Cancer kills over 8 million people every year. That's as much as the entire population of Switzerland!
We need more specific therapies because current approaches result in many side-effects. That's why we invented CATE, the first all-in-one living cancer therapeutic with an integrated two-step safety mechanism.
A living cure to a living disease!
To tackle the challenge of treating cancer, we decided to look beyond classical approaches and from the point of view of a synthetic biologist.
Our search led us to the concept of bacterial cancer therapy.
CATE consists of the non-pathogenic bacterium E. coli Nissle that has the intrinsic ability to home preferentially in tumors.
It features two safety checkpoint mechanisms to ensure only tumor cells are damaged.
CATE is administered intravenously, travels through the blood and colonizes tumors. When enough bacteria have accumulated in the tumor, they make themselves visible and start preparing the cytotoxic payload.
After imaging the tumor with MRI, the doctor can then activate the release of the cancer-killing payload.
To achieve all these novel functions, we designed a genetic circuit that is distributed over two synthetic DNA sequences.
All functions were tested and optimized to make the resulting circuit as safe and well-characterized as possible.
We increased the understanding of the system's underlying mathematics by simulating its behavior with our models.
The models were then used to define important questions to clarify in experiments and develop efficient experimental and genetic design strategies.
Experimentally, we collected data to support and refine our models and to show that our system works.
We could experimentally confirm the predictions of the models. After testing every function individually, we combined them one after the other in milestone experiments to show the system in action.
We created and characterized new BioBrick parts as a contribution for the synthetic biology community.
We went beyond the lab and reached out to experts to better understand current technological and safety issues in order to enhance the design of our project.
Further, we introduced our project and the field of synthetic biology to the general public and together explored issues related to safety, ethics and sustainability.
We are an interdisciplinary team of eight master students of ETH Zürich who compete in the iGEM championship against hundreds of other teams from all over the world.