News at Princeton

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014

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Video: iGEM competition


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Zennen Clifton, class of 2008, interviews Professor Ron Weiss about Princeton's student entries in the iGEM competition. Their experiments may lead to novel disease treatments.


Video Closed Captions

Ron Weiss:
Two years ago we had a project where we thought about genetically engineering stem cells so they would become

Ron Weiss:
neurons, muscle cells, and also what are called pancreatic beta cells, which are cells that are supposed to

Ron Weiss:
be able to regulate insulin levels in your body, and the idea was to apply this to diabetes.

Ron Weiss:
And last year we had a project where the focus was actually on creating or programming viruses

Ron Weiss:
that would go into cells of a patient and would do a computation to figure out whether the cell -- each individual cell --

Ron Weiss:
is a cancer cell or not, and so the virus would perform the computation and then figure out whether the cell is cancerous or noncancerous.

Ron Weiss:
And if the cell is cancerous, then the virus would basically start the production or expression of a killer protein, which destroys the cell.

Ron Weiss:
So this was some kind of an interesting and, I think, a quite novel cancer therapy approach.

Ron Weiss:
When you look at both of the projects that we've done, really they were initiated by student ideas.

Ron Weiss:
The one-bit memory was something that we talked with the students about, and the idea really jelled in the students' minds.

(music)

Ron Weiss:
As part of the summer program, what we are hopefully trying to achieve is creating an engineering foundation

Ron Weiss:
that will allow us to create neuronal circuits that could be used to then treat diseases such as

Ron Weiss:
depression, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and things like that.

Molly Herring:
We have an input in what is going to happen in this experiment.

Molly Herring:
We get to decide what we are going to work on and to some extent how we are going to work on it.

Eric Finkelstein:
We are taking ideas and saying, "Okay, we're going to try and do something outrageous that not anyone else is really trying to do."

Molly Herring:
Yeah, we have people from a lot of different departments -- from electrical engineering, chemical engineering, molecular biology.

(music)

Eric Finkelstein:
So, I imagine a lot of my friends in whatever things they are doing, they are told exactly what it is to do...

Eric Finkelstein:
like, you know, my friends [are] telling about presentations they are told to make. They're saying,

Eric Finkelstein:
"Do this up, look this up, do something specific." Whereas, in our case it's kind of like, "All right, what can we do that's interesting?"

Eric Finkelstein:
You know, it's limitless.

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