Undergraduate students from the University of Dundee in Scotland are working on harnessing the power of laboratory-cultured, non-pathogenic E. coli to help cystic fibrosis patients fend off other harmful bacteria that could infect the lungs. Respiratory infections pose a serious threat to CF patients because of their impaired lung clearance. The Dundee students’ entry for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition may allow CF patients to have a head start in engaging antibacterial treatments before an infection gets out of hand within their lungs.
The “Lung Ranger” is the device that earned the team an invitation to present their ideas at the last Cystic Fibrosis Trust national conference held in Manchester. It was devised as a solution to a “real world problem” from a given set of biological components, as stipulated by the iGEM competition. The Lung Ranger’s development team was composed of ten students, each of which brought a unique academic focus to the project:
- 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)
- Jenny Wood (Molecular Microbiology)
The Lung Ranger is a hand-held device that is user-friendly enough to be operated by either the patient or a doctor. It employs E. coli, a bacteria normally found in the human colon that plays a role in healthy digestion that is especially engineered to emit a green glow in the presence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Burkholderia cenocepacia — two very harmful bacteria. The device can instantly detect and measure the E. coli’s fluorescence, thereby providing a more efficient diagnostic technique.
The students participating in the iGEM competition have been collaborating with the Cystic Fibrosis team at Ninewells Hospital. This advisory partnership has given the students valuable opportunities to interact with patients and know more about their needs for the purpose of improving their innovations.
Respiratory infections from these two types of bacteria are serious threats to CF patients, but an infection can be an even bigger problem when the bacteria is a resistant strain. Antibiotic abuse and non-compliance are two of the driving forces behind today’s bacteria mutating into tougher forms. An internationally acclaimed expert on cystic fibrosis believes the solution is not solely about formulating new antibiotics, but also in developing compounds that can enhance the properties of currently available products.