Entrepreneurs: College Freshmen Create Ebola Detection Strips
WHEN THE EBOLA SCARE HIT the United States in 2014, Emory University (GA) biology professor Rachelle Spell issued a challenge to students: anyone who could develop a more effective way of dealing with Ebola would earn extra credit.
Two freshmen, Brian Goldstone and Rostam Zafari, accepted the challenge and went to work on their idea. “We attend one of the few universities that treats Ebola in the United States and live a short walk from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” says Zafari. “We have access to the materials, the experts and the literature of Emory’s excellent medical research facilities. Since we found ourselves at the crossroads of the right time and the right place, we felt obligated to take action.”
Rapid Ebola Detection Strips (REDS), in theory, would detect the virus from a blood sample in just one hour based on a color change on the portable strip. Currently, it takes around five days to determine if a patient has Ebola, making it hard to contain the virus. And considering that an infected person can carry Ebola for up to three weeks before showing symptoms, testing sooner could mean saving countless lives.
Between September 12, 2014 and October 12, 2014, the students raised more than $14,000 on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo for their project with the help of Emory MBA candidate Raj Ramakrishnan, who gives the students fundraising and business advice. They’ve also had the assistance of Emory biology professor Justine Liepkalns to help them design a prototype.
Because heat and humidity can affect the accuracy of test strips, Zafari and Goldstone are also trying to address the issue of lack of refrigeration in hotter climates like Africa.
To work on the prototype and test REDS, the students are first working with an inactive part of the virus, which isn’t infectious. Testing is done in a glass-enclosed area that creates an “Ebola-inducing climate.”
While effectiveness is the primary concern, there are other advantages to consider if REDS are successful: cost, portability and ease of use.
If the strips are user-friendly, inexpensive and portable, they can be handed out to people in remote villages who are afraid to go to hospitals or at airports where passengers are arriving from countries with a known Ebola risk.
Goldstone and Zafari have indicated that they won’t rush the process though, as they want REDS to be safe and effective. Although many in the global health industry are eager to see REDS head to production, it’s a matter of “hurry up and wait” to ensure the prototype is perfected.
“The students continue to work on the project,” says Emory Senior Communications Officer Beverly Clark, “and are working toward testing a prototype soon.” No doubt the medical community is keeping their fingers crossed.