Description & Motivation
Our journey to building a diagnostic kit for the detection of OSCC (Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma) began in 2020. Initially aiming for iGEM 2020, we wanted to focus on the p53 system of genome regulation and detect abnormalities in its function as a diagnostic solution. But, after a thorough literature survey, we realized that this was not a feasible target without looking at explicit genomic and cellular data.
Undeterred, we continued our pursuit for biomarkers that could tell us about the progression of cancer. In hindsight, we realize that we were looking for the Holy Grail molecule whose presence would be necessary and sufficient to diagnose cancer.
After consulting past iGEMers, seniors, and professors we narrowed down our search to find evidence for particular cancers by way of biomarkers, this time even expanding to other biofluids.
Lo and behold! A study in China from 2019 had published data for a panel of salivary biomarkers that were dysregulated in oral cancer. Quite motivated by this discovery, we decided to take it up further with medical professionals.
We approached Dr. Sushmita Ghoshal, Head of Radiotherapy at PGI, Chandigarh, India, and Dr. Arnab Pal through her. Both of them were quite enthusiastic about our findings. They not only confirmed that OSCC (Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma) was an acute problem in the Indian subcontinent but also validated the need for diagnostics to provide an effective solution for the early identification of cancer. The patients came from weaker socio-economic backgrounds and lacked the awareness to take preventable steps. Thus, there is an urgent need to create accessible healthcare solutions that can have positive consequences. Further, they also advised us to build a computational model to predict the success of our biomarkers because biomarkers are suggestive.
Our iGEM journey has also seen many ups and downs. When our project idea finally took shape and we set out to start our project in April 2021- we thought our wet lab goals were achievable. However, the second wave of the pandemic hit us and India quite severely. In May 2021, the institute and all our labs were closed. None of our orders could be processed and there were massive shipping backlogs, besides a massive vaccine supply crunch. It was only by mid-July to the first week of August that labs started returning to normalcy for a few of us who managed to get vaccinated. Since our hardware team did not have external requirements, we quickly began working on the hardware and modeling parts of our project. Unfortunately, it was already mid-August by the time our first protein-containing plasmids arrived. But working conditions were far from ideal, as labs had to follow social-distancing norms and other restrictions. It got even worse when one of us was afflicted with the virus, sending the entire team into isolation.
We realized that we needed to pivot our goals towards a more hardware-centric project and emphasize its design aspects while brainstorming for our wet-lab experiments. Looking back, we now realize we made some good but tough choices in the initial stages of our project. iGEM 2021 taught us more than just science as we factored in our individual situations not comprising our own mental and physical well-being. We really enjoyed being part of iGEM 2021 and are extremely grateful for remaining safe and healthy during the last six months.
OSCCit - A diagnostic kit for the detection of OSCC is designed to detect the levels of certain biomarkers to predict the susceptibility one might have to develop OSCC.
- As of today, early detection of OSCC comes through indirect sources - majorly visual or optical methods while visiting a general physician or a dentist. In fact, the technical phrase for it is ’conventional oral examination’ (COE) which relies on sight and tactile sensation for diagnosis. Dentists might be able to spot PML (Premalignant lesions), ulcers, or other indicative phenotypes during this process. Since OSCC is one of the only cancers where tissue-level information can be accessed via optical methods, numerous optical-based solutions exist that rely on tissue autofluorescence or other methods. However, these methods have limited success as not all lesions show detectable changes in fluorescence. Besides, expertise is required to identify the lesions that will respond well to this test.
- Secondly, while diagnostic kits identifying biomarkers have been made, most of these rely on fully functional labs to do the back-end analysis. This means that remote parts of poorer countries will not benefit from their usage. Even if the infrastructure was built up, a lack of trained staff and maintenance services would disrupt any system that is put in place.
OSCCit is aimed at detecting one has of developing OSCC through one's saliva. By uniquely using protease biomarkers , the kit aims to eliminate all lab-requirements required for this test. It is thus suited for tplaces that lack adequate infrastructure and who cannot afford it. The components of OSSCit are -
OSCCit contains the following parts:-
- A saliva collection tube lined with protein constructs
- A laser to detect fluorescence
- A smartphone to capture the spectra
- An app to analyse the spectra along with software for risk prediction
- An LED panel to show the results