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One of the biggest reasons we chose Alzheimer’s Disease to work on is its impact on human life. From the start, we knew how important it is to focus on the human aspect of our work as much as the science.

Interviews: Doctors in the Field

More information here.
Having read multiple scientific articles on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), we felt like we had a good grip on the current research. But we felt we were missing something. Our goal in part is to detect the disease, which involves working with doctors. So, we went and good feedback from them.

Dr. David Caplan                                                     Dr. Mark W. Albers

We had a long discussion with Dr. David Caplan (MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School Neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital) and Dr. Mark W. Albers (MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Neurology, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital) on separate occasions. The conclusion we reached after both discussions was that the only methods available to detect Alzheimer’s Disease in patients were based entirely on subjective evaluations, and even if there was a reliable detection method for AD, there is currently no treatment available.
The insight we obtained led us to the decision to address the most prominent limitations in the fight against Alzheimer’s: the inability to properly diagnose and treat the disease.

Alzheimer’s Association Movie Screening: The Genius of Marian

Talking to Dr. Caplan and Dr. Albers about the patient experience was enlightening. But we wanted to experience it as close to first hand as possible. Even though we did not get the chance to interact with Alzheimer’s patients this summer, when we were presented the opportunity to watch a documentary on the life of a patient, we didn’t hesitate to take it. The Alzheimer’s Association was organizing a screening a documentary called “The Genius of Marian”, a walk through the life of Pam White in her early and later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It showed us different aspects of how the disease affected the patient, from the daily struggles in Pam’s life, to the big changes such as denial, keeping the disease a secret, reluctance to accept external help, and finally acceptance. It showed the importance of family support, both to the patient and to the caregiver, in Pam’s case, her husband, Ed White.
The documentary was very emotional. It showed us how devastating the disease can be to a family. After the screening, we met with the Alzheimer’s Association representatives and discussed with them the possibilities of us volunteering for the organization.

Alzheimer’s Association: TriMatch

After the Alzheimer’s Association movie screening, we were very enthusiastic to volunteer for them to get a chance to meet Alzheimer’s patients or their family members. We were presented with an opportunity to volunteer at the Walk to End Alzheimer's, organized by the Alzheimer’s Association, where we would try to persuade people to sign up for TrialMatch. TrialMatch is a system designed by the Alzheimer’s Association to match an individual to an ongoing clinical trial if he/she chooses to participate. Our goal was to get healthy people to sign up for clinical trials, because currently, the number of healthy people signing up is not enough.
At the Walk, we met some professionals in the field who were volunteering with us, and many friends and family members of Alzheimer’s patients. Their stories helped drive home how deeply the disease affects people’s lives and how important it is to find a cure.


Our synthetic biology approach to diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease was built and developed around the idea of an administrable therapeutic for patients with the disease. In order to get our system into the patient’s brain, he/she must be willing to receive it in whatever manner necessary. We sought to answer the question of which delivery method would be most effective for our system, not only in it's scientific functionality, but also in it's social acceptability and therefore, its potential reach. With this in mind, we designed and implemented a survey to help us obtain an understanding of how our project would be perceived in the public eye. More details can be found here.

Synthetic Biology Lecture

We know how important synthetic biology is to the future and we also knew how excited we are about this field, so we thought it would be a great idea to expose a younger generation to this exciting field!

The Educational Studies Program (ESP) at MIT offers a wonderful opportunity each semester (fall, spring and summer) for MIT students to teach middle school or high school students any subject they want. We thought this was the perfect opportunity to reach out to future synthetic biologists.

Our lecture started by giving the students a review of molecular biology essential synthetic biology, including the and overview of genes, proteins, enzymes, DNA replication, i.e., components of a cell that control its function, and explained the workings of promoters and miRNA, i.e., components that control gene function. Then we explained how synthetic biologists manipulate these components to control the cells, by using different tools such as plasmids, different promoters, repressors, activators, etc. We also made sure that the students understood that synthetic biology is an experimental science, by telling them how we use models and simulations to fine-tune concentrations of the components we are manipulating. Finally, we explained to them how our project is designed using what we had just taught them.

The response to these lectures was very positive. There were compelling questions raised during the lecture regarding our project, which showed that the students not only understood what was going on, but also were thinking about the impact of our project and practical details of making it work.

In the spring, we reached around 50 middle school students. In the summer, we reached around 30 high school students and 50 middle school students. We will also be doing lectures in the fall, after the jamboree, and expect to reach around 50 high school students.

Mexico City High school iGEM team: GenetiX Tec CCM

During the summer, the before the High school iGEM Jamboree, the GenetiX Tec CCM from Mexico City came to Boston, and got together with us.

We started the day with presentations from both teams. After that we discussed difficulties we had or are having with our projects. While having a tour of our lab, the GenetiX team commented on the difficulty to grow cultures without contaminating them, among some of their problems. Afterwards, we walked to iGEM Headquarters together. There we listened in on discussions about these problems and how iGEM can help to alleviate them.

DIY Vacuum Manifold

In the middle of the summer, when we were all busy working in the lab, our lab vacuum manifold, needed to extract DNA from bacteria, stopped working smoothly. This was delaying our progress, often resulting in bad yields. Yet, it was taking a long time to get replaced. One of our team members, Erik Ersland, had the idea of making a DIY vacuum manifold, which he did under $15, making it a useful and practical idea for other teams to use.
To learn how to make your own, click here.

Attributions: Kathryn Brink, Erik Ersland, Alexa Garcia, Shinjini Saha