When I was 15, I pretty much was just sitting around, playing board games and listening to They Might Be Giants. Now I pretty much just sit around, play board games and listen to They Might Be Giants. Nicole Ticea, on the other hand, spent her young teen years being awesome. How awesome?
She invented a new kind of HIV test that can give results in an hour and costs about five bucks to make. That awesome.
Her test works a little like a blood-tester some diabetics use. You put a drop of blood on a chip and that’s it. She’s even working on a prototype where the chip will do everything without any handling from the user. How does it work? Let her explain:
The idea for my project came last summer at the confluence of two seemingly unrelated fields: HIV and microfluidics. At the time, I was reading a paper discussing the potential of performing exponential DNA/ RNA amplification on a small microfluidic chip. Upon further research I learned that HIV was based upon the detection of viral nucleic acids in the bloodstream using this very same DNA amplification. Ultimately, I came up with the idea of developing a novel isothermal nucleic acid amplification technique adapted for HIV diagnosis in point-of-care, low-resource settings. I then developed a project proposal and sent it off to as many researchers as possible; when it comes to finding a mentor, persistence is key!
So, to sum up… um… it detects HIV! (Seriously, I wish I was anywhere near as smart as her! This is so rad!)
One month ago, Ticea won the 2015 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award and $50,000. She’s won other competitions as well, but perhaps the greatest prize was a grant of $100,000 to continue her research. Her company hopes to bring the test to low-income communities around the world.
Only 15 years old and already working to save lives internationally. Amazing.
(Previously published June 26, 2015.)