Research & Innovation

UCC Awarded Gold Medal for Potential Tropical Disease Vaccine

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UCC Awarded Gold Medal for Potential Tropical Disease Vaccine

December 22
10:15 2016

UCC’s Limited Lactis team was awarded a gold medal recently at the iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) competition in Boston.

More than 600 teams from top universities across the globe, including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford took part in the competition, which is held up as the gold standard for “research-led education”.

The only Irish entrants in the competition, Limited Lactis used the bacterium Lactococcus lactis, a generally recognised as safe bacterium, commonly used in food production, to develop a potential new vaccine against Leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease that is increasing in geographical distribution.

Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning approach to designing and making novel products from biology, which is revolutionising what is possible in tackling world needs in health, energy, food and beyond.

Leishmaniasis affects some of the world’s poorest people and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of financial resources. An estimated 900,000–1,300,000 new cases and 20,000-30,000 deaths occur annually. Leishmaniasis is linked to environmental changes such as deforestation, building of dams, irrigation schemes, and urbanisation.

The UCC team worked voluntarily, engaging with people in disease-affected regions such as Honduras, where diseases like Leishmaniasis is a serious problem. Team instructor, Yensi Flores, a PhD candidate at the Cork Cancer Research Centre and APC Microbiome Institute, travelled to Honduras to gain an insight into the realities of developing a suitable treatment for Leishmaniasis. She connected the team with various stakeholders on the ground. The team also engaged in significant outreach work, teaching Cork school pupils about synthetic biology and conducting charity fundraising activities.

The team, which was comprised of students from UCC Pharmacy, Medicine, Genetics, and BioMedical Science andhosted by the APC Microbiome Institute, Cork Cancer Research Centre and the School of Biochemistry, received financial support from the APC Microbiome Institute, Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCC College of Medicine & Health, Fyffes, the EU, Janssen and Eli Lilly.

Mark Tangney of Cork Cancer Research Centre & APC Microbiome Institute, sadi: “I was blown away with how much was achieved in such a short time by undergraduate students, and how sophisticated the resulting technology is, all due to the enthusiasm of the students and the power of Synthetic Biology.”

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