Three students from interdisciplinary subjects hope to stop the spread of malaria.

Morgan Stanley vividly remembers seeing mosquitoes breeding in a pool of stagnant water during her trip last summer to Guyana, a country located north of Brazil.

“I think that that was definitely like an ‘oh my god’ moment for us, like, we need to do something about this,” Stanley, a first-year master's student studying political science said. “We need to work as hard as we can to get this idea up and running.”

Stanley and her colleagues, Noah Rosenblatt and Kate Clausen, created a business that aims to combat mosquito-transmitted disease in South America and eventually Africa.

“We had the opportunity to participate in the Global Health Challenge and that kind of opened our eyes to malaria,” Rosenblatt, a senior studying management and strategic leadership, said. “It wasn’t until we went down to Guyana after winning the Global Health Challenge that we really saw the devastating effects.”

Stanley, Rosenblatt and Clausen want to change that with their company,Vaylenx, which strives to systemically end mosquito-borne illness,through mosquito breeding prevention. The team would like to eventually branch out to stop illness from fleas and ticks as well, Rosenblatt said.

The project stemmed from the Ohio University Global Health Case Competition in September 2014, where the team won first place for their idea. Rosenblatt also won the OU Outstanding Student in Innovation Award in March 2015 for his business model for the company.

Rosenblatt, chief executive officer of Vaylenx, said his team is developing nanotechnology for a water-soluble pellet that neutralizes the breeding of mosquitoes in standing water. The official product is still going through testing and has yet to be made or patented.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, malaria is mosquito-transmitted disease that can cause fever and a “flu-like illness,” with risk of death. Approximately 584,000 people died from malaria in 2013 alone, with the most common demographic being young children in Africa.

“Targeting the mosquito from where it’s starting is going to have a larger impact,” Stanley, chief operating officer of Vaylenx, said. “Instead of preventing the disease, we want to get rid of the thing that carries the disease.”

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="7db46fdc-fc75-11e5-b5d5-53a9bf787ae2"}}

Currently, their developments only include research on closed-water systems, but he said they are looking into investigating open-water systems for the safety of human consumption.

Vaylenx is also interested in expanding the company to as many countries as possible, with plans of starting the test pilot in Guyana, South America.

“We’d love if our products could be in every country that struggles with vector-borne disease from Brazil to Nigeria,” Rosenblatt said. “It really just kind of depends on how our relationship with that country works.”

Clausen, a senior studying organizational communication and the company’s chief communications officer, said she wants to greatly impact the world with Vaylenx.

“It is something I’m really passionate about,” Clausen said. “We can change the world with our product and we really hope to, so I want to see it through.”

One experience that really stood out to both Stanley and Clausen is when they talked to a high ranking official in Guyana who worked in the Commissioner's Office of Geology and Mines Commission.

They remember him telling them he would rather have malaria 100 times versus ever having chikungunya, which is a vector-borne disease that can cause severe, disabling joint pain and fever, according to the CDC.

Stanley described it as a “horrendous” disease which can be so physically painful to even move out of bed that it takes everything out of you.

The three team members of Vaylenx are trying to put a stop to not only malaria, but all different types of mosquito-transmitted diseases such as chikungunya, West Nile virus and Zika virus.

One problem that Guyana faces is that it is below sea level, which allows a lot of standing water to accumulate throughout the city, Stanley said. Adding more to the problem, there is higher precipitation in that region as well.

Those factors, and also the lack of any organized trash disposal in the city, is what fosters multiple breeding grounds for mosquitoes, Clausen said.

“Going to Guyana was definitely a catalyst,” Clausen said. “It definitely pushed us to move forward with it and to pursue this avenue more vigorously.”

@mmhicks19

mh912314@ohio.edu