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BGU Student Team Wins Competition for Cancer Therapy

BGU Student Team Wins Competition for Cancer Therapy

September 30, 2015

Leadership, Awards & Events, Medical Research, Press Releases

The student team from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has just won the Best Health and Medicine Project category in the prestigious 12th Annual iGEM 2015 Giant Jamboree (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition with their cutting-edge biological cancer therapy called “Boomerang.” Click here for website and video.

students with award

2015 iGEM team with supervisors Dr. Efrat Forti and Dr. Emil Ruvinov (standing, second and third from left) in Boston with their three awards

The winners were announced at the Awards Gala on Monday, September 28 at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston. iGEM is considered one of the most important ventures in the global sphere of science.  Nearly 4,600 students competed in this year’s event held September 24-28. Projects span a broad range across 15 different tracks — including health and medicine, energy, environment, food and nutrition, manufacturing, and others.

The BGU project Boomerang is based on advanced methods of genetic engineering and synthetic biology. It has many applications that rely on the special characteristics of cancer cells to identify and alter cells as well as treat the disease at the molecular level. As a cancer therapy, Boomerang works as a modular system, which recognizes cancer cells at a high level of specificity. It can cause disruption of genes essential for cancer survival or activate suicide genes so that the cancer or tumor kills itself.

Boomerang can also produce color proteins for cancer cell detection so that the edges of a tumor are visible to ensure complete surgical removal. The name “Boomerang” mirrors the actions in which the synthetic system uses cancer cells’ own genetic alterations against them.

“Most treatments cannot distinguish precisely enough between cancer and healthy cells,” according to the BGU iGEM team website. “Low specificity means higher toxicity and high rate of adverse effects. The BGU Boomerang system can be potentially designed according to unique characteristics of a patient’s tumor, paving the way to personalized medicine. We believe our strategy demonstrated in the winning prototype/proof-of-concept studies can change the approach to cancer treatments.”

3 awardsIn addition to winning the grand prize in the Best Health and Medicine Project in the “overgraduate” category (graduate level), the BGU team was a first runner-up in the overall competition, the first Israeli team to reach this level in iGEM. Lastly, the BGU team also won the Best New Basic Part Award for developing and submitting the best new functional DNA sequence.

“The University is so proud to have succeeded in this prestigious competition, which includes the best and brightest students in the synthetic biology field,” says Prof. Smadar Cohen, team leader and a member of the BGU Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering.

“Our success in the competition shows tremendous student dedication and excellent heterogeneous cross collaboration between students studying various subjects that include biotechnology, biology, economics, engineering, medicine, neuroscience and cognition, as well as political science,” says Cohen.

The BGU Student Team members who are pursuing a diverse range of degrees include: Shai Duchin, Bar Gazit, Dafna Goldman, Shalev Goldfarb, Shoham Rigbi, Adi Stein, Vlad Shumeiko, and Ori Zelichov. In addition to Prof. Cohen, the two team faculty advisors who accompanied the students were Dr. Emil Ruvinov and Dr. Efrat Forti, also from the BGU Department of Biotechnology Engineering.

“Much more than an annual student competition, the iGEM Giant Jamboree is also an international incubator for the synthetic biology industry that has spun out more than 20 competition projects into new startups,” says Randy Rettberg, iGEM Foundation president.

“With a spotlight on innovation, the iGEM Giant Jamboree also is about collaboration and giving back. iGEM competition teams submit biological parts from their projects to the Registry of Standard Biological Parts in a cycle that helps tomorrow’s iGEM teams and research labs,” says Rettberg.

About the iGEM Foundation

The iGEM Foundation is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration. iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, inspires future synthetic biologists by hosting high school and collegiate level competitions in synthetic biology. iGEM also maintains the Registry of Standard Biological Parts with over 20,000 specified genetic parts—the world’s largest collection of BioBricks, open source DNA parts. Originally an MIT program, iGEM today is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


By supporting a world-class academic institution that not only nurtures the Negev, but also shares its expertise locally and globally, Americans for Ben-Gurion University engages a community of Americans who are committed to improving the world. David Ben-Gurion envisioned that Israel’s future would be forged in the Negev. The cutting-edge research carried out at Ben-Gurion University drives that vision by sustaining a desert Silicon Valley, with the “Stanford of the Negev” at its center. The Americans for Ben-Gurion University movement supports a 21st century unifying vision for Israel by rallying around BGU’s remarkable work and role as an apolitical beacon of light in the Negev desert.

About Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev embraces the endless potential we have as individuals and as a commonality to adapt and to thrive in changing environments. Inspired by our location in the desert, we aim to discover, to create, and to develop solutions to dynamic challenges, to pose questions that have yet to be asked, and to push beyond the boundaries of the commonly accepted and possible.

We are proud to be a central force for inclusion, diversity and innovation in Israel, and we strive to extend the Negev’s potential and our entrepreneurial spirit throughout the world. For example, the multi-disciplinary School for Sustainability and Climate Change at BGU leverages over 50 years of expertise on living and thriving in the desert into scalable solutions for people everywhere.

BGU at a glance:  

20,000 students | 800 senior faculty | 3 campuses | 6 faculties: humanities & social sciences, health sciences, engineering sciences, natural sciences, business & management, and desert research.


For all press inquiries, please contact:

James Fattal, J Cubed Communications


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