Integrated Human Practices
Interview with Dr. Thiwan Wirawan
In order to determine the impact our project will have on society, we consulted with multiple stakeholders, including practicing dentists, university professors, and the public. The results of our human practices work entirely changed the course of the project mid-way, in which we decided to target and decrease S. pyogenes bacteria instead of S. mutans bacteria.
DISCUSSION WITH PROFESSORS
Our initial project idea was to use phage therapy to target colonies of S. mutans, as it causes oral cavities. To understand impending issues with S. mutans, we sought expert opinions from Dr. Puey Ounjai from Mahidol University, Dr. Pakpoom Subsoontorn from Naresuan University, and Mr. Pat Pataranutaporn from MIT. They unanimously agreed that the increasing antibiotic resistance is becoming a problem because new antibiotics need to be continuously developed as bacteria become more and more resistant. In addition, antibiotics can be overused, have harsh side effects, and lack specificity. The lack of specificity can destroy beneficial bacteria, such as healthy flora in the gut.
Therefore, instead of developing an antibiotic to target S. mutans, we decided to select a more specific method: bacteriophages. We decided to engineer bacteriophages to infect a probiotic and bind specifically to S. mutans and decrease its populations in the oral cavity.
Next, we surveyed students and adults of the Thai public to understand their views on tooth cavities and genetic engineering as well as their willingness to use our product.
From the over 100 responses that we received in our survey, around 75% of the participants have had tooth cavities and a large portion of those people have had 5 or more cavities before. The majority of the population have basic knowledge about how cavities occur and how to prevent them.
The majority of our participants have never studied synthetic biology before, thus, having less knowledge about it. Overall, the population showed interest in candy or gum that can prevent tooth cavities.
INTEGRATED HUMAN PRACTICES
INTERVIEW WITH DR. WIRAWAN
In addition to our surveys, we decided to get more information by interviewing 3 practicing dentists: Dr. Ruangrat Komolpis, Dr. Sakorn Hunsuwan, and Dr. Pimsupa Kitsricharoenchai. All three dentists unanimously suggested against the idea, since current methods of treatment are already sufficient in treating oral cavities. For instance, fluoride is already a great substance that remineralizes dentinal tubules. Fluoride also causes no grave side effects.
Dr. Kitsricharoenchai and Dr. Hunsuwan both asserted that forming regular brushing habits is a more sustainable and healthy solution than engineering a product that patients need to depend on, even if the product is very effective.
Therefore, we determined that our project would not be useful if dental cavities can already be simply prevented by tooth brushing. However, we already designed our project and determined our protocol. So, we shifted our interest to targeting S. pyogenes to treat strep throat and tonsillitis instead.
INTERVIEW WITH DR. THIWAN WIRAWAN
In order to assert that our resources and protocol can be beneficially used to decrease S. pyogenes, we interviewed Dr. Thiwan Wirawan, a pediatrician at Thainakarin Hospital, about her thoughts on our project. She provided us with valuable information on strep throat, and how penicillin is not commonly used anymore due to S. pyogenes’s antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, antibiotic resistance is very common, leading to patients having to come back to check up and either change medication or increase the dosage. Tonsillitis also poses a large problem for patients, with antibiotic resistance becoming more and more of a relevant subject when treating tonsillitis.
In fact, Dr. Wirawan shares the same views as Dr. Ounjai, Dr. Subsoontorn, and Mr. Pataranutaporn. She believes that within the next few decades, antibiotics will become a problem as bacteria evolve to become more resistant to antibiotics. She supports the notion of phage therapy as long as it is tested to be safe and reliable, as phage therapy is a promising alternative due to its high specificity, allowing S. pyogenes to be targeted without killing other bacteria.
To further ensure our interest in the project, we sent out surveys regarding their views on synthetic biology, their knowledge of people who have had tonsillitis before, their view on our project, among many other questions. There were over 200 respondents, in which the results can be seen in the graphs below.
The results of our survey indicate that members of the public have varying levels of trust in the usefulness of synthetic biology in creating innovations for the betterment of society. Adults, on average, showed greater levels of uncertainty.
The surveys also indicate substantial interest in our product, especially among students.