The Ebola virus that killed thousands in West Africa still has no commercially available cure but an innovation that can quickly and inexpensively detect Ebola has the potential of saving many lives from the hemorrhagic disease.
Interestingly, this tool was not developed by deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies nor by experienced researchers but by a teenager who is still in her junior at Greenwich High School in Connecticut.
Olivia Hallisey submitted her project called the "Ebola Assay Card," which can detect the Ebola virus fast and can be transported without the need for refrigeration, to the 2015 Google Science Fair. She took the top honors along with a $50,000 in scholarship funds.
The invention only costs $25 per test. It can also be stored and can determine if a person is infected with Ebola in just 30 minutes. The Ebola Assay Card is made from photo paper and can detect antigens for the deadly virus.
"It's basically a pregnancy test for Ebola," Hallisey described her project. "The hope is to see this project to the end and see it being used to help people."
The teenager, who dreams of becoming a doctor someday and work with aid groups like the Doctors Without Borders, said that she was inspired to tackle this global health issue after seeing the number of people who died from the recent epidemic.
She said that she was dismayed that while early interventions can boost the survival odds of those infected, currently available methods for detecting the fatal disease are expensive and time-consuming.
The detection methods also require complex tools and call for constant refrigeration so Hallisey set out to come up with an Ebola detection method that is cheap and easy enough to use.
"In this new device, that is stable and stored at room temperature, 30µl drops of water were used to dissolve silk-embedded reagents, initiating a timed-flow towards a center detection zone, where a positive (colored) result confirmed the presence of 500pg/ml Ebola(+)control antigens in 30min, at a cost of $25," Hallisey's project summary reads.
The teenager is hopeful that her success will inspire other girls who are interested in science and computer to follow their passions.
She said that winning the contests would allow her to pursue the development of the Ebola Assay Card as a diagnostic assay for other diseases, which can save lives and potentially change the future.