An invention from these college kids could help diagnose diseases earlier than ever.
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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!

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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