MIT Students Using DNA To Treat Endometriosis

MIT Students Using DNA To Treat Endometriosis

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This summer, 12 MIT students are working on a project to create a treatment for endometriosis in the form of a genetic circuit. In late October, they will present the completed project to the over 300 teams from around the world participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition at the Hynes Convention Center.

In the past, MIT iGEM teams have addressed Alzheimer's disease, cell differentiation and biodiesel production, but this year the team is bringing synthetic biology into the world of women's health. Endometriosis, the topic of the MIT iGEM team's research, is a condition characterized by extreme pelvic and abdominal pain, and it affects one in 10 women in the USA, including public figures like "Star Wars" actress, Daisy Ridley, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others.

Despite being almost commonplace, it's only relatively recently that endometriosis has become a focus of medical research. The pain is caused by cells from the uterine lining, called the endometrium, growing elsewhere in the body. These abnormal growths of endometrial cells can be large or small, and in the past, small growths could not be sensed. Back then, before endometriosis was a possible diagnosis, many women complaining of pain with no obvious or medically diagnosable cause would be carted away to asylums, labeled as "hysterical." Even today, although great strides are being made in understanding endometriosis on the molecular level, the treatment options for women with endometriosis are bleak. Pain medications and hormone therapy may minimize the symptoms of the disease, but they do nothing to get rid of the out-of-place endometrial cells causing the pain, and hormone therapy, in particular, can have noticeable and unpleasant side effects. The only options to actually remove the endometriosis are by undergoing surgery, either conservatively removing only the endometriosis cells (in minor cases) or by getting a hysterectomy, which is the removal of the uterus, cervix and ovaries (in extreme and recurrent cases).

After learning of this disheartening set of options for women with endometriosis, the MIT iGEM team set out to create an alternative. The team is working in the Weiss Lab at MIT, in the university's Synthetic Biology Center. Synthetic biology is a form of biological engineering that characterizes and uses standardized parts to make some product. These parts may be proteins, which are large molecules in a cell that perform some function like sense a hormone or read DNA, or RNA, a single-helix counterpart of DNA that brings messages around the cell, or they may be stretches of DNA code with which RNA or proteins can somehow interact. Once researchers begin putting these pieces together, the possibilities are endless, making synthetic biology a new and exciting field of biological research.

Over the next few months, the MIT iGEM team will create a genetic circuit built from these biological parts. The circuit will be made of DNA and protein components to sense conditions in the cell, while using Boolean logic, a system that relies on binary assumptions that some condition is either "on" or "off," analogous to 1 or 0, to create an output. The MIT iGEM team's goal is to create a circuit that will first recognize when it's in an endometriosis cell and then produce some output, like causing the cell to die, thus removing the endometriosis without requiring surgery. The circuit could also result in the endometriosis cell producing some chemical that can be sensed through a blood or urine test, as a noninvasive and accurate alternative to the only current sure way to diagnose endometriosis: laparoscopy.

On Monday, June 13, the team will meet with experts in the field including Asgi Fazleablas and Linda Griffith to present their circuit design and seek feedback.

Cover Image Credit: Brian Teague

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22 Girl Names Your Random College Roommate Will Have, And The Type Of Roommate They Are

Will she be your BFF?
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Every roommate situation in college is going to be different.

All you can do is hope and pray that they'll just leave you alone for the most part. A lot of the time, you can get a hint about what kind of roommate they'll be just knowing their first name.

1. Hailey

Her dad pays her rent. She can't cook. Litters the kitchen with take out boxes from the local vegan joint.

2. Beth

Totally wants you to go to SoulCycle with her at 6 a.m. on a Saturday. Room is littered with leggings and sneakers.

3. Michelle

Comes home at 3 a.m. after a night of heavy drinking. Loudly makes some sort of frozen meal. Sleeps through her noon alarm.

4. Victoria

Probably has dark hair and an acoustic guitar. Keeps pretty much to herself. Does homework in the living room at obscure hours.

5. Madison

Was on the dance team in high school and has not stopped telling you about how great it was. Does work out videos on the TV in the living room.

6. Kim

Brings her boyfriend over every night of the week. Brings different boys home on the weekends.

7. Megan

Actively avoids cleaning the bathroom. Leaves her dishes in the sink. You haven't seen her shower in four days.

8. Erica

Normal. Quiet. Wants to be a high school English teacher.

9. Erika

Wild. Emotionally distraught always. Is always hosting the pre-game. Never comes home with all of the clothes she left wearing.

10. Sarah

"Definitely should have got into Harvard, but I ended up here instead." Too into trying to get a 4.0 to pay attention to you.

11. Julia

Studies music performance. Screams expletives at her keyboard. Cannot play the trumpet, but still tries really hard.

12. Hannah

So tall she almost hits her head on the doorways. Plays basketball. Raps to old Kanye in the shower.

13. Jenny

Should not be allowed to go out. Goes out every weekend anyway. Throws up in your bathtub and doesn't always address it in the morning.

14. Heather

Stressing about her internship. Is currently failing all of her classes. Will somehow still get a 3.5 GPA this semester.

15. Grace

You never see her, only the hairballs she leaves all around your place.

16. Emma

Only has guy friends because "it's easier." Guy friends who leave empty beer cans out after every sporting event on TV.

17. Caitlyn

Has a 4.0 as a biology major. Is going to med school. Sterilizes her room, the bathroom and the kitchen sink every four hours.

18. Sam

Always has a paper about feminism to write. Rosie the Riveter poster in her room.

19. Alex

Is probably dating her boss. Has straight Ds in all her classes.

20. Taylor

Is somehow always home when you're home. You know nothing about her other than where she's from.

21. Alyssa

Trying to become the next big YouTuber. Has lighting equipment all over the place. You constantly hear the phrase, "Hey guys, welcome to my channel!" She squealed because yesterday she hit 25 subscribers.

22. Jesse

Is probably plotting your murder. Lurks around like a cat.

Cover Image Credit: Morgan Yates//YouTube

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20 Things Liberal Arts Majors Are 110% Sick Of Hearing

Looking at you, STEM nerd.
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While I absolutely love my choice of major, sometimes people's reactions are not so great. Here are some things that make liberal arts majors want to crawl into a hole when they hear them.

1. “You know you won’t make any money in that…right?”


2. “Your parents must have been pissed”

3. “Are you at least minoring in something useful?”

4. “Wow, I didn’t even know that counted as a major…”


5. “Sounds easy”

6. “You think you have a lot of work? Try being a STEM major…”

7. “You want to be a teacher, right?”

8. “Doesn’t everyone with that major get a 4.0 GPA”

9. “What are ever going to do with an English Literature degree? Everyone already knows how to read “

10 “You know that field is overpopulated. What you should do is…”

11. “All of the homework you have is fun, right?”


12. “You are going to law school though?”

13. “You’re going to regret that choice in 10 years.”

14. “That sounds…fun”

15. “You must have a ton of free time.”

16. “Do you actually need a degree to do that?”

17. “You should really have a backup plan…you know just in case.”

18. “Why not major in something more practical?”

19. “What are you going to do with that? There are no jobs in that field.”

20. “Wow, I wish we could trade work.”

Even after hearing all of these and many more, I still love my choice of major!

Cover Image Credit: @johnkrasinski

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