iGEM awarded Best Health and Medicine Project award at international competition

By Nyajai Ellison

The University’s International Genetically Engineered Machine team won the Best Health and Medicine Project award in the undergraduate division of the 2013 international competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in early November.

iGEM is the world’s largest competition based on synthetic biology, which is the design and construction of biological devices and utilities for various purposes. 

Synthetic biology is a marriage of technology and biology, and iGEM aims to further the future of the advancement of synthetic biology in the world.

In the Health and Medicine category, 40 teams from around the world competed with the University’s team of seven people, which was awarded best project in this category.

Ashley Moy, sophomore in Engineering, was the University team’s administrative director of iGem.

“I am so proud of all of the hard work my team has put into making a probiotic to fight cardiovascular disease.” Moy said.

Cardiovascular disease refers to a collection of heart-related diseases, one of which Moy said her grandmother had been diagnosed with.

“I see her struggle on a daily basis, and when I told her about our project, she was so proud and hopeful for the future of medicine,” she said.

In addition, the iGEM team and their work has had a personal impact on Susan McKenna, assistant director of communications for the department of bioengineering. 

“The Illinois iGEM team and project mean something to me, personally, as I lost my father to heart disease 10 years ago, and I wish that didn’t have to happen to anyone.” McKenna said.

“It is gratifying to see how excited and committed they are to the project — their effort encourages me to believe that they could one day find a way to eliminate heart disease or, at the least, manage it to the point where it is no longer so serious and widespread.”

Moy said she hopes to see their probiotic reach the market to help the hundreds of thousands of people afflicted with cardiovascular disease.

Nyajai can be reached at [email protected]