Clean ingesting water is among the most pressing wants in growing international locations and disaster-stricken areas, however security assessments can take days — throughout which tainted water can infect hundreds. OmniVis goals to make detection of cholera and different pathogens as fast, easy, and low-cost as a being pregnant take a look at. Its smartphone-powered detection platform may save hundreds of lives.
OmniVis, which introduced on stage at Disrupt SF’s Startup Battlefield immediately, emerged from analysis carried out at Purdue University, the place CEO and co-founder Katherine Clayton accomplished her doctorate. She and her advisors have been engaged on the query of utilizing microfluidics, principally very shut inspection of the conduct of fluids, to detect cholera micro organism in water.
In case you forgot your Infectious Diseases 101, cholera is a bacterium that thrives in water polluted by fecal matter. When ingested it multiplies and causes extreme diarrhea and dehydration — which as you may think can develop into a life-threatening downside if a neighborhood is brief on clear water.
While usually unusual, there was an enormous cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010 following a serious earthquake there; 665,000 folks have been contaminated and greater than 8,000 folks died. It was this humanitarian catastrophe that prompted Clayton to look into how such an occasion may need been prevented. She’s been engaged on what would develop into the OmniVis platform since 2013.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she informed me.
That’s not unusual for tutorial spin-offs with beneficial IP however zero product expertise. Moving from lab bench to field-ready {hardware} has taken years of onerous work. But the ensuing gadget may upend a expensive and gradual water testing course of that leaves communities in danger in essential moments.

Existing water testing is mostly finished at a central location, a lab run by a college, utility, or the native authorities. It is determined by the area — and naturally if there was a catastrophe, it might not even be useful. Going from pattern assortment to outcomes could take a number of days, and it isn’t low-cost, both. Clayton estimated it at $100 per pattern.
“But that’s just supplies and labor,” she stated. “Not the cost of the lab, the PCR machines — which are tens of thousands of dollars — the pipettes, the dyes, the disposables and consumables, the training… not to mention in a lot of areas you’re not just going to walk by a nice central laboratory. Some countries may only have one or two testing facilities.”
Another choice is disposable speedy diagnostic assessments, extra like being pregnant assessments than something, meant to be used with stool samples — however their accuracy is low even then, and with cholera diluted in a water supply you could as effectively be flipping a coin.
Such was the state of testing when Haiti had its outbreak and Clayton started trying into it. In 2013 they started investigating microfluidics as a technique for detection. It works by exposing a set of chemical reagents, or “primers,” to a water pattern. These primers are engineered to bind to bits of cholera’s DNA after which when heated, replicate it — a course of known as DNA amplification.

The extra cholera is current, the extra DNA will likely be accessible to amplify, and it multiplies to the purpose the place it impacts the viscosity of the water — an element that may be examined by the gadget. Interestingly, the gadget by no means “analyzes” the DNA or identifies it; all it does is measure how viscous the water is, which is a extremely dependable proxy for a way a lot cholera was current in it to start with.
It seems this methodology is each fast and correct: In 30 minutes it provides pretty much as good or higher outcomes as central testing.
“The worst thing we could ever do is say there’s no cholera in the water when there is,” Clayton stated. So they’re targeted on sturdy take a look at outcomes over all else. But in the end the gadget nonetheless needed to go from the lab to the true world. To that finish the group carried out pilot assessments in Haiti, the place they labored with native NGOs and communities to get some direct suggestions.
What they discovered was promising — but additionally resulted in main adjustments to the product. For one factor, they needed to change from iPhone to Android.
“People feel safer with Android than iPhone, which is considered a luxury item,” Clayton stated. They additionally discovered that women and men operated the system equally effectively — the group is 84 % ladies, she famous, and their design decisions could have crept into the product the identical as can occur on what’s way more frequent, a male-dominated group. English and Svengali customers likewise did superb. Interestingly, locals have been baffled by roman numerals. “That was surprising,” she stated, however illustrative of how even the smallest assumptions have to be questioned.
“I love user-centered design,” Clayton stated. “I think it’s the only way to get engineering to work. UX and graphic design is not my or my colleagues’ specialty, so we had to get some outside contractors for that.”
The manufacturing gadget, which OmniVis hopes to ship in about six months, ought to price round a thousand {dollars} — however at about $10 per take a look at it’ll pay for itself shortly, particularly contemplating how a lot simply it may be deployed and used. A half-hour turnaround on a take a look at that may be carried out by an help employee with an hour’s coaching is a useful software in a disaster-stricken space the place infrastructure like mail and roads could also be in dysfunction.
These gadgets, by the way in which, are usually not purchased and paid for by the individuals who drink the water. Like the water-testing labs, they’ll be owned and operated by NGOs, governments and others with budgets for this type of factor.
Cholera is the primary pathogen the corporate is aiming to detect, however the system can simply as simply detect a number of others just by utilizing totally different disposable assessments geared up with totally different primers. E. Coli could possibly be subsequent — with the right testing, Clayton stated. And others would comply with. It’s not onerous to think about an OmniVis gadget being vital for any aid work the place water must be examined.

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