An invention from these college kids could help diagnose diseases earlier than ever.
True
the Ad Council - #TrendOnThis

This group of Australian students has invented a new way to diagnose diseases — and it could lead to a tool that's better than what we've got now.

It's got the power to save lives, and in a few years you may even see it on a cellphone.


These dudes did it! And they're clearly pumped about it. Image courtesy of Dr. Lawrence Lee.

In 2014, the team of undergrads entered a prestigious biomolecular design competition at Harvard University from halfway around the world — and took home first place.

They call themselves Team EchiDNA. They're a group of Australian undergrads led by Dr. Lawrence Lee of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney.

So how did they win? They looked at nature.

Together with Lee, the team designed the Cooperative Molecular Biosensor that can detect viruses and diseases. They drew their inspiration from the design models found in nature.

"By copying nature, we're constructing new technologies that can potentially be used to drive a rapid diagnostic device," Lee explained to me via email.

Team members at the BIOMOD contest at Harvard's Wyss Institute. Image via Jacob Klensin/Wyss Institute.

The Cooperative Molecular Biosensor is a tiny sensor made up of a ring of beacons that light up when they bind to the target DNA — of a virus, pathogen, or even mutation.

Is the virus present? If yes, the ring lights up. That's all there is to it. You can see more of a scientific explanation in their project video.

But the bottom line: more sensitive testing and fewer false positives. Yes!

A computer model of the sensor. GIF via Team EchiDNA.

A group of students pulling this off is impressive. The short time frame they did it in is even more so.

The team was made up of undergraduates, and as Lee describes, had many other student responsibilities to worry about.

"We started the project quite late with only a few months for everything to come together," he says, explaining the challenges they've faced. "The team consisted of undergraduate students who still had to attend lectures, submit assignments, and sit exams."

Giving hope to procrastinators everywhere!

Winning the contest was just the beginning. This invention has the potential to revolutionize the way we diagnose diseases like Ebola.

At the same time the students were busy winning awards for their invention, Ebola was wreaking havoc on parts of the world. And flat-out scaring the rest of it.

Ebola virus. Image via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the outbreak, Lee says, "there was a clear need for definitive and rapid diagnostics of Ebola so that patients could be identified, isolated, and treated quickly to stem the spread of the disease."

Because the initial symptoms of Ebola are so similar to those of other diseases (malaria, typhoid fever, other bad stuff), diagnosis in the early stages can be very difficult. With current technology, a patient may be in the hospital for multiple days before a positive Ebola diagnosis is made.

Team EchiDNA saw the need to rapidly diagnose Ebola and tailored their design to help fill that void.

The team created their design to target the DNA of the Ebola virus — although, as Lee explains, "I must stress that the capacity to detect Ebola DNA sequences in laboratory setting is a long way from robust and accurate diagnostics in patient samples."

The team presenting their project at the BIOMOD contest. Image via Jacob Klensin/Wyss Institute.

In other words — the device is a long way from being sent into the field. But they are working to get there.

And once the design is perfected, it can be tailored to diagnose a wide range of other specific diseases: tuberculosis, HIV, or even a common flu.

So what's next? Lee said he and his lab (which still includes a couple members of the winning team) are working to refine the sensor and make it "so sophisticated you can test for bacteria or viruses by plugging a blood sample into your mobile phone," according to their press release.

Can you imagine!? A cell phone that diagnoses disease. Whoa. Image via Thinkstock.

These students should be so proud — and we should be so thankful for the young brains around the world helping to transform the future.

The technology being developed could drastically change the course of an Ebola outbreak — and other diseases — and stop it in its tracks before it can get out of hand. Life-saving!

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less