A 17-Year-Old Develops Cheap Ebola Test, Wins $50,000, Plans to Change the World

The rapid tests cost just $25.

Olivia Hallisey, 17, winner of the 2015 Google Science Fair. (Photo: Twitter)

Sep 25, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

The fight against Ebola just got a little cheaper and easier, with help from an unexpected source—a 17-year-old student.

Olivia Hallisey won the 2015 Google Science Fair this week—and a $50,000 education scholarship—for her rapid Ebola diagnostic test.

The junior at Greenwich High School in Connecticut got to work when she heard about the devastating impacts of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, which killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The fatality rate for those who contract Ebola is as high as 90 percent, but early detection and treatment can reduce that rate.

Traditional detection kits require a highly trained staff, a temperature-controlled lab, and hours of waiting—creating a significant barrier to combating the highly infectious virus, according to the World Health Organization.

Hallisey wanted to make something that was easy to use and portable to assist people in countries with limited resources. She used the components from an established testing source, the ELISA detection kit, to create what she calls an Ebola Assay Card. The card reacts to a small blood sample along with water, which are applied to each of the four prongs. As the water and blood travel through the arms of the card to its center and react to piled-on reagents, the circle changes color to indicate a positive or negative result. A silk card stabilizes substances that react to Ebola antigens known as reagents, which eliminates the need for refrigeration. Patients can get results in just 30 minutes, and the paper-based card costs just $25 per test. Hallisey expects that the price point will drop significantly when it’s produced in bulk.

Next, she plans to adapt the test to detect Ebola in saliva samples and to diagnose other illnesses, such as HIV, Lyme disease, yellow fever, dengue fever, and certain types of cancer.

Along with helping curb infectious diseases across the globe, Hallisey’s success can also inspire girls to get involved in science and health fields.

“I would just encourage girls just to try it in the beginning, remind them that they don’t have to feel naturally drawn or feel like they have a special talent for math or science,” Hallisey told CNBC, “but just really just look at something they are interested in and then think how to improve something or make it more enjoyable or relate it to their interests.”