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CBID designs automated mosquito trap to track Zika

May 19, 2017
The group poses for a photo.

It all started at a hackathon. A group of Johns Hopkins students, postdocs, and faculty members gathered one weekend in April 2016 to develop a solution to the recent spread of the Zika virus. After hitting a few dead ends, the VectorWEB team hit upon an idea to create an automated trap that would count and identify mosquitoes, record the data, and send it to the Cloud where it could be mapped and distributed to health officials.

The existing approach to mosquito population surveillance is a labor-intensive task that requires health agents to manually count the number of mosquitoes or mosquito eggs in each trap. Due to the large number of traps used in surveillance efforts, this method can take months to track populations.

“Real-time awareness of mosquito populations is an extremely important parameter for timely intervention for the government health systems to plan where to focus their energies,” says Soumyadipta Acharya, graduate program director of the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, housed within the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Automated traps would enable health officials to obtain mosquito population data daily and devise more timely response plans to protect communities, including local spraying and educational campaigns.

Three members of the VectorWeb team spent a week in Brazil in early 2017 on a research mission to obtain feedback from government officials, healthcare workers, and local residents on their concept of automated mosquito traps.

“This was our first trip and we focused on the end-user. We met with local and state health secretaries, researchers, and officials from UNICEF and the public hospital system to establish collaborations,” says Meg Glancey, an associate staff engineer for CBID.

Designing any new product takes time and requires many rounds of testing, she says. The trio has been working to integrate the feedback in order to improve and fine-tune the product concept and design.

A mosquito is trapped.

“We call this stakeholder understanding. When you design a new project, especially in public health systems, you need to understand the entire ecosystem, from the end-users who are going to deploy these traps, to the health administrator who will be viewing the automated portal,” says Ramji Rengarajan, an associate staff engineer for CBID.

The team also is envisioning a cellphone-based messaging system that could alert local citizens during times of peak mosquito activity, and advise them to take precautions such as wearing appropriate clothing and applying bug spray.

In many countries, residents may not protect themselves from mosquitos daily, similar to how you would not carry an umbrella on sunny days. Residents are more likely to take precautions if there is a spike in mosquito populations, raising their chances of contracting a disease.

“We received strong validation that we’re on the right track. The overall concept was very well-received, but the devil lies in the details – the features, the pricing, how it needs to be placed – those are the questions that will help us to make modifications,” says Acharya.

A mosquito trap sits on the floor.

The knowledge gained from the trip will assist the team in defining the product parameters. “This helps us to go back to our engineering teams and design improvements so that when we go back to the field we can test the most improved design,” says Ramji.

To further its research, the team has partnered with HCL Technologies in India to work on the industrial design, and Jhpiego in Baltimore for public health implementation and evaluation. They also are collaborating with faculty and students at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) to develop and test research hypotheses.

“HCL Technologies is developing components for this project including Cloud applications integrated with data analytics, industrial-grade prototypes integrated with existing mosquito traps, and smart phone applications for community collaboration,” says Sandeep Singh, product manager of HCL Technologies.

“Mapping mosquito density in real-time allows public health professionals to prioritize actions, and serves to catalyze community responses such as eliminating domestic breeding sites.  We are delighted that the Jhpiego-supported work has led to a transformative solution,” says Dr. Harshad Sanghvi, Jhpiego’s chief medical officer and lead innovator in the global health partnership with CBID.

The team in partnership with HCL Technologies and Jhpiego, has received funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to pursue further product development and research. The team plans to develop several more iterations of the product, and conduct multiple rounds of evaluation and testing in Brazil.

-Sarah Tarney

Category: Department
Associated Faculty: Soumyadipta Acharya

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