Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden iGEM team wants to build a kit to diagnose infectious diseases

Fourteen bachelor’s and master’s students are representing Leiden University in this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM). Their plan: to create a kit that can be used to quickly identify infectious diseases in case of an outbreak.

The Leiden iGEM team


Every year, teams of students from all over the world participate in a grand competition to create the best genetically engineered machines with a practical purpose. Inspired by the current pandemic, this year’s Leiden team plan on creating a testing kit that can quickly identify various pathogens without the need for expensive lab equipment. They have dubbed their plan ‘Rapidemic’.

‘We can’t reveal too much right now’, team member Amber Schonk says, ‘We’re hoping to patent our design.’ Schonk, a biomedical sciences student is the team’s communications manager. ‘Our design can hopefully deliver a test result in two hours. We want to start our lab work in July, if it will be possible by then.’

Prepared for the future

While the kit might be inspired by the current corona crisis, it is not designed to be a solution to the current outbreak. Violette Defourt, who is also pursuing a master's in biomedical sciences, explains: ‘The current pandemic certainly won’t be the last outbreak of a deadly disease. We need to be prepared for the future. We hope our Rapidemic kit will deliver quick and reliable results without the need for a whole lab.’

The kit works by recognising a specific strand of pathogen DNA or RNA. This might be corona virus RNA, but the test could be adapted to respond to any piece of genetic code. Schonk: ‘Once you have the DNA or RNA of a new pathogen, you can relatively easily make a new kit to test for that specific disease. This makes our test very flexible.’

For now, though, the coronavirus is throwing a spanner in the works. Due to the current lockdown, the team members cannot work on their project in the lab. Nevertheless, morale is high and the team is confident they can finish their kit in time for the iGEM Jamboree in October. Due to the corona virus, the Jamboree will not be held in Boston, but will take place online instead. Defourt: ‘It is a shame that we can’t go to Boston, but we don’t want to spread more diseases by going there.’ 

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