A Greenwich High School student won Google’s Science Fair for inventing a $25 Ebola detection kit. Olivia Hallisey was awarded the prize, after her project was chosen as the best among thousands of entries from all over the world.
The student won $50, 000 in scholarship funding, at the international competition’s finals, which took place on September 21, at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.
The high school junior dreams of following in her late grandfather’s footsteps, by becoming a physician and working for a global health organization like Doctors Without Borders. For now, she also volunteers as a middle school tutor and youth swim instructor with the Connecticut Chapter of the Special Olympics.
In response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic, which resulted in the death of more than 11,000 people, Olivia Hallisey decided to attempt to create a test kit for the virus. Her device detects the disease with accuracy and speed, at a fraction of the cost of other similar products.
According to her, modern detection methods are usually complex, cost-prohibitive, and require continuous refrigeration “from manufacture to use and up to 12 hours from testing to confirmed diagnosis”.
On the other hand, her invention is a diagnostic set that is easily portable and stable enough to be stored at room temperature. The technique uses a four-pronged silk card which stabilizes substances that detect Ebola viral antigens.
Reagents at the center of the card change color, provided that the result is positive. As the young researcher has stated, detection limits for this method are “analogous to current sandwich ELISA techniques”.
Infected patients can receive a reliable diagnosis within 30 minutes, before becoming contagious and displaying symptoms. Thus, they can be quarantined in advance of posing a threat to the health of others. Moreover, the kit costs just $25 per test, and the price will plummet significantly once the invention enters bulk production.
“Winning will enable me to continue to develop my Ebola Assay Card as a multiple disease diagnostic assay, and to make a meaningful impact on global health through the early detection of often fatal diseases”, wrote Olivia in her Google Science Fair profile.
More precisely, the Connecticut high schooler shared that she would pursue further research, in order to develop reliable detection kits for Lyme disease, yellow fever, dengue fever, HIV and different types of cancer. She is also currently working on a test enabling medical practitioners to identify the Ebola virus in the patients’ saliva.
The young researcher revealed that her ambition to create her award-winning invention was fueled by Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola in the summer of 2014, after serving as a medical missionary in Monrovia, Liberia.
The physician was the first American to return to the country and receive medical care for the disease, which he eventually recovered from. Along with other good Samaritans involved in treating Ebola patients, he was honored for his work by Time magazine, who named him Person of the Year.
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