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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.

According to an Ohio University news release that originated in the College of Business, 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 recently won two awards for their efforts.

At Texas Christian University’s Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition, the team (called Vaylenx) 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,” Nancy Richards, founder of real-estate company First Preston HT, said in the news release. “Twelve judges unanimously selected Vaylenx out of 47 teams for the Founder’s Award for their foresight and commitment to address this global issue.” 

The Entrepreneur & Innovation Exchange (EIX) Student Venture Competition also saw value in Vaylenx’s proposal, awarding them first place in their virtual video pitch competition. As first-place winner in the undergraduate category, Vaylenx will receive $10,000; an additional $3,000 will be given to Ohio University. 

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 University, where they were asked to combat malaria and other vector-borne diseases in Guyana, the release said. 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 nano-particles, 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 U.S. Centers 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, the news release said, 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.

After the trip, the team formed Vaylenx LLC, and developed an advisory board, including Dr. Sabyasachi Sarkar, professor at Indian Institute of Engineering and Science Technology, who conducted the original research; Dr. Frank Horodyski, professor of biomedical sciences at OU; Dr. Nathan Weyand, assistant professor of biological sciences at OU; Dr. Bigealke, professor of biomedical sciences at OU; Dr. William Romoser, emeritus professor of medical entomology at OU; Dr. Roger S. Nasci, former director of abroviral diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Niera, senior scientist for the Center for Infections and Chronic Disease Research in Quito, Ecuador.

What’s next?

Dr. Niera, lead researcher of the Vaylenx team and entomology expert, will begin the three-phase research process, the release said. First, he’ll replicate the initial study. Next, he’ll discover exactly how the carbon nano-particle 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 nano-particle and technology already used in agriculture and medicine, it is novel in its application to mosquito control, according to the news release.

“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 forward.”

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