Cervical cancer remains a significant health burden, especially in regions with limited access to diagnostic facilities. In this iGEM project, we will be developing an easy-to-use point of care device that can provide a reliable color-based output utilizing red fluorescent protein upon detecting specific miRNAs associated with cervical precancer while leveraging three heavily upregulated microRNAs (miR-21, miR-199a, and miR-155-5p) in the urine of patients. The proposed screening device combines toehold switch technology and RNA synthetic devices. Toehold switches serve as molecular recognition elements, enabling target miRNAs detection with high sensitivity and specificity. We can trigger a visual color response when the target miRNAs are present in the patient's urine. Through careful design and optimization, we aim to produce a low-cost device that requires minimal training to operate, enabling its use in resource-limited areas.
Cervical Cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. It stands as one of the most preventable cancers, following the development of the HPV vaccine and increased use of the Pap Smear test. However, there still persists a very high mortality rate for cervical cancer. In 2020 alone, there were 342,000 estimated global deaths and 604,000 new cancer diagnoses. In advanced stages, cervical cancer can spread beyond the pelvis and metastasize into other critical body parts including the lungs and bones.
There are substantial socioeconomic inequalities in cervical cancer across the globe, with the majority of casualties reported in middle to low income countries. In these countries, higher quality screening and timely care services are not routinely available. These limitations decelerate the likelihood of prompt cervical cancer detection and treatment. Moreover, healthcare providers are not available to conduct customary screenings such as the Pap Smear and these low resource settings do not have enough of the special lab equipment required to complete such measures.
CerviCare uses synthetic biology to solve the problem of identifying cervical pre-cancers, specifically in regions with inadequate resources. This project uses novel toehold switch technology and RNA synthetic devices as part of our solution. Through rounds of careful design and optimization, we intend to produce a tool that is both low-cost and requires minimal training to operate. The tool's additional compatibility with diverse urine samples will enhance its potential to address the diverse needs of women in varying regions. These key features will enable CerviCare to be used in resource-limited areas with little access to conventional screening tools. Thus, CerviCare utilizes technological advancement to improve the quality of care for women in vulnerable areas.