CUHK students invent new rapid flu test
The CUHK genetic engineering team wins Gold medal at the iGEM 2017 Giant Jamboree held in Boston, USA.
A genetic engineering team of 15 undergraduate students from CUHK’s School of Life Sciences and Department of Biomedical Engineering won the Gold medal at the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) 2017 Giant Jamboree held in Boston, USA, for developing a novel rapid test for an influenza subtype. The winning project, ‘Dr. Switch: A Rapid On-Site Method for Subtyping Influenza A virus’, has extensive potential applications and may help fight the growing threat of a bird flu epidemic.
Based on the Toehold Switch mechanism, the CUHK genetic engineering team designs a rapid on-site method for subtyping Influenza A virus. The test agent will turn pink from white in the presence of the target RNA.
Presently, diagnostic testing for viruses is only available in the laboratory and it often takes a day or more for the result to come back, due to lengthy transportation and testing time. There is a rapid test which is quicker, but the result is preliminary (only type A, B or C) which cannot show the subtype of the virus (H1N1, H5N1 or H7N9, etc.). The CUHK iGEM team has developed a rapid test system that can distinguish the subtype of the Influenza A virus by using toehold switches. The test can be done on-site in animal farms, at borders or in markets, and the results will come within hours, which will improve anti-epidemic efficiency. The winning project marks the fifth time that a CUHK team has won gold in the annual premier synthetic biology competition. The team was also the first group to develop an online software programme for designing toehold switches and construct a toehold switch cloning tool that allows easy construction and validation of toehold switches.
The School of Life Sciences was established in 2010 by merging the Biochemistry and Biology Departments under the Faculty of Science. Some of the active research areas in the School include plant molecular biology and biotechnology, protein structure and function, marine biology, environmental science, and food science and technology. The School offers undergraduate major programmes in Biochemistry, Biology, Cell and Molecular Biology, Environmental Science, Food and Nutritional Sciences, and Molecular Biotechnology, plus taught and research postgraduate programmes.
As one of the pioneers among local institutions, CUHK took the lead in offering a MSc programme in Biomedical Engineering (BME) in 2006. After more than 10 years of development and planning, coupled with strong support from the University, the Department of Biomedical Engineering at CUHK was established in 2017 to nurture more professionals, and carry out new scientific research and transfer technologies to improve the quality and effectiveness of medical services. Key research areas of the Department include biomaterials and regenerative medicine, medical instrumentation and biosensors, biomolecular engineering and nanomedicine, and biomedical imaging and informatics.