Integrated Human Practices
Public Opinion Survey
The Public Opinion Survey was aimed at gathering data on the awareness and preference of the general public on the use of synthetic biology, natural products and their use as a source of pharmaceutical drugs. Additionally, we also aimed to use the survey to collect data on public opinions on our project’s strategy to tackle the problem of emerging infectious diseases.
There were 142 responses from different age groups, gender, nationality and education level. Among 142 respondents, the majority are aware of what synthetic biology is, yet they are unfamiliar with the term “natural products”. However, we discovered that many respondents were interested to know more about our project entitled ‘VarieCure’. They are prepared to explore the use of natural products as new therapeutic agents for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases in particular if we successfully developed new variecolin derivatives through the use of synthetic biology with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. Overall, the respondents believed that the source of materials used in pharmaceutical drug discovery is not a major concern, regardless of whether the source is prepared in the laboratory or derived from nature. The general public support a more efficient, sustainable, ethical and reliable process for drug discovery because of its benefits, and provided the new technologies do not cause any negative impacts on both the environment and human health.
(Link to full report)
Interviews with Experts
Dr. Tsui Yu Man
It was our honor to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Tsui Yu Man, a post-doctoral research fellow in pathology, University of Hong Kong. He is an expert in pathology and had achieved great success in the study of immune checkpoints in liver cancer.
Dr. Tsui was trying to emphasize that drug discovery nowadays needs a better platform for drug screening and current drugs are “imperfect” due to serious side effects. Natural drugs are therefore a better and more convenient way because their analogs can be modified and could lead to improvements on the drugs.
He believed that if we were successful in our iGEM project, it will definitely provide a positive impact on drug discovery. This is because the analogs created can be used to generate a library of different chemical analog drugs for subsequent drug screening processes. Some suggestions were given by Dr. Tsui for testing drug properties such as the MTT assay for assaying anticancer property.
Therefore, we used the MTT assay to check the anticancer property of the variecolin analogues produced in this project with the fungal synthetic biology platform. The MTT assay is a colorimetric assay for measuring cell metabolic activity. It is based on the ability of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH)-dependent cellular oxidoreductase enzymes to reduce the tetrazolium dye MTT to its insoluble formazan, which has a purple color. The preliminary results using the MTT assay are so far quite promising.
(Link to interview script and answer)
Figure 1. Dr Tsui Yu Man
Mr. Marco So and Mr. Ronald Tse (CEO and COO of HANDS Life Science Ltd)
We are glad that Marco and Ronald, the CEO and co-founder of HANDS Life Science Ltd, Hong Kong (https://www.handsls.com/), accepted our invitation to be interviewed. They were members of the 2014 CityU iGEM team and their present company is a fruit and achievement resulting from the 2014 iGEM Competition.
Like Dr. Tsui, both of them tried to emphasize the problem of insufficient drugs and medicine nowadays regarding the effectiveness and manufacturing techniques. They also pointed out that variations among the patients will be one of the biggest challenges in applying suitable chemicals and developing the drugs so the advancement of treatments should take into consideration a number of different aspects so as to ensure the effectiveness of the drugs.
Regarding natural products, they have a different view to Dr Tsui. The possibility of causing skin irritation or possible allergy was the main concern of both Marco and Ronald because there are still some uncertainties in natural products because they lack a well-defined formula, unlike synthetic chemicals. They believed that natural products are better than chemicals in that customers have more faith in drugs derived from natural products in terms of safety. For safety reasons, they suggested that a clear list of chemical ingredients and their concentrations will be essential for drug formulation.
Despite the irritation precaution, our team has done some pharmacokinetic (PK) analysis to ensure the safety of the proposed variecolin analogues. PK analysis describes how the human body reacts to a given pharmaceutical drug, from the time of administration to absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. We have used the ADMETlab and SwissADME algorithms to perform the PK analysis. Through the analysis, we can better understand a drug’s interaction with the human body, the intensity and duration of its efficacy, as well as simulate the potential safety concerns and adverse effects. The preliminary assessment data show that the proposed variecolin analogues we obtained contain negligible toxicity in regard to skin irritation.
Marco and Ronald also shared with us their experience with the iGEM competition, the start-up journey of their company and the way to build trust in the market. These precious experiences and suggestions do greatly benefit us and we will try to establish a positive image of our “product” based on the advice.
(Link to interview script and answer)