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Nisarg Patel's start-up aims at a healthier world

February 18, 2014 10:01 IST

Nisarg Patel's start-up aims at a healthier world

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The young Indian-American achiever has developed soluble protein biosensors to indicate the presence of bacteria in drinking water.

When Arizona State University senior Nisarg Patel's friend returned from a research expedition in Guatemala and expressed concern regarding children drinking contaminated water, it got Patel thinking.

The Chandler, Arizona, native, along with friends, came up with the idea of soluble protein biosensors to indicate the presence of bacteria in drinking water.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1.5 million children under the age of 5 in developing countries die each year due to diarrhoea.

"Most of the bacterial biosensors that are currently available are large, require electronics or are too complicated to operate in Third World countries," says Patel, a molecular biosciences and biotechnology major at the School of Life Sciences.

"Our concept of using protein biosensors that emit colour when dropped in contaminated water provides a quick and inexpensive way to test for waterborne contamination in developing countries."

Within six months, Patel's HydroGene team developed a prototype and applied to the 2013 Innovation Challenge -- the ASU's Changemaker Central's social entrepreneurship competition -- for the chance to be awarded funding that would help them refine their idea and scale it up further.

Changemaker Central encouraged all Innovation Challenge winners to apply to Clinton Global Initiative University's meeting in St Louis, and offered to pay for travel expenses for selected teams.

The team applied to CGIU, was selected and flown to St Louis to participate in the 2013 CGI U conference.

Attending the CGIU meeting, Patel said, was one of the most inspiring experiences the HydroGene team has had.

"Imagine being in the same room as some of the world's smartest and influential people," he said.

"It was amazing to meet and exchange ideas with people who are working hard to develop solutions that will address global challenges related to poverty, education and health care.

"We had the opportunity to meet with Gary White, the founder of the non-profit organisation Water.org that provides millions around the globe access to safe water and sanitation.

"We also met with folks who work in India and Africa to provide safe drinking water to people in need."

The HydroGene team has raised $20,000 in seed funds through ASU entrepreneurship programs like Innovation Challenge and the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative.

The start-up is also working on a rapid screening process to prevent distribution of contaminated food in the developed world.

"An event like CGI U is something that most students don't have the opportunity to experience," Patel said.

"It is a great place to generate and refine ideas, and get inspired.

"Many college students aren't sure of their path in life, so CGIU is a great way to engage with others as a volunteer or participant, find out what you are passionate about and answer your calling."

Patel also serves as the campus representative for the 2014 CGIU meeting March 21-23 on the ASU Tempe campus.

His role will include meeting with CGIU participants from the ASU and helping them perfect their poster presentations and pitches. He will also mentor students who wish to volunteer at the event.


Image: Nisarg Patel, center, with some of the HydroGene team members at the Clinton Global Initiative University.