Students Aim to Curb Meningitis

May 10, 2011 11:12am

ABC News on Campus reporter Chelsea Smith blogs:  In 2006 entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie created TOMS Shoes after witnessing children living barefoot during a trip to Argentina. His company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need in one of 23 countries every time someone purchases a pair from TOMS. It’s a philosophy he refers to as “one-for-one.” Above: The co-creators of OneShot. Photo courtesy of Rosie Gochnour/The State Press Inspired by Mycoskie’s company, Tyler Eltringham, a sophomore at Arizona State University, decided to create his own “one-for-one” movement. But it wasn’t with shoes, it was with vaccines. “When I got into ASU and moved into the dorms, I had to sign a waiver saying I was aware that meningococcal meningitis existed,” Eltringham said.  “Rather that signing a waiver I believe we should be given the option first to get vaccinated, and have it be convenient and part of the mandatory processes.” So Eltringham teamed up with four other ASU students to create OneShot in November 2010. Recently they’ve been working with ASU Health Services and University Housing to give all incoming freshman the opportunity to receive Menactra, a vaccine for meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Then, for every shot administered to students at ASU, OneShot plans on giving those vaccinations to high-risk places in Africa. “Meningitis is a problem in the U.S.,” Eltringham said. “But it is a much bigger problem in the meningitis belt of Africa. Using one-for-one, I could literally solve two issues at once; one at our local community level, and one on a massive global scale.” “This disease is completely preventable by vaccination,” said Ginger Whitesell, one of the five OneShot founders. “We are intent on helping eliminate the possibility of it ever occurring on the ASU campus.” To help raise some awareness and finances for OneShot, the team submitted their idea to ASU’s Innovation Challenge, which is in its second year at ASU. The goal is to give young entrepreneurs and innovators the chance to get their ideas heard and funded. “This is an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students of all majors to make a difference in our communities through innovation,” said Audrey Iffert, director of the ASU Innovation Challenge. More than 150 teams competed this year and Eltringham’s OneShot took top prize, winning $10,000 in February. Other winners included the Carbon Roots International (winner of $5,625), which is a nonprofit organization with the mission to address needs of rural subsidence farmers. A $1,500 winner was “Doc-in-a-Box” which would create mobile medical clinics in disaster areas while recycling unused shipping containers. “I really appreciated that [OneShot] found an issue that affected both the developed and developing world,” Gemma Bulos, one of the final judges of the Innovation challenge, said in a press release. They “found a sustainable way to address it. The more we as a global community can find things that connect us, the better potential for a collaborative way forward,” added Bulos. The $10,000 is a start for OneShot, but there is still a lot more funding that goes into a project of this size. A challenge that helped Eltringham discover just how passionate he was about the issue. “At first, [competing] was purely selfish,” Eltringham said. “I thought the ASU Innovation challenge could be a catalyst for more personal successes. But the more and more I researched the disease, it all just got so heavy on me.” “I became very attached to seeing this through; no longer for the chances of winning the ASU Innovation Challenge, but for the chance of truly leaving a mark on international public health, and actually impact the livelihood of a population,” he said. Due to a lack of finances, the team cannot travel to Africa to administer the vaccinations themselves. To help raise money for OneShot, the team seeks out different competitions like the ASU Innovation Challenge, hoping to win more funding. “As it stands right now … we will be donating our vaccinations to an organization already at work overseas to provide the immunizations on our behalf,” Eltringham said. Whitesell and Eltringham have currently met with representatives from Sanofi Pasteur, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, hoping to get their help with OneShot. “The exact price to OneShot being operational is really unknown,” Eltringham said. “A lot is riding on us securing a partnership with the pharmaceutical company that manufactures our vaccination.” The organization is currently entered in the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative Competition, which helps provide funding, training, and office space for teams of students across ASU to explore their innovative ideas. The winners of the competition are scheduled to be announced this month.  On ASU’s move-in day in August OneShot aims to vaccinate 10 to 15 percent of the 10,000 incoming freshman. This is heavily dependent on receiving more funds; and without additional financial support, they would only be able to provide vaccines for between one and three percent of the students. “While we can certainly make impact with the funding we have already received, our impact can only scale upwards with additional funding,” Eltringham said. “I firmly believe that even if we save one life, it will all be worth it.

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