Tapered flasks of green liquid swing on rotating trays while women in white coats study yellowish yeast samples. One grew up in the form of a smiling face. Across the lab, something important is happening with flasks, pipettes, and foil-covered bottles containing what looks very much like urine.
The goal is to produce a chewing gum that accurately predicts the female fertility cycle. "We need to see if the active ingredient survives in the chewing gum and then we'll add flavors," says one of the researchers, Anett Stèger.
A team of 13 students from the University of Copenhagen She is on a mission to create a product to help women improve their chances of getting pregnant. Biotechnology and molecular bioscience students have been working together to create a "smart gum" that will change color to show where women are in their menstrual cycles.
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The plan is to replace baker's yeast with human hormone receptors that can measure the estrogen, LH and progesterone present in saliva when a woman is ovulating. The project, dubbed "Ovulaid", was started as a Danish entry into iGEM, the synthetic biology world championshipwhich begins in Boston in late October.
The researchers are an international group of scientists from Nepal, India, Germany and Hungary, as well as Denmark. Seven are women.
"The competition can get very intense," says Stèger, Hungarian. "We're working 40 hours a week on this, in addition to our normal studies. So the dropout rate is usually high. But we had only one person leaving. It's a project we're all really in love with."
Teammate Hitesh Gelli Praveenkumar of India came up with the idea of a diagnostic gum when the group started brainstorming in February, before Benedicte Smith-Sivertsen, a Dane, suggested it could help women get pregnant.
“My sister was undergoing fertility treatment at the time,” says Smith-Sivertsen, “and I was surprised at how hard it was – all these huge syringes and pissing on sticks every day. I just thought, why didn't anyone make it easy? "
Most over-the-counter ovulation tests currently monitor LH levels, with higher-end, more expensive ovulation tests measuring LH and estrogen. “But we think, how about a gum capable of doing all this, besides measuring progesterone (which helps the uterus prepare for pregnancy) for a fraction of the cost? ”Says Stèger.
There is clearly some work to be done. A prototype tastes like wax.
Researchers are working on a smartphone app to track chewing gum to make it easier to interpret color results and the gum is biodegradable.
"The plan is for the gum to be very discreet in packaging, available in supermarkets in a variety of flavors and much, much cheaper than existing LH and estrogen ovulation tests that you pee," says Stèger.
The hope is that Ovulaid will also have an application in the developing world. "We have conducted research with gynecology clinics in rural India, where many hospitals cannot afford regular fertility testing," says Gelli, "so there is real gum excitement."
They also looked at the impact this could have on areas such as Africa, where infertility is taboo. However, the most difficult market is Europe, because the gum will contain a genetically modified biosensor and GM is tightly controlled in the EU.
As part of the project, the team interviewed 1,500 women, 90% of whom said they would still like to use the product, despite having GM elements. "And we had hundreds of women getting in touch telling us they love the idea," Stèger adds.
Dr. Shabana Bora, fertility specialist at Lister Fertility Clinic in London, who is not involved in the project, expressed cautious optimism about the work, saying that "as many existing ovulation tests create a lot of plastic waste, a biodegradable gum can help to be a greener and more economical alternative."
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. (tagsToTranslate) Fertility Problems (t) Denmark (t) World News (t) Health (t) Society