Built By: Monika Weber of Fluid Screen
One could easily argue that Monika Weber was born a citizen of the world. Half Polish and half German, she grew up in Poland, but often ventured to different parts of Europe. “My parents encouraged me to travel and explore from an early age,” she remembers. “They really fostered a ‘global citizen’ mentality in me.”
Her ability to think on a global scale might be the underlying force behind Monika’s desire to tackle complex problems with worldwide impact. Inspired by the vision of eliminating food and water contamination all across the globe, she created Fluid Screen — a company that develops a microchip to detect bacteria in fluid samples. Despite the fact that her invention has won awards from NASA’s Create the Future Design Contest and MassChallenge, in the beginning Monika had to face multiple naysayers, determined to preserve the status quo.
It all started with discovering a deep love for science, which led her to complete degrees in physics, before heading to Yale to pursue a PhD in Microelectronics. While there, she made a discovery that allows health professionals to increase the efficiency of bacteria detection.
Traditionally, in order to detect bacterial contamination, samples need to be cultured on a petri dish for a couple of days, before being sent for analysis. Monika’s invention uses dielectrophoresis to disrupt this 140-year-old method, enabling scientists to identify bacteria with more than 99% accuracy in just 30 minutes.
The inspiration to commercialize the technology and bring it to market came in 2011 when Europe was struck by an outbreak of bacterial contamination. “Thousands of people got sick within a few weeks and 53 people died from consuming contaminated food and water,” recalls Monika. “Officials struggled to get the outbreak under control because it took too long to detect bacteria.”
Understanding the impact her invention could make, she created Fluid Screen to ensure that such an epidemic does not happen again. The company’s technology has a broad potential to detect bacteria from any fluid sample, including water and drug products. “Globally, 1.8 billion people drink contaminated water every year and thousands of people die because of bacterial contamination,” she says. ”If we are able to detect it more quickly, we could save many lives and eliminate the problem of food and water contamination.”
To turn this vision into reality, the company is preparing a beta-release for applications that enable the development of CAR-T therapeutics, microbiome drugs and public health. While the project is very ambitious, disrupting existing methods seems to be embedded in Fluid Screen’s DNA, or as Monika puts it: “Our company motto is: ‘We challenge the status quo and make impossible happen’.”
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