A gold medal and three nominations for the 13 students from the 2019 iGEM team in the synthetic biology competition organized by MIT in Boston

Educational innovation
On the  December 19, 2019
The 2019 Grenoble iGEM team was made up of 13 students from Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble INP and Sciences Po Grenoble. They headed to Boston at the end of October to participate in the biggest competition in synthetic biology, organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). And their project NeuroDrop won them a gold medal and three nominations!

iGEM: a world-renowned student competition

Launched by MIT in 2004, iGEM is the biggest student competition in synthetic biology. In 2019, 353 multi-disciplinary teams from all over the world, including almost 4500 students, participated in the competition. Among them, a team of students from Grenoble took on the challenge of designing an innovative genetic engineering application using standardized biological pieces, called BioBricks.

NeuroDrop: what if a tear could sound the alarm?

As students of biotechnology, engineering for health, communication and management, the 13 members of the 2019 Grenoble iGEM team got to grips with the problem of diagnosing Parkinson’s disease. Their aim: to construct adevice that would be capable of detecting alpha-synuclein, a protein that can serve as a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease, in very small volumes of fluid. Christened NeuroDrop, their device analyses tears.

An ambitious challenge that taught them a lot, in different ways

Led by Pierre Cavaillès and Audrey Le Gouellec, teacher-researchers at UGA, they worked together on this project for almost a year. They managed everything, from design, to manufacturing, programming, testing, even researching funds.

This was important because, in addition to the scientific skills used during this adventure, the students had to deal with all the different aspects of running a project: managing teamwork, communication and financing. Therefore, in carrying out this significant technical challenge, each member of this multi-disciplinary team was able to use their skills, whether that involved solving biological or technological problems or responding to commercial, legal or even ethical questions raised by the project. The Grenoble iGEM team was therefore able to present a very accomplished project.

Invaluable support

In order to buy all the necessary equipment and pay for their trip, the team requested and obtained support from different partners - UGA, Grenoble INP, the UGA Foundation, the Grenoble INP Foundation, the Clinatec endowment fund, Grenoble Alpes Métropole, CROUS, IDEX and ComUE - and also from companies such as Promega, Thermofisher, Microsynth, Idt, Biolabs, Roth, geneious, Euromedex, STEF, Jean Bioscience, Addgene and Twist.

Success at the end of the journey

Full of enthusiasm, the 2019 iGEM team headed off to Boston at the end of October. All the team members attended the Giant jamboree, where all the competing teams meet up together. They presented “NeuroDrop” in front of an international judging panel, made up of researchers and engineers from different fields: biology, physics, chemistry, IT, etc. In the end, they won a gold medal and three nominations for "Best Diagnostics Project”, "Best New Composite Part", and "Best Software Tool". An outstanding result, and a well-deserved reward at the end of this ambitious adventure, during which they have learned and gained a lot.

When I submitted my CV to participate in IGEM 2019, I had no idea how much of an impact this adventure would have on me. It has been incredibly enriching from a professional point of view, but also personally, as we had to tackle all the typical eventualities involved in project management, from raising funds to managing the team, under a great deal of stress.” Aline, student at Sciences Po Grenoble.
Published on  February 14, 2020
Updated on February 14, 2020