At just fifteen years old, Vancouver high school student Nicole Ticea seems to have done the impossible. She has developed an early-stage HIV detection test that is just as easy to use as an over-the-counter pregnancy test. The disposable device can detect the virus within one week of infection, provides results in under one hour, and should cost less than $5.00 to produce.
Ticea was recently awarded the 2015 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award for her groundbreaking work. After starting her own company, she received a $100,000 grant to continue developing this technology in the hopes of bringing it to low-income communities in need.
“Nicole’s work really made me realize what a big difference a fast easy-to-administer test for early stage HIV infection could make in prolonging, if not saving, thousands of lives in developing countries,” said Gursev Anmole, the graduate student mentor who assisted Nicole on her research at Simon Fraser University.
In an interview with Not Impossible Now, Nicole said she first developed the idea for this test last summer after discovering a connection between two seemingly unrelated fields: HIV diagnosis and microfluidics. She was particularly intrigued by the idea of creating an equipment-free HIV detection assay for early infant diagnosis and rapid detection of acute infection in adults.
When asked what it meant to win the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge in Canada last May, she said “Although winning competitions certainly serves to reinforce my faith in both myself and this project, it is not the end goal. For me, the ultimate objective has always been to see my test being applied in an everyday setting where it can make a difference.”
Following the development of an efficient mass production framework, Ticea will look into receiving FDA, Health Canada and CE approval. She anticipates that the product will be widely available to consumers within five years’ time…which coincidentally is when she also plans to finish her undergraduate degree.
Ticea was asked just one more question in her interview: “what advice do you have for other teenagers who have a health-related idea that could make a difference in the world?” Here is her response:
“Persistence is key. I cannot count the number of rejections I received before finally finding a mentor willing to aid me with my project. I was urged several times — by my parents and teachers, no less — to find a different project or give up altogether. Even after finding a mentor and lab, I was plagued by false positives, failed experiments and long hours at the lab, which interfered with my schoolwork and athletic activities.
In truth, I believe that anyone with enough fortitude and persistence can make a large impact upon whichever field they choose. This is particularly true of teens; being so young, I feel as though youth display a naiveté, which transcends ordinary limitations of money and time. In the end, I hope that other teens will be inspired by the journey I undertook with my work and the knowledge that anything is possible.”