Skip to content

Students work with experts worldwide to tackle deadly mosquito-spread illnesses

Tuesday, May 10 2016 12:00am

ATHENS, Ohio (May 10, 2016) – Mosquitoes are responsible for more than a million deaths worldwide each year, according to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA)—more than any other organism on Earth. They’re also the main transmitter of Zika virus.

Ohio University students Morgan Stanley, ’15 Kate Clausen, ’16, David Bartizal, ’16, and Noah Rosenblatt, ’16, are working with experts worldwide to combat this public health issue – and they recently won an award for their efforts at Texas Christian University’s Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures® Competition.

For their efforts, the team was recognized with the Founder’s Award, given to the team who presents the most inspirational project, attempting to tackle the largest problem. A $5,000 prize accompanied the award.

“With the advent of the Zika virus epidemic as well as other mosquito-related diseases that have plagued many countries, Vaylenx has a unique opportunity to remedy the underlying source of these diseases and potentially save millions of lives,” said Nancy Richards, founder of real estate company First Preston HT. “Twelve judges unanimously selected Vaylenx out of 47 teams for the Founder’s Award for their foresight and commitment to address this global issue.”  

Behind the scenes at Vaylenx

In 2014, Clausen, Rosenblatt, Stanley, and Seth Baker, ’15, competed in the first-ever Global Health Case Competition at OHIO, where they were asked to combat malaria and other vector-borne diseases in Guyana. Within two weeks, they developed a proposal calling for strategic planting of eucalyptus trees, regular harvesting of the trees, and finally, using the eucalyptus tree wood to produce carbon nanoparticles, which would ultimately kill the mosquitoes.

After winning the competition, Stanley, Rosenblatt and Clausen traveled to Guyana to meet with government officials, including representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ministries of Health, Education, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and even Guyanese citizens. In just two weeks, they met with officials, collected feedback, and reached an agreement that once the lab particles were developed, Guyana would purchase them for a field test.

Since, the team formed Vaylenx LLC, and developed an advisory board, including Dr. Sarkar, professor at Indian Institute of Engineering and Science Technology, who conducted the original research, Dr. Horodyski, professor of biomedical sciences at OHIO, Dr. Weyand, assistant professor of biological sciences at OHIO, Dr. Bigealke, professor of biomedical sciences at OHIO, Dr. Romoser, former OHIO professor, Dr. Nasci, former director of abroviral diseases at the Center for Disease Control, and Dr. Niera, senior scientist for the Center for Infections and Chronic Disease Research in Quito, Ecuador.

“We are so grateful to Paul [Benedict], Luke [Pittaway], and Ohio University for all of their support,” said Clausen.

What’s next?

Dr. Niera, lead researcher of the Vaylenx team and entomology expert, will begin the three-phase research process. First, he’ll replicate the initial study. Next, he’ll discover exactly how the carbon nanoparticle is killing the mosquitoes. Lastly, he’ll complete environmental modeling to ensure the solution is free of adverse environmental effects. The team anticipates the three phases to take a year.

Though there are similar applications of the nanoparticle and technology already used in agriculture and medicine, it is novel in its application to mosquito control.

“We have a great team of leading experts in the world, and think we can make great progress,” said Clausen. “We believe it will work, and are excited to move