Exposure to prolonged chronic stress induces heightened vulnerability to anxiety, depression, and a lot of mood disorders. Dysfunction of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in the brain has been linked to the cognitive and emotional deficiency induced by long-term stress exposure. Chronic stress-induced depression (CSID), therefore, is an imperative mental disorder. If treated improperly, upcoming psychiatric disorders, such as major depressive disorders (MDD), anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by lasting sensitivity to recurring sensors, will eventually tear the patient to shreds. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is already becoming the leading cause of disability around the world. It even haunts more than 264 million people worldwide. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg.
To alleviate damage of stress becoming crucial before it accumulates into a greater problem. We came up with a novel solution called Menble, where the engineered stress-relieving probiotic is wrapped inside a bubble. It is a modification of Taiwan’s representative drink, bubble tea, offering destressing benefits for people of all ages, especially working adults and teenagers. By incorporating our solution in the daily lives of people, it will be more accessible and affordable for consumers from all socioeconomic backgrounds, promoting health equality and sustainable communities in the long run.
More than just a concept
Implementing a research project into the world of business is a challenge. To overcome barriers in the pursuit of a real life product, we engaged with many experts from different backgrounds including researchers or enterprise experts to gain their feedback.
Through a meeting with a clinical pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences professor Hui-Hua Chang, who is a clinical-pharmacy specialist, we noticed that patients with the motive of depression do not usually seek healthcare professionals as they fear the expenses, the stigmatization or the side effects in between the transition period. Even with medical prescription, the drug adherence is still low due to physical exhaustion. From that, we have set our goals on making the product affordable and easily accessible as a drink that is already part of our consumer’s daily routine - Menble, a Taiwanese bubble tea.
In addition to spotting the limitations of current treatments, we have conducted a survey to understand the needs of our potential consumers. From the 200 feedbacks, we have found a pattern - They need stress-relieving probiotics, but they do not want bioengineered food. This finding urges us to seek industrial entrepreneurs for information on the lawful usage and our product’s positioning.
After a visit to a local traditional bubble industry, we were suggested to position our product as chilled ready-to-eat (RTE) food and apply IoT in our kitchen for easier supervision and management. Nonetheless, Menble is still different from the traditional bubbles, it is a functional bubble requiring biotechnology techniques. Thus, other than visiting traditional bubble factories, we also went to the first ever biotechnology company in Taiwan which uses synthetic biology as its core technique, Trade Wind Biotech. The CEO, Dr. Lance, showed us the factories and commented on our project. He fully supported our project and is willing to be one of the investors. We received a lot of help from him in terms of entrepreneurship, such as being our consultant for FITI business competition and assisted us in designing our business plan.
We sincerely appreciate the gathered help from all professionals, and we strive for a better MenTAUR and a better future for the world.
There lies a gap between knowledge and practice, to fill the gap we need proper education. We conducted a survey to investigate the current market and customer’s needs including the investigation of respondents’ understanding of synthetic biology. The results have shown us that the majority of respondents are still wary of GMOs and mental health issues as they are considered controversies in Taiwan. This led us to think of what we can do on misinformation, and that is when education comes to our mind.
We have done booklet, podcast, gather town study camp, education kit, educational video. Most memorably, we held an online summer camp on Gather Town for middle and high school students to encourage the safe use of biotechnology. In addition, our education kit designed for elementary schools introduced the potential of GMO products. By educating the public, we hope that MenTAUR creates a safe place to discuss mental health and synthetic biology.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is already becoming the leading cause of disability around the world. In alignment with this problem, NCKU Tainan strives to create an impact on society. We aimed to treat chronic stress-induced depression with our innovation - Menble. It will be more accessible and affordable for consumers from all socioeconomic backgrounds, promoting health equality and sustainable communities in the long run.
Through consistent awareness-raising and public education, we provide a platform for discussion on mental health and synthetic biology. However, this is just the beginning. There are still many things that need to be done before we can successfully implement our product in the future. Many questions are asked in regards to the safety of our Menble. Despite facing these many obstacles, we still believed in our core value in establishing revolutionary solutions for chronic stress-induced depression. The team will continue on completing further data on taurine-depression research and hope to add in more input on mental health research.
The autoregulation system could be applied in other types of medications by changing the enzyme in the future. This would be a breakthrough in medicine and beneficial to both the prescribers and patients, especially in dealing with patients with low drug compliance. iGEM NCKU Tainan doesn’t limit ourselves in research, we strive to inspire and support our society through knowledge and creativity in synthetic biology.
- Westfall S, Caracci F, Estill M, Frolinger T, Shen L, Pasinetti GM. Chronic Stress-Induced Depression and Anxiety Priming Modulated by Gut-Brain-Axis Immunity. Frontiers in Immunology. 2021;12. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2021.670500
- James SL, Abate D, Abate KH, et al. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. 2018;392(10159):1789-1858. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(18)32279-7