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Genetic Engineering

Ethical Questions

This year, the UCL iGEM team is taking a radical new step with synthetic biology. We intend to explore the potential application genetic engineering techniques on the brain, because it is the site of some of the most subtle, and many of the most devastating diseases known to medicine. We have devised a genetic circuit for transfecting into a novel chassis for iGEM that is rarely engineered in research - microglial cells, the resident immune cells of the brain. The circuit aims to boost the ability of the microglial cells to break down senile plaques, which are associated with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as to protect neurons under threat from these plaques and from inflammation. Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disease that is characterised by the loss of recent memory and intellectual functions. Late stages of the disease often see patients bedridden, mute and incontinent. It is a horrific condition for which a genetic engineering response is both pertinent and somewhat disconcerting. Therefore, we also delve into the neuroethics of the potential progression of synthetic biology in neuroscience.

Click the abstracts below to read more.