iGEM Leiden 2020


iGEM Leiden 2020

Inspired by the current pandemic, and the ensuing lack of governmental responsiveness, our team at Leiden University hopes to develop a modular rapid diagnostic tool for infectious diseases. Rapidemic will be capable of quickly identifying various pathogens without the need of extensive lab equipment.

About our project

The challenge

We are currently experiencing what it is like to go through a pandemic.The past few months have shown us how a virus concentrated in the Wuhan area in China eventually spread globally, leaving global leaders desperate to get a grip on the public health and economic crises. In the early stages of the crisis,each country saw a rapid increase in their number of infections, and the demand for testing became harder to fulfill in a matter of a few weeks...

For many infectious diseases, (RT-)qPCR is often the preferred test for diagnosing individuals. Western developed countries have tried scaling up their lab capacity to meet the need for testing but failed to do so. Testing capacity will always have a limit and will not be able to account for diagnosis of all cases all at once during a peak in the outbreak. A rapid, point of care testing test which could be performed outside a lab but with similar specificity as the current golden standard of (RT-)qPCR would allow for more people to be tested in the early stages of the epidemic to get more insight in the spread of the disease. This would allow the government to make more educated decisions in controlling the epidemic.

Besides this need in the western world, there is an even higher need for our diagnostics kit in less developed countries where not every hospital has a sophisticated lab. In these countries controlling an outbreak will be even more difficult as the diagnostic needs cannot be met during a crisis.

Rapidemic: Our testing kit

Our testing kit, similar to PCR, tests for presence of a pathogen based on detection of nucleic acids; either DNA or RNA depending on the pathogen. Rapid nucleic acid testing (RNT) has the potential to reach lab-grade sensitivity and accuracy, directly targeting the pathogenic agent without requiring extensive equipment.

Our kit is modular and has the potential to be lyophilized, allowing us to develop general parts of the kit in advance, which can then be stored in vast quantities to be prepared for the next outbreak. In the case of an epidemic, the pathogen is screened and pathogen-specific primers / parts are designed and added to the system. As a result, the kits can be used rapidly and specifically for detection of the pathogen in the early stages of the outbreak without the necessity for laboratories.

Right now you see that a lot of people are developing antigen or antibody based tests. These tests are often not good for detection in early stages of infection. Moreover, the development of this type of test takes a relatively long time as the affinity and specificity of the test needs extensive optimisation to reach a useful test. Even after development, it would still need to be proven to be specific, which also takes a long time. Our nucleic acid based test could be more rapidly developed in a crisis than RDTs based on antigen or antibody detection. This is because we do not rely on the same type of affinity for an antigen or antibody but rather on DNA or RNA. As our kit is modular we can also have a more rapid phase of proving that our kit works.

What's next?

In the coming months, our team will try to establish a proof-of-concept of our kit and the underlying techniques. We will do so by testing its capacity of detecting several different classes of pathogens that are likely to cause an epidemic in the future. For this you can for instance think of airborne pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 but also of animal borne diseases like malaria or lassa fever.

Our world/society is experiencing rapid changes in climate: deforestation, increasing water-levels and migration/population movements. These have been associated with an increased occurrence of outbreaks of infectious diseases from zoonosis, vectorborne or water-borne, that have the potential to pose a major global public health challenge/threat. Tools will be needed to rapidly identify these diseases and prevent their further spread in this highly globalized world. We need to take lessons from past and current situations to establish better collaborative networks for future epidemics and ensure a rapid governmental response. These kits can be sent out globally for local use. The collaborative efforts (in finding the gene of interest) can benefit the global population in quickly diagnosing novel infectious diseases and tackling these at their source. In conclusion, let us already be one step ahead in tackling Disease X!

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  • Sponsors

    Rapidemic could become a standard for fighting upcoming epidemics all over the world. In order to establish this, we need to test our hypotheses and designs, this is why we ask for your help. Click on the button to read more about sponsoring us and what opportunities we can provide for your company!

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  • project design

    Meet the team!

    Our international team consists of fourteen highly-motivated students from various disciplines. Click on the button to read more about our team!

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