their efforts to develop `The Lung Ranger’, a device to help combat some of the effects of cystic fibrosis.
 
The Rector visited the University’s iGEM 2014 team to find out about their project and give them his support for the international competition. iGEM – the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition – asks students to tackle a real world problem by designing and building a new device or system from a kit of biological parts.
 
Last year Dundee won the European leg of the event and scooped two further prizes at the World Final in Boston.
 
This year’s team has chosen to work on cystic fibrosis, a disease which is found worldwide but is particularly prevalent in Scotland, where approximately 1 in 2000 babies are born with the condition. Cystic fibrosis results in the production of highly viscous mucous in the lungs that can be colonised by bacteria, resulting in repeated respiratory infections.
 
To help tackle these infections the team will use synthetic biology to build the ‘Lung Ranger’.
 
The Lung Ranger is made up of the harmless laboratory bacterium E. coli that has been engineered to glow green when either of the most aggressive lung pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Burkholderia cenocepacia are detected in the sputum (mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract). The team will also build a hand-held electronic device that can be used by the patient or their GP that will rapidly detect and quantify the green fluorescence, allowing a quick and sensitive diagnosis of the presence of these pathogens. This will allow faster and more targeted treatment of the infection than is currently available.
 
Jenny Wood, one of the student team, said, “We are thrilled to be part of such an exciting and worthwhile enterprise. Working with patients and clinicians whilst developing the Lung Ranger is giving us a unique insight into the challenges faced by people living with cystic fibrosis.”
 
Brian Cox said he had been hugely impressed with the students’ efforts so far.
 
“The team who worked on this competition last year did some tremendous work and I am delighted to see their successors matching the standards that have been set,” said Brian. “It is a great competition that really tests the students’ ingenuity and expertise but ours at Dundee have shown they are up to the task.
 
“This particular project strikes me as being one that could have a huge impact on patients’ lives, and it is very much achievable with the talents we have in this student team.”
 
The team is interdisciplinary and is comprised of ten University of Dundee undergraduate students – Dave Burrell (Computing Science), Gillian Forsyth (Mathematical Biology), Scott McCrimmon (Plant Sciences),  Roddy McNeill (Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery), Jessica Martyn (Microbiology), Dimitrios Michailidis (Molecular Microbiology), Aleksandra Plochocka (Mathematics), Robyn Shuttleworth (Mathematics), Fatima Ulhuq (Pharmacology) and Jenny Wood (Molecular Microbiology). The project runs for ten weeks over the summer period and the team will present their results at the World iGEM Jamboree in Boston USA at the end of October. The team hope to emulate the success of last year’s Toximop project which scooped two of the main prizes at the iGEM world jamboree.
 
The team is very keen to work with people to hear their stories and discuss their particular issues and needs so that their project is a collaborative endeavor between researchers, healthcare practitioners and patient groups. They hope to interview people affected by CF to inform the design of their device and understand what living with CF is like.
 
Anyone wishing to get in touch with the team should contact them via email at j.l.wood@dundee.ac.uk
 
 

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